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Black Book: facing your demons

Is there a standard mechanic used in video games that you just can’t seem to gel with? Maybe it’s tricky timed jumps in platformers, pixel-hunting and in point-and-clicks or having to stay behind cover in shooters (I’m speaking for my other-half here).

As I’ve written before, it’s turn-based combat which does it for me. It just doesn’t feel representative of a real fight: if you’re confronted with a huge monster, you’re not going to politely wait while it considers its options and then takes its turn to strike. This says an awful lot about my personality and it’s obvious I don’t have the patience required for the genre. I’d much rather run into the battle with a scream and swords raised, and hopefully come out victorious. No guts, no glory as they say.

So why on earth did I decide to back Black Book on Kickstarter last week? Morteshka’s project is being advertised as ‘an adventure game with deck-building turn-based combat’ so you’d think it would be everything I don’t enjoy. The truth is that I’ve had this one on my Steam wishlist since it appeared in my recommendations at the beginning of the year and when I found out about the crowdfunding campaign, I headed over become a backer and try the prologue.

This game tells the story of a young girl named Vasilisa, destined to become a witch and left heartbroken when her beloved dies in mysterious circumstances. She is given the Black Book, an ancient artefact which is said to be powerful enough to grant any wish to the person who is able to unlock its seven seals, and sets out on a quest to bring him back to her. Her journey will see her face the destructive influence of dark magic: will she surrender to its forces and become a lost sorceress or will she atone for selling her soul?

The prologue begins as Vasilisa becomes initiated and prepares to fight her first shadowy demon. She must choose three cards from the Black Book during each round (at least, it’s this number at the start of a playthrough) and use them to cast both defensive and offensive spells against her foe. The cards consist of two suits called Orders and Keys, and it’s necessary to select the correct amount from each for your turn to drive your opponent’s health down to zero while protecting yourself.

You can get a feel for the enemy’s intentions by checking out the symbols displayed over their head. This enables you to think strategically about your actions and plan the best spell response. Some cards work better together – for example, I came across one which gave an additional attack point for every other card of the same colour used in that round – and you’ll obtain further spells during the game by completing quests, receiving them as drops from encounters or buying them from the shop.

Once I’d completed Vasilisa’s initiation, it was time to take on several tasks and help the people around the province of Cherdyn. We banished two demons in Kusheva Village so a family didn’t have to spend the night sleeping on the streets and battled another who tried to ambush us at an Old River Bed. In other locations, it was possible to make a choice upon entering and this affected what happened next; for example, reading a prayer at Kachevo Lake caused two silhouettes to immediately disappear without a fight.

Black Book features a variety of Northern Slavic mythological creatures and Morteshka say they took extra effort to achieve authenticity in their portrayal. The development team grew up with these folk-tales and remember them fondly, but also took the time to consult with historians and anthropologists to make sure their project’s narrative accurately reflects the beliefs of their ancestors. You can see from the images provided on the Kickstarter page how they used illustrations from old books as reference for their artwork.

Towards the end of the of prologue, we encountered our biggest challenge yet: a larger foe called the Thirteenth Brother. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to collect as many medicinal herbs as possible in previous locations so we were well prepared. After impressing him with Vasilisa’s knowledge, he asked us to take him into our service and I accepted – but now I’m not sure it was such a good idea. The Steam page advises that you can recruit a flock of demons to do your bidding, but idle creatures will torture you if you don’t find them something to do.

When we returned home with our rewards of roubles and knowledge points, our grandfather Egor updated us on his research into opening the Black Book. As ‘every single piece has its meaning’ and ‘every seal needs a devil’, it sounds as though many more battles are going to lie ahead for Vasilisa. Will she be able to defeat every enemy that stands in her way? Will be able to stay strong and not succumb to the dark forces of black magic? And most importantly, will she be able to bring her beloved back from the dead?

Black Book, video game, witch, spell, circle, candles, Vasilisa, old man, Egor, dog, demon, dark, night, forest

It’s these questions that caused me to become a backer for Black Book. Turn-based combat won’t ever be my favourite mechanic, but I liked how the narrative for this project was darker than a lot of the fantasy stories you usually find in the genre and I’m genuinely intrigued to find out what happens to the protagonist. Forget knights battling against the forces of evil, because I’d much rather spend my time with a young sorceress who’s brave enough to battle demons.

As my other-half pointed out too, this could be a good game for us to play together in the evenings once we’ve finished work. Having to wait for your turn means there’s no rush to respond and you can take as much time as you need to think about your next move. Maybe it’s time I faced my own demons and finally learned enough patience to see a turn-based title through to its conclusion; who knows, there might even be a stream once the title is released next year.

The Kickstarter campaign has already far surpassed its £28,916 target and three stretch goals have been unlocked. There are still over two weeks to go before the deadline (at the time of writing) so if Black Book appeals to you, there’s still time to make a pledge. Check out the official website and give Morteshka a follow on Twitter for more details.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

11 thoughts on “Black Book: facing your demons Leave a comment

  1. I’d argue that stuff like this falls more under “card mechanics” rather than “turn-based combat”. In this context, combat is just the framework, but in reality, you are playing cards. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing the King of Clubs to deduct points from your opponent and have him skip his next turn, or if you play the “poisoned Shiv of Darkness” to do basically the same.

    Turn-based combat is probably a turn-off because if badly doen, every turn is basically the same. Your strategies seldomly change, and if your stats are high enough, only randomness can really affect the outcome. In card games, on the other hand, your resources are constantly dwindling or at least changing. Each card you play is gone for the rest of the turn/round/game. Sometimes your cards change each turn. More often than not, cards are limited to only a few copies in your deck, so you have to adapt to whatever you have in your hand. It’s much more dynamic than say “stun whenever possible, then use the attack with the right element. Rinse and repeat”.

    That being said, one mechanic that turns me off instantly is a carry-weight limit. I downright despise that.

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    • Ok, let me rephrase my earlier statement… ‘I don’t usually enjoy turn-based combat or card-mechanic games.’ 😆

      I don’t have the patience for releases which require a level of strategic thinking, so I normally stay away from the genres. But it’s interesting that the Black Book managed to persuade me to give it a go despite its mechanics and I think that’s something to do with the kind of story it’s trying to tell. That’s not to stay I’m going to be able to make it through to the end of the game – but I’ll certainly try once we receive our keys, and I’m happy to support the project in any case. 😊

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      • So, generally games focused more on strategy are out of your zone? Stuff like Into the Breach, X-COM, Sid Meier’s Civilization, or even Chess?

        What about Real-Time Strategy games like Warcraft or Stronghold? What’s your take on the “tactical pause” during fights? Or static RPGs, where combat happens in real time, but you are cooldown dependant and basically just stand there and hit each other until your abilities are ready again? (WoW, etc)

        You didn’t make your life easier by taking my comment seriously 🙂

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        • Other than a few rounds of chess briefly as a kid (because my dad insisted he taught me even though I wasn’t interested), I’ve not played any of the games you’ve mentioned. Their strategy element doesn’t appeal to me; if I’m playing something that involves combat, I just want to get stuck straight and press all the buttons rather than hanging back and thinking about it. I’m sure that says a lot about my level of patience. 😆

          The cooldowns in RPGs don’t particularly bother me though, and haven’t stopped me from playing the genre…

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  2. I’d normally be totally with you on the turn based thing… except I recently replayed Hard West which I first sampled some years ago and for some reason tun based there really works for me. Not sure if it’s the wild west theme, or just how the mechanic is implemented. I think generally though I’m more anti-turn based when it’s just the combat that’s turn based; when the entire game is turn based I’m way more onboard because there’s much more to think about rather than just cast spell, hit with thing etc. etc…

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    • Oh that’s interesting… how does Hard West make use of a turn-based mechanic then? It only comes into play during the fight scenes in Black Book (at least, that’s what I found during the demo) so I’m still unsure if I’ll actually end up making it to the end of the game. But I want to see where the storyline goes, and it’s clear the developers have put a lot of work into the project so they’ve got my backing. 😉

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