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Impressions: Arcanium

Arcanium is a lane-based, multi-character deckbuilding roguelike. You control the actions of three different furry characters with their own distinct card pools, passive abilities, and equipment. There are always three different enemies in the opposing lanes, although you can spend resources to get them to retarget other lanes (Taunt cards) or swap lanes with your own characters to distribute damage and/or fire off attacks. Defeating foes grants you rewards, new cards to add to your deck, and all the sort of things you would expect from a deckbuilding roguelike.

And, uh… that basically sums it all up.

I’ve played a lot of deckbuilding roguelikes over the years and Arcanium is OK. Fine, even. What it reminded me most of was Roguebook, in that you have multiple characters with their own decks, traverse a hex-based map trying to uncover new nodes, and there being incentives to maximize deck size. I also appreciate the new trend (?) for these games to allow banked energy – you start with 3/turn, but can carry up to 5 over to your next turn, if you don’t have a use for it. That part, along with the equipment, reminded me of Across the Obelisk.

I do have some issues with the game, although they are difficult to articulate. For example, a lot of the enemies feel the same: they attack for X amount, deal a debuff, perform an area attack for Y amount, or gain armor. That sort of reductionism can be made for Slay the Spire too, right? Perhaps it feels worse in Arcanium due to the lane-based nature of the game. After all, enemies always target down their lane, and you cannot target things more than one lane away.

Another issue I have is that the sort of highest-difficulty fights reward you with Heirloom Equipment, which are character-specific items that synergize with their passive abilities/cards in various ways. Getting all three characters their Heirlooms is very important… but once that’s done, those hard battles thereafter become mostly pointless, as you’d rather get regular equipment for the other slots. Technically you get an already-upgraded card choice from the rewards and closer to unlocking character upgrades (more energy/cards per turn), but again, it just feels bad doing these fights with the Heirlooms being wasted. I wish there was a way to scrap them or trade for regular equipment.

Overall, Arcanium is a perfectly serviceable deckbuilding roguelike. Unlocking new characters by doing specific things during each run feels rewarding, and cards are similarly unlocked and added to the pool all the time. Each character and their card pools feels unique, and you can be rewarded for discovering synergies between them. Having said that, I have played Arcanium for 15 hours and feel like I’ve seen all that I want to, whereas most deckbuilders taper off after 40 hours for me. Take that for what you will.

Impression: Roguebook

Out of all of the deck-building games I have played, Roguebook is the one that has come closest to scratching the Slay the Spire itch. And yet it is also different enough that it’s possible that someone who didn’t like Slay the Spire might enjoy Roguebook.

There are a lot of interesting design decisions going on in Roguebook. The basic premise is that you have been sucked into (presumably) the titular book, and you must battle your way past many foes and bosses on your way out. However the aesthetic is one of “blank pages,” where you use bottles of ink and paintbrushes to uncover blank tiles in order to explore and otherwise navigate towards the exit. By default, there is a very straight path to each level’s boss, but you are unlikely to survive without exploring more of the board and getting stronger. Regular fights give ink bottles to uncover straight-line paths, and elite battles give AoE paintbrushes. Gold can be found on the map, and there are a number of other structures that allow you to purchase new cards, get additional treasures, and there’s always a shop available to do likewise.

Make no mistake: exploration is extremely RNG-driven. While there are sometimes pre-revealed tiles you can head towards, the difference between uncovering an empty tile and one that lets you transform a basic card into a rare one with gems attached can be massive. You do eventually start earning progression currency that will allow you to improve future runs – thereby making exploration and combat easier overall – but things can be swingy in the beginning.

Speaking of gems, cards have gem slots ala Monster Train. Some gems are standard sort of “+3 damage” options, but some of the rarer varieties can do goofy things like giving you a free copy of the card, shuffling it back on top of your library, and similar. Artifacts can also be earned/purchased, which give passive (and sometimes active!) abilities.

Combat is fairly standard Slay the Spire with cards costing resources to play, drawing new cards each turn, etc… except there are two heroes. Playing a Defend card (or a few others) will cause that hero to go to the front, with any incoming damage hitting just that person. Losing one hero is not Game Over – you can recover by casting 5 special cards, but you get saddled with two spoiler cards in your deck until that level’s boss is defeated. Each hero has their own exclusive card pools and there are four heroes total, and you can choose the pair at the beginning of each run.

One twist I appreciated was the introductions of talents based on deck size. Basically every X number of cards you add to your deck, unlocks a randomized selection of three talents based on the heroes you’re running. All too often in this genre, the optimal strategy is to keep your deck size as small as possible, so it was fun to see the designers address it with talents. While some of them can be misses, a few can radically alter your entire gameplan.

For example, one character might get “Gain 1 Power each time a card is Dissolved,” which by itself is whatever. But if you paired that character with another that is frequently offered cards that generate 0-cost Throwing Daggers that, you guessed it, dissolve when played, and then combine that with an attack the original character has that deals 1×8 damage… yeah. Does that get your juices flowing?

Overall, Roguebook is a fun game that nevertheless feels a tad easier than Slay the Spire. I have played over 40 hours thus far, unlocking almost all of the Ascension-esque effects. I would say that about 80% of that time has been with the same pair of characters chasing the same strong synergies each game, only deviating if my luck was terrible. In other words, I don’t feel it has the same depth has Slay the Spire, but none of that matters much if you aren’t looking for something to entertain you for 200+ hours. Roguebook is entertaining enough and possibly more approachable at that.