Black Book Review

Black Book Review (PC): How To Become A Witch

Enter a world of witchcraft and Slavic folklore in this Black Book review - a game that mixes a decent story with deck-building qualities.

Welcome to the world of Black Book – a pseudo-deck-building adventure, with a slight twist on the genre, based around Slavic folklore. Unless you’re clued up on the subject matter, it’s a bit of a slow burner, but for the right reasons.

You play Vasilisa, destined to be a witch; she throws it all away to marry her beau. Alas, he dies in surprising and mysterious circumstances, yet she believes she can bring him back by unlocking the seven seals that bind the Black Book of the title. Under the wing of her grandfather Egor, she takes the first steps of becoming a witch, shaking hands with the devil in the hope of unlocking the powers of the book.

Becoming a witch, rather, a koldun (roughly translated as a sorcerer), you have to help the community with their supernatural problems. Demons, imps and what-not are commonplace here, and with Egor at your side, you’ll hear from the commoners, providing advice and accepting quests to rid them of their problem. 

Black Book Review

These meets occur at Igor’s home, an Izba. The client will tell you the issue, and you then decipher the meaning or action using your knowledge base. The terminology used in Black Book can be pretty overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with the lore, but there’s an encyclopedia that records entries, the Onomasticon, where you can interpret the problem, and if chosen correctly, earn some XP points to unlock skills.

Black Book Review - Not Jesus
Not him, the other one. Source: Steam

Before you can set out into the world, you have to attend to your visitors. Once completed, you venture into the world, using a map that shows your primary objective with checkpoints along the way, plus optional objectives. Selecting each point will often bring up a choose your own adventure scenario where you’ll encounter an NPC, demon or location to sniff around. On occasions, this will reward consumables, knowledge – a.k.a. XP, occasional damage from traps, but most frequently combat.

So we mentioned that Black Book, a game from HypeTrain Digital, is a deck-building game with a twist. Instead of using cards, you use the titular text, adding additional pages to it as you progress. Unlike the traditional mechanic of action points, Vasilisa – or Vasya – can select a page known as an order, and two keys. In time, you can earn additional benefits to play more moves. The former is typically an attack or debuff to the enemy, and keys are support moves. You’ll stack up your pages, end your turn, await the enemy advances and then repeat. 

The battles move steadily, as it’s a turn-based game, and there are plenty of options to adjust the difficulty if it’s too easy or challenging. Early battles are a little dull purely because you don’t have the skillset, but gradually they build up as you complete side quests and level up. You can also enlist allies to help as a bonus.

The Witch Will See You Now

As expected, the battles usually take place from a fixed viewpoint, shifting a little depending on the move. Before going into the main battles and in a few other scenarios, you’re able to move about freely. There are points of interest displayed on the screen to guide you, but the movement can be janky. If you don’t select a defined point, Vasya can end up running in small circles. It’s not the end of the world, as if this mock dance will conjure more chorts to battle, but it can be pretty clumsy and takes the edge off if you see her bumbling about with the camera having a panic attack.

Black Book Review - Play your cards right
Play your cards right. Source: Steam

Wait a sec – what’s that chort business? A chort is a demon or imp you’ll frequently encounter. It’s another new word to learn, but anything of interest in the dialogue shows up in orange with a ‘tooltip’ to help you. As a koldun, you can have these as your familiars. Each morning you can send them out to do a task to earn money and experience, but if you leave them as is, they can start to harass you, increasing your sin levels (more in a mo) and dropping your health. Each chort has a skillset, so it’s all peachy if you put them on the tasks they excel. Put them on a job they don’t like, and you’ll see why they can be such a nuisance.

How can you sin in Black Book? Doing bad things such as stealing, lying, and inflicting harm on innocents – i.e. cursing them and other evil deeds. Accumulating too much sin will inevitably affect one of the multiple endings as well. As a goody goody, I was a little annoyed that numerous scenarios can set you up to do wrong. Fearful of repercussions, I would often load an autosave to undo a ghastly deed to follow the path of righteousness. After all, the Black Book can grant any wish to the bearer, so I needn’t sabotage my fundamental quest, right?

But that made Black Book all the more luring was not her journey to become a witch, but an enlightening one when learning about culture and customs. And before you read that and think of school, lectures from your fossils or associating that it’s boring, it’s not. In some ways, it made me a little more superstitious. It’s… bewitching. Here all week.