Roguebook is a roguelike deckbuilder you can win with an army of frogs


Keep deck builders in one of your hands – a genre that turns the work of putting together a competitive card game in a CCG into the actual game like Dominion. In your other hand, you have run-based permadeath games – roguelikes and their relatives. When you put those hands together, you get rogue deck builders, games where you assemble a deck to weather an escalating series of challenges, or when you fail and get torn from life. Games like Dream Quest, Slay the Spire, and Monster Train, as well as games that tweak the formula, be it by adding 3D action battles like Hand of Fate or swapping cards for dice like Dicey Dungeons.

Roguebook is a rogue deckbuilder currently in development and has a solid pedigree. Not just because it was co-designed by Magic: The Gathering, creator and godfather of CCG Richard Garfield (he calls his role in Roguebook that of a design consultant who is “certainly not the main designer” but “hopefully a key contributor”) . but because it is also the work of Abrakam Studios.

(Image credit: Abrakam)

Abrakam created a digital CCG called Faeria, which was itself an association of genres. It replaced the imaginary tabletop common in digital card games with an ocean map made up of hexagons where you summon islands as if you were playing Settlers of Catan and then summon creatures to march over them. Garfield noticed Faeria. “I played a lot of digital card games, of course,” he says, “and Faeria really brought something special to the table with the use of the board game – it felt like a cross between a board game and cards that I heard, that it has been claimed a couple of times, but it didn’t always seem like a happy marriage. But with Faeria, they really got it working. “

Roguebook builds on this idea. There’s also a map depicting the inside of a magical book you’re traveling through, another grid of hexagons that grows – this time as you spend ink to reveal more of its areas. With a little luck, you’ll discover treasures, alchemists who convert your cards for a fee, or rolled up pages that you can use to unlock permanent benefits at the end of each run.

There was no ink in an early version of the Roguebook. Instead, they collected torches to push back the darkness, a much more normal fog of war mechanics that didn’t fit the tasteful theme of a world in a book. It’s a paper world and you make a fire? Ink fits much better. Garfield is quick to point out that he wasn’t responsible for this change, but he definitely thinks it’s an improvement. Other ideas were immediately suggested – like brushes that evenly distribute the ink while vials spill it in straight lines, and so on. “That suddenly brings all these mechanics with it,” he says. “Different magic inks, different ways of doing this. In addition to the change in taste, of course it supports these mechanical games.”

Frogs all the way down

Painting new areas also reveals enemies, and the battles seem instantly familiar. Enemies announce how much damage they are going to do, and you play block cards to mitigate that and attack cards to damage them in return. The first thing that is particularly different is that you are always in control of two characters and your cards are colored to match the hero who is playing them. Some cards are cheaper when played by the hero in rear, others are more effective when played by the hero in front, and some cards swap heroes in addition to the other effects they have. As in Faeria, where your creatures might flank or block, positioning is important.

(Image credit: Abrakam)

Garfield says he’s interested in having the turtle hero Aurora on his team. “The turtle hero can make frogs,” he explains. “They are a pendant that you can have stacked, so for example you can have 12 frogs, then they do 12 damage and their number is decreased by one. It’s a bit like going for a poison deck or something There are also synergies with cards that give extra bonuses when you have allies in the game, or when you add more frogs, increasing their damage and slowing the rate at which they are removed. It sounds like the degenerate decks that were possible in the early days of Magic: The Gathering and may be torn apart before release. “It’s a low-hanging fruit for combos,” says Garfield, “but it’s always fun to dress my frog.”

The next notable difference in Roguebook is that you gain skills to have more cards in your deck. It’s like leveling up and you have three options each time. You can reduce the prices in stores by 25 percent or heal a few health points after each battle or start battles with an in-game ally who provides bonus mana (called Spirit in the roguebook) and also does a few points of damage each turn.

(Image credit: Abrakam)

“One of my specific posts was to get us thinking this pathway, ‘Let’s do better than adding cards to your deck in some way.’ That led to the idea that the bigger your deck gets, the more talents you can unlock – not only does it affect the quality of your deck. I really like pushing people that way because bigger decks are less reliable and I think “You should do it You will be more rewarded for playing it. You think on your feet and adapt more to situations.”

This is very different from Slay the Spire, where trimming your deck is often your best bet – a reward for decent, boring play. Garfield says he has “a long-term aversion to the Days of Magic” improving his deck by getting rid of a card. “It’s really pretty cool, but I can’t get any value from it. I hate that.” That’s why he likes to play Hearthstone in Arena mode, where you draw a deck of random sets of three cards. “I have a lot of options where all of the cards are not really great, but some of them are more interesting and I have to play with all of them. That’s how well I do it. This is the payoff for me.”

(Image credit: Abrakam)

Know when to hold them

Being able to respond to what you get is an important element of physical card games, but one of their digital counterparts is often minimized. It promotes sleek decks that flip through cards fast enough to make sure you’re drawing the combination you want. The skill identifies the most outrageous broken combos and knows how to efficiently wipe everything else away. In the words of well-known game designer Kenny Rogers, “The secret of survival is knowing what to throw away and what to keep.” But it can also be fun to be spontaneous, look at the hand you are drawing and improvise a solution to your immediate problem, whatever the chance.

“This is more the hallmark of a card player than a board player,” says Garfield. “In card games, you often have to deal with what you get and it’s the person who makes the most of it instead of expecting you to win or follow the same strategy. So you don’t play poker and think, ‘I will bluff every third hand “You have to adapt to what you’re doing. If that gives me a great strategy, sometimes I want to actually go after the frogs.”

(Image credit: Abrakam)

Little bit when designing Magic: The Gathering, Garfield had no idea that he was developing a whole new breed of game, one that was so successful that decades later it spawned subgenres and mutations like this one. “It would be impossible for me to remotely anticipate how it would end up,” he says. “I know that for the first few years after Magic came out, I was amazed over and over again.”

He’s happy to keep exploring the possibilities and see what other designers are doing too. “I think it’s a very rich area that I stumbled upon in design,” he says. “I continue to be intrigued by things other people do with the concept and still feel like it’s great fun to explore for myself.”

Roguebook is expected to be released on Steam in June 2021.



Robert Dunfee