No scary stuff in whimsical ‘Book of Demons: Hellcard’ video game

"Book of Demons: Hellcard" is a cooperative roguelike deckbuilder indie video game that can be played in multiplayer and singleplayer modes. (Photo courtesy of Thing Trunk)
"Book of Demons: Hellcard" is a cooperative roguelike deckbuilder indie video game that can be played in multiplayer and singleplayer modes. (Photo courtesy of Thing Trunk)

  • 'Book of Demons: Hellcard'
  • Platform: PC, Linux (Steam)
  • Cost: $19.99
  • Rating: Everyone 10+
  • Score: 8 out of 10

"Book of Demons: Hellcard" is a game that's a lot less gruesome than its title might suggest. There is a dungeon to dive into, battling downward level by level, and it's filled with demons, skeletons and other baddies to fight, yes, but here they appear as one might see in a children's pop-up book featuring papercraft scenery.

"Hellcard" is a cooperative (or single-player) rogue-like deckbuilder, drawing heavily from the genre-defining standout "Slay the Spire" but adding the option for two- or three-person multiplayer experience, with all players building their decks and participating in quick tactical, turn-based combat.

At the start of a dungeon run, players choose their archetype (warrior, rogue or mage), and each player occupies a circle in the middle of a room, with monsters spawning all around. Each character has a starting deck of low-rank cards to play, and draws five; each player starts with three mana available. The rogue's abilities center mainly on ranged attacks (with bonus for enemies outside the circle), while the warrior often gets a damage bonus for nearby enemies, and the mage, of course, casts various spells.

Enemies will telegraph their next turn's action above their heads, so players know if an enemy is going to move closer, attack, heal, summon a creature or some other action. Clear out all the enemies, and the characters get some rewards and then advance to the next dungeon level.

Between levels, it's time to heal up, acquire or upgrade cards, get artifacts that have unique powers (like giving armor each turn, or increased mana to use more cards). Just having three basic classes might seem limiting, but there are more than 300 cards to acquire, making every dungeon dive a unique experience.

At dungeon level 2, a companion will join in, and now the battlefield will be split in half, and on the third level, another joins, splitting the battlefield into thirds. Now enemies will target one character or another, with some interesting mechanics available (like the rogue being able to bump strong enemies into the zone of a warrior with better armor, or kick a melee attacker away from the inner circle so it has to move instead of deal damage).

In single player, the non-playing-character companions are controlled by the player, but the game really shines in multiplayer, with much more powerful combinations and builds available.

Because it's rogue-like, every run must eventually come to an end, but experience gained will unlock permanent benefits for future runs, as well as an endless mode (no final boss, just keep diving deeper) as well as ways to ramp up the difficulty (like limiting the ability to heal between levels).

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One aspect of the game that's notably missing is the music. There are sound effects but no background music. Music can really add a lot to a game. "Soulstone Survivors" and "Oregon Trail" are two recently reviewed games that had excellent soundtracks, so the lack of one here is a flaw, and hopefully one that will be rectified in the future.

There's not a lot of story here — it's technically a sequel to a previous hack-and-slash game by Poland-based developer Thing Trunk, so it's really relying on the merits of its combat and tactics system, and it ably succeeds. It's still in Early Access, so there's more content yet to come, but it's already quite polished and playable.

And despite the disturbing name, there's not any real violence or scary stuff — just 2D paper dolls bouncing around.

I enjoy card battlers like "Slay the Spire," and while it's still top dog in the genre, the multiplayer aspect makes "Book of Demons: Hellcard" a unique draw. 

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