Sons of the Spire is a series examining digital deckbuilding games inspired by Slay The Spire.

Roguebook | Developer: Abrakam Entertainment | Publisher: Nacom | Year: 2021
Roguebook box art of two fantasy heroes charging with swords


Borrowing the best bits of Slay the Spire and Monster Train wasn’t enough for Roguebook, so developer Abrakam Entertainment also took the fantasy setting from their previous game (Faeria), and hired Richard Garfield (the godfather of collectible card games) to help make a colourful and mechanically sound spirelike possessing a few unique gimmicks of its own.

Here a band of misfit heroes find themselves trapped in the Book of Lore where each page represents a new challenge for them to overcome. To purify the evil infesting the book and escape with their lives intact, these heroes confront strange enemies in card-driven battles where creating synergies alongside talents and treasures is the key to their survival.

There are four playable characters (five if you own the deluxe DLC) who each have their own unique pool of cards, and because players always choose two heroes to journey together as a duo, these pools get mixed together whenever a card is offered up for purchase. Each hero has several archetypes to build around, and they feel varied and original enough despite the obvious cribbing from other systems.

Sharra Dragonslayer’s compendium, for example, combines nimble movement options with the ability to create throwing knives to stack heavy damage when she’s leading the charge. Sorocco and Seifer possess splashier cards with a focus on raw damage, ally summoning, and in the latter’s case; a rage gauge to supercharge battlefield tactics. Aurora Mythmaker is a much frailer hero, but her magic teapot can fully restore her health once per battle, making her a surprisingly effective tank if she’s positioned correctly. Players will find many fun interactions and strategies whichever combination of heroes they pick, and the familiar card mechanics and keywords are easy to learn if you’ve played a game like this before.

It’s also easy to feel like you’re playing the same way between runs, which contributes to a sense that Roguebook has fewer surprises than Slay the Spire. Part of this is because Roguebook is pretty straightforward from a deckbuilding standpoint. Optimisation is downplayed by talents heroes earn as their shared deck grows bigger, so it makes sense to keep adding cards while not worrying so much about removing them. Offence is also more important than defence, so getting a strong recursive attack in there can carry you in the early stages.

Like Monster Train, players upgrade cards with gems bestowing powerful bonuses, and players can earn these precious stones by defeating elite enemies, or by finding them on the world map. Each run has three chapters with three randomly generated maps to explore, and it’s here that Roguebook radically differs from the competition.

Each random map represents blank pages in the Book of Lore, and these need to be drawn or painted into existence by the magical paintbrushes and inks players collect on their travels. The more of these materials players gather, the more hexes they can reveal, which in turn reveals hidden loot like health potions and ink pots, random event scrolls, treasure-filled side dungeons, and yet more opportunities to strengthen your party before the next boss battle.

This method of exploration is both fun and well designed. It creates a game of two halves, where players are battling monsters and fretting over their deck one moment, then later counting how many hexes they can reveal on the map if they combine inks in just the right order. Tempting landmarks and other wayward goodies give players something to aim for, so it’s rare they’ll need to blindly shoot ink in hopes of a jackpot, though there certainly can be wilder moments like that!

Those event scrolls are also highly impactful and fun to trigger — like the one which grants players a complete reveal of the entire map if they agree to let a fussy emperor insert negative tribute cards into the deck! I also like the one which hides a magical beast on the map for players to track down by footprints alone.

Exploration is spoiled by items being occasionally glitchy to pick up, and the game can crash if you reload a save file too quickly. As addictive as things can be, this added focus on exploration also means a complete run can feel overly long, especially if players are picking maps clean of every last treasure. Longevity is added by the genre’s trademark ascending difficulty modifiers, but not all of them are humdrum passives, as some force players to approach elements of the campaign in unexpectedly challenging ways. If only the achievements list wasn’t so annoyingly grindy and obtuse. Bad form there!

The handsome presentation fares much better, from the Hearthstone quality visuals, to the delightful voice acting and animation which brings this world of Faeria to life. It’s one more ingredient to help make Roguebook a solid addition to the spirelike subgenre, as well as just a fine game in its own right.