Some time back, HypeTrain Digital announced Black Book, a new card-based adventure game by Morteshka. They were kind enough to send us a preview key that contains roughly an hour of content. Here are my impressions so far based on the tutorial, and first in-game day.
Black Book is set in the countryside of 19th century Russia, a world where demons, curses, and evil spirits are just another part of everyday life.
You play as Vasilisa, a fledgling witch that wishes to use the mysterious dark magics of the Black Book to revive her lover after he died under suspicious circumstances.
The game starts out with Vasilisa performing an ritual under the supervision of her grandfather, Old Egor. After using a basic selection of spells from the Black Book to vanish a shadowy wolf-like creature, she succeeds in her initiation and breaks the first of seven seals placed upon the book.
Legend says that anyone who can manage to break all seven seals will have their wish granted, which is Vasilisa’s only hope at recovering her lost love.
Black Book is heavily inspired by Northern Russian folklore and superstitions, and does a admirable job of immersing players in a world where peasants have to take all sorts of precautions to guard themselves from dark forces.
While breaking the seals are Vasilisa’s main objective, she has many other duties as her rural community’s witch. The game is divided into days, and each morning you will be visited by townsfolk seeking advice and help for their supernatural woes. Once you’ve heard their tales and prepared yourself, its time to set out on another day of exorcisms and rituals.
Fans of Slay the Spire will find Black Book‘s core gameplay structure immediately familiar, although the game isn’t exactly a roguelite per se. Each day consists of navigating a map that is divided into nodes. Each node represents an event of some sort, be it a battle, or a multiple choice decision.
As with Slay the Spire, these multiple choice decisions can lead to good or bad results. Some might give you money or resources, while others might be harmful in some way.
Even though the demo was just the first day, I can already tell that future maps will have more branching paths and optional objectives to complete, on your way to exorcisms and rituals at the behest of your clients.
The game’s approach to combat is also quite similar to Slay the Spire. Black Book is essentially a card game, where your deck is the Black Book itself, and your cards are pages of spells and spirits bound to your will.
The most common types of “cards” either deal a specific amount of damage, or give you a shield that negates a certain amount of damage on the enemy’s next turn. There are also plenty of different buffs, debuffs, and other keywords. Your enemies will always telegraph their next turn, allowing you to plan out your turn with full knowledge of what’s coming next.
Where Black Book deviates from similar card games is that there is no sort of mana or energy system for casting spells. Instead, you will chain together your pages to create a single string of spells.
You will need to queue up two scroll cards and one key card each turn, and finding the right balance between these two types of cards are how the game handles the resource management aspect that most card games have.
It’s hard to really discuss the actual deckbuilding mechanics because the demo was so short, though you do get to choose from three cards every time you win a battle.
When you are at home you can modify the pages in your book by purchasing new spells, or combining spells together to get new cards, though this mechanic isn’t really present in the demo. You will also gain access to new, and more powerful pages as you break each seal. You can further enhance Vasilisa’s capabilities by finding artifacts, granting various passive buffs.
While Black Book is showing quite a bit of promise already, you can tell the demo is likely an extremely early build of the game. The English translation needs a lot of work, and I encountered some tooltips that were still in Cyrillic. Since Black Book doesn’t currently have a solid release date, there is likely plenty of time to fix these issues before release.
If you enjoy card games then you’ll want to keep an eye out for Black Book. The setting and lore are also very interesting, as its not too often that you see fantasy adventure games steeped in traditional Russian folklore.
Black Book launches 2020 for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Black Book was previewed on Windows PC using a preview code provided by HypeTrain Digital. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.