Roguebook preview: “we want players to break the game”

A deckbuilder might well pass many of us by these days – plenty have popped up in recent months and years, so it’s easy to let it all wash over you as you continually play… GWENT, I guess? But Abrakam Entertainment headed to Kickstarter nonetheless, pitching Roguebook to the world and managing to get it successfully funded. How? By doing it once before in 2017 with Faeria – another strategy card game, and one that was well-received across the board.

One particular fan of Abrakam’s last game was Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering, Netrunner, KeyForge, and many more. They’re all superb card games – collectable and other – in case you’re wondering. So it makes sense for Garfield to be involved in Roguebook, and he has brought a chunk more oomph to the project, helping it to stand out in this crowded field that does indeed wash over us a lot of the time.

“Richard’s been a great help and mentor,” explains Jean-Michel Vilain, CEO and co-founder of Abrakam. “He’s been involved in designing board games and deckbuilders for a long time, and he agreed to give us a hand since he really liked our previous game, Faeria.”

From testing early versions of Roguebook and offering up feedback, Garfield’s role in the game has changed to become something of a consultant. “Sometimes he gives us a small feature idea,” Vilain continues. “I think he taught us to realise the true flaw of any deckbuilder system: if you let players pick cards only when it’s going to make their deck stronger, and if you give them the opportunity to trim their decks very often, players end up with a very thin deck. [That’s] not great, since every match they will play with their deck will feel the same.

“Richard convinced us that we could do something more fun by giving reasons for players to end up with larger decks. So we’ve introduced a talent system which rewards you with a new passive ability for every five cards in your deck, while also looking at designing cards and treasures which benefit from larger decks. It’s a very interesting design space to explore.”

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Between battles, there’s a randomised world to explore, with decisions to be made (and decks to be built).

The game proper is generally straightforward in how it plays out – you battle against AI-controlled units using a couple of heroes and their drafted decks, attacks, buffs, debuffs, all that good stuff. It’s not something aiming to break the mould, rather something that wants to get things right. All the same, Abrakam does have a couple of tricks up its sleeve, mainly via Roguebook’s procedurally generated game world and through a focus on sheer depth in the combinations players can build for themselves and take advantage of.

“There are a few digital deckbuilders around now,” Vilain says, “and we thought it’d be interesting to have the gameplay phases occurring between battles be more of an interesting game in itself. Our hope is to have players want to finish a battle because they want to advance the exploration of our randomly generated worlds, and not just be motivated by the reward of adding one more card to their decks.”

Depth, meanwhile, has been a goal throughout the game’s development – with playthroughs of Roguebook clocking in at around two hours and players only facing AI opponents (there’s no multiplayer), that left the floor open to some more extravagant options when it came to what the player can wield in their deck. As Vilain says: “For us card gamers this is an opportunity we’ve dreamed about: to let the player access incredibly powerful synergies and combinations of cards, gems, treasures, talents – we want players to break the game in explosive and different ways.”

That encouragement to break stuff just wouldn’t fly in a Hearthstone, say, as pure, refined balance is key. Roguebook, meanwhile, relies both on the fact you’re not playing against another person and the short-run, randomised roguelike elements to help it lean on this sometimes explosive randomness. “The main reason we enjoy making a single-player game is because it lifts a big weight off our shoulders,” Vilain explains.

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The world map is randomised in each playthrough, which Abrakam hopes will add significant replay value to the game.

“Every card which feels great to play to you might feel negative to your opponent.” A technique that might feel good for the player might be one that, on balance, just ends up feeling worse for the opponent – and that’s something that needs to be avoided in multiplayer titles where possible, as it leads to negative feeling. “On our previous title, Faeria, we had to discard an incredible amount of card designs because of that,” Vilain says. “With Roguebook, it’s the opposite: we can design the game to let players do wild things without having to care how the opponent would feel about it.”

With around 20 people working on bringing Roguebook to life – plus those contributions from Garfield – Abrakam is hopeful it will have put together a compelling offering for those craving a more power-mad approach to an otherwise largely typical deckbuilding title.

With the expertise both of the team and Garfield, the uncertainty of a run that comes with randomised generation of the game world each playthrough, and a focus on just cutting loose and letting players have fun with the cards they’re dealt, there could be something here even for those who haven’t been paying the genre much heed in recent times.

Genre: Deckbuilder
Format: PC / Mac / Linux
Developer: Abrakam Entertainment
Publisher: Nacon
Release: 24 June

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