When I was a kid, I remember reading a few books about magic. I particularly remember The Black Witch, in which a girl named Lily wants to be the most powerful witch in all the land. However, in order to do that, she must face a sinister and powerful foe who wants her dead. I remember being impressed by the description of the villain, the “Black Witch”, and how she was so strong and powerful.

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This is a review of a book I have recently read, which I will review here. The book is called “Witching Hour”, written by a famous writer, who wrote other famous stuff. Her writing is very good, very important to read. It is a story about a famous basketball player, who was famous because he was famous. (This is a different famous person than the famous writer.) That’s the big picture. The story is about the basketball player, and how he became famous. He was an NBA player. The book was published in the year 2000.

The effort of Clearing Black Book should be given academic credit. It’s so entrenched in Russian mythology that it creates its own CliffsNotes and encyclopedia for you as you’re playing.

It’s difficult to categorize Black Book’s genre. It’s a digital card game with RPG components, but it also includes an exploration/conversation aspect that harkens back to great adventure games from the 1990s. If you like Slay the Spire or Roguebook to Slay the Spire or Roguebook with a 20-hour story mode, Black Book is the game for you.

Witching Hour, a Black Book Review

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Black Book is a frightening nighttime walking tour around the Russian countryside in the nineteenth century, where you’re continuously torn between being a full-on villain protagonist and a vaguely repentant anti-hero.

What I like about it is that it’s not your standard Western fantasy setting. We’re finally beginning to see more video games that go beyond the usual Tolkien-by-way-of-Gygax parody, thanks to recent releases like this and Cris Tales.

It’s a lot to process. Black Book suffers from the same problem as other urban fantasy and strange RPGs in that it generates its own language so quickly that it’s easy to get lost in the mix. Despite the fact that the “terminology” is just leaving certain Russian terms intact, such as “koldun” (witch) and “zangovar” (spell, prayer), I had to take notes while playing.

All the Way to Hell and Back

Vasilisa is an orphaned child with the ability to turn into a witch. She intended to ignore it and marry anyhow, but then her fiancé was found dead.

To reclaim him, Vasilisa returns to her old master Egor and assumes his position as a koldun, a witchcraft and demonology practitioner, as well as his Black Book. The Book in question is stamped with seven seals, the first of which has already been broken, and contains numerous spells. According to legend, if Vasilisa can find out how to shatter the other six, she may wish for whatever she wants, even the resurrection of her fiancé.

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Vasilisa acts as the new witch and “knower” for the local peasants as she hunts for the knowledge she needs, chasing demons, fighting spirits, and dealing with the odd curse. Her main goal is constantly in the background, but most of Black Book is about what happens to her while she’s planning something else.

Upstairs, Downstairs, Upstairs, Downstairs, Upstairs, Down

Being a witch in 19th-century Russia isn’t exactly a heroic profession. Vasilisa’s morals is reflected in a stat called Sins, which is raised anytime she commits a crime or consorts with bad spirits. When she does something nice, it diminishes.

Vasilisa, on the other hand, is in charge of a horde of demons that must be given something to do at all times or they will torture her, incurring severe mechanical penalties. That means you must send them out to commit minor crimes against the countryside, each of which rewards you with cash but also earns you a staggering amount of Sins.

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It’s less about balancing a karma meter and more about deciding how wicked you want Vasilisa to be. You’re not going to pull her out of this unscathed no matter how you play it, but you can invest in methods to limit the damage. As a result, you’ll earn less money and have fewer skill points to invest in fighting skills.

It’s a unique take on the standard video game morality scale, which all too frequently divides between sainthood and petty nastiness. Vasilisa is always on a dark road, no matter how you play – the scenario at the opening of the game when she acquires her abilities includes a little journey to Hell, where she’s welcomed as a promising new talent — but you can try not to get caught up in it.

A Mixture of Everything

In Black Book, fighting takes the shape of a card game in which players pick pages from the eponymous book to play. Instead of a finite pool of some resource, you’re restricted by the number of cards you may play in a round, although the game distinguishes between regular and “key” cards, which might sometimes limit your choices.

It’s simple to get started, but the further you go into the Book, the more choices you’ll find, mostly in the form of extra spell modifications. I still don’t have a clear understanding of how the different systems operate, but Black Book’s learning curve is forgiving… for the most part.

There are a few boss battles that constitute an unexpected and unwelcome difficulty increase, one of which almost forced me to restart the game. (Fortunately, the game saves your progress immediately at the start of each new level, so I was able to go back and create a new strategy with ease.)

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You can nearly always modify your loadout from the main menu. You must pay to acquire cards back from the Book, but it is free to get rid of them, which helps to keep your deck streamlined. As a result, you’re nearly always short on cash, which is an odd incentive to keep your pet devils causing trouble in the countryside for you.

The remainder of Black Book is an odd kind of detective game in which you must hunt for clues and unlock encyclopedia pages in order to solve Vasilisa’s numerous riddles. This may be anything from a strange whodunit in a salt mine to determining what kind of monster has possessed a town, and it’s very excellent at not simply giving you the clues.

It’s a gratifying victory when you find out the correct answer to anything from context or study, making the 19th-century Russian witch simulator one of the best detective-work games I’ve played recently. Huh.

The Bottom Line in a Black Book Review

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Pros:

  • Take on digital card games that is accessible even if it is complicated.
  • This isn’t your typical Tolkien/Gygax fantasy quest.
  • Morality system that pushes you to make difficult decisions on a regular basis
  • A solid, though odd, translation that presents a strange tale

Cons

  • Consequences are often inconvenient.
  • The difficulty level may suddenly increase without notice.
  • There are a few systems that are tough to comprehend.
  • Several crashes to the desktop

In terms of genre, Black Book is all over the place, and it makes no attempt to clarify its translation for non-Russian readers. It’s unmistakably gloomy, with more than a few stumbling blocks that require you to rebuild your deck with very restricted resources.

It’s difficult for me to assign a numerical value to anything like that. I’d gladly suggest it to anybody who has a card game addiction; it has a few RPG elements, and if you’re interested in learning about Russian mythology, Black Book is virtually an educational tool.

It is, however, clumsy, inconsistent, and inept at describing its systems. I wouldn’t say it’s unpolished — I have a feeling Black Book is precisely what it was meant to be — but it seems like the kind of game that would’ve come with an inch-thick manual back in the day, which you don’t have.

It’s a high 7, low 8, and you shouldn’t be scared to attempt it. It is, at the very least, uncommon, which is worth something in and of itself.

[Note: The copy of Black Book utilized for this review was supplied by HypeTrain Digital.]

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