Well, this is awkward. I spent most of my last review praising a game that swapped cards for dice. I even said something about how I preferred dice. Now I turn around and see Rogue Cards standing there, deck in hand, with an expression of pure hurt on its face. I’d like to say I didn’t mean it, but I honestly did. So going back to the cards was tough. I resolved to put that aside though, and take Rogue Cards on its own merits.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t done Rogue Cards many favours. See, the genre that Rogue Cards is swinging for – the turn-based roguelike genre – is becoming very saturated. I’ve reviewed a handful in recent times. For Rogue Cards to really stand out it needed a Unique Selling Point. I’m not convinced that it really has one. It seems content to fold its arms and stay in the middle of the pack and, as a result, I fear it will soon be forgotten.
Granny, The Card Shark
Let’s give Rogue Cards a breather before we start raking up the muck. It opens with our choice of character – who are all farmers, by the way. This is a world where potato farmers have the gumption and resilience to fight off dragons. Our particular farmer is not content with endlessly watering his or her crops, however, and declares they’re destined for greatness. Then they find their Gran’s old Magic: The Gathering cards and set off to right the world’s wrongs.
These cards are where Rogue Cards makes its first attempt to seperate itself from the pack. If you read the fine print on the cards, you’ll find that spent cards stay in the graveyard at the end of a battle. You’ve gotta pay some cash or beat a boss to get them back. This has a lot of potential, as it encourages being conservative with your cards. You can either chain together a bunch of cards for some quick-fire damage or hold off for that one card that does a ton of damage. Running out of cards is a game over too, so you need to balance your remaining deck against your health.
The issues start to creep in when looking at the cards, though. The actual turn-by-turn action of Rogue Cards is fairly mundane. The vast majority of cards in my current deck just deal flat damage and have names like ‘Slash’ or ‘Bash’. There’s quite a lack of interesting things to do. Damage is split into melee, magic and pure (which is unblockable) and you can do damage over time. You just use whatever damage the enemy is weak to. That’s kind of it. All the different cards start to blend together after a while and there are very few that feel exciting to use.
These Monsters Are Stacked
Putting my positivity hat back on for a moment, I do like the ‘stack’ system. Rather than having a single HP bar, monsters have their health split across stacks. When you defeat one stack, it moves on to the next one, which has its own suite of attacks. This is used to great effect in the Banshee boss, where one stack has a one-hit-kill attack. That means you’ve got to be patient and build up a hand that can blow straight through the stack in one turn. It’s a nice touch and if it wasn’t for all the negative stuff I’m about to say, it would net it a decent score.
Okay, positive hat off. Rogue Cards‘ most glaring flaw is in the presentation. It just feels bland. Card art has the potential to be amazing – just look at Magic: The Gathering. Rogue Cards‘ art is mostly just flat drawings of different weapons or flavours of lightning. The card effects are just simple effects as well. Even the big, rare cards don’t do anything interesting, visually. Enemies suffer from a similar problem. They are presented as small, circular drawings that don’t change. The designs are rather uninspired for the most part too. The background art is very pretty, though.
I bring this up because there’s a big problem that all roguelikes have to overcome: repetition. Rogue Cards crashes headlong into this problem and bounces right off. For one thing, every run follows the same pattern. You start at the village, fight a few battles against orcs then you fight an Elephant, then an Ogre and move onto the next region. Every single time. Same bosses, same enemies, same methods for beating them. This, combined with the simplistic art and combat, made every run begin to feel very samey.
A Harsh Critique
I feel like this is one of the worst things you can say about a piece of entertainment but I feel I have to say it: I found Rogue Cards to be quite boring. Usually with these roguelikes, I reach a point where I’m genuinely excited to press on because everything is clicking for me. I never got that with Rogue Cards. Everything felt so humdrum that I was checking my watch; waiting for the run to be over. I feel mean saying it, but it’s true. The writing, too, doesn’t do much. There’s an occasional funny line, but half of it feels like someone copied a section of fantasy madlibs. That’s when it wasn’t written in broken English.
And it’s a damn shame, because there are kernels of good ideas in here. The enemy stack system and the constant balancing of the graveyard are ideas that deserve to be set into a better game than this. Around these ideas, we’re left with humdrum cards, bland art and repetitive runs. Despite the name, Rogue Cards doesn’t feel that rogue. Instead, it’s following in the footsteps of many games before it and ends up feeling largely forgettable.