Quick Look – Black Book (#JustOnePercent 71/100)

Developer: Morteshka
Release Date: August 10, 2021
MSRP: $24.99

I realize I haven’t been shy about expressing my opinion about deck building games, which depending on the day, will be somewhere between apathy and a genuine distaste. I think that there have been a lot of games over the last year or so to pick up deck-builder mechanics where it felt like the developer was more interesting in making a game to exploit the new hotness than to because card mechanics fit the game. I’m am please to report that, at least for me, Black Book was not one of those games.

You play as Vasalisa, who has chosen to become a witch in order to break the seven seals and save the soul of her betrothed from Hell. As you work towards this goal, you must also perform the duties of your new profession, and aid the townsfolk with their demon problems. While you will be able to talk your way through some demonic encounters, more often than not you need to subdue them in combat, and the way you do that is by casting spells from the pages of your spell book. For me, this doesn’t feel like a reach, but instead a logical reason to have card game mechanics.

For someone who likes deck-building games, there’s already a lot to like here. Spells are classified either as orders or keys, and you can utilize two orders and one key per turn. There seem to be quite a variety of spell effects, although most of what I’ve seen so far focuses on direct damage and shielding, with some heals and status effects sprinkled throughout. You’re given access to new pages fairly frequently, and if you’re not paying attention, it won’t be too long before you’re dealing with the weakness that comes from having a bloated deck.

Your days consist of assigning tasks to your demons and hearing petitions from villagers. Your nights are dedicated to exploration. When evening comes, you are given a map, and you must proceed through to the your goal location at the end. At each of the waypoints, you may or may not have some sort of encounter, and for me, night time was when Black Book was at its most interesting. Each stop on your path could be a battle, or it could be the discovery of something beneficial, or simply an opportunity to gain more knowledge in the form of experience points. There’s definitely some influence of text adventure games, and it breaks up the monotony of battle and really drives home the spooky atmosphere of the game.

Throughout the game, which is set in a Slavic folktale universe, you will frequently encounter terms you might not be familiar with, indicated by orange text. Hovering over the text will give you a brief definition of the term. This is something the developers easily could have avoided, or skipped over, but it definitely allows for the game to have a far stronger sense of place, while still allowing the player to access the information they may not have already been aware of.

For me, the atmosphere really is what sets Black Book apart. The light genre mash-up appealed to me in a way that a straight up card game wouldn’t have, and I loved that the game was spooky without relying on jump-scare style tactics. The game’s story is pretty lengthy, and you could easily spend 20 hours on this game, assuming you didn’t get distracted by the in-game card game and spend even more.

SteamDB estimates that Black Book has sold between 74,800 and 205,600 copies on Steam. It was also included in the February 2022 Humble Choice bundle. The combination of high sales numbers and a large number of positive reviews have made it one of the more successful indie games of 2021. It is ranked 159 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

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