A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
Players are free to make moral choices that are anywhere from totally positive to totally negative, and both kinds of decisions are rewarded on different point systems. Players are also not encouraged to act in either positive or negative ways.
Positive Role Models
Vasilisa becomes a witch for self-serving reasons, and if the player chooses, she'll continue to muddle through her responsibilities simply to avoid personal anguish. Though she serves an important role in her community, she's not driven by a sense of duty or collective responsibility. But Black Book does contain positive gender representations, with characters never being held to expectations based on their gender identity.
Black Book does a fantastic job of teaching about Slavic cultural history and mythology. Though there's not diversity in race or representation of LGBTQ+ characters, Black Book does earn a lot of credit for being very well-researched. As the creative team collaborated with cultural experts during the writing process, players are provided with educational cultural context for all of the content, especially when questions about morality and religion are posed.
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Ease of Play
This deck-building system is incredibly intuitive, but still entertaining for more seasoned players or strategic deck-builders. One reason for this is that Black Book is focused on guiding players through a story instead of providing more challenging strategic card battles that are meant to be played through many times before completing. In addition, the surrounding game design is very cohesive and familiar, so it's easy to settle into as a new player.
Violence & Scariness
Card battles contain animations that sometimes show blood effects. There's also mention of a character committing suicide. Additionally, some characters, such as some of the demons Vasilisa fights, exhibit verbal hostility and meanness before battles, though this is to be expected and may not have as much of a negative effect on younger players as if these characters were human or realistic.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Characters briefly discuss romantic relationships, including a side storyline in which a character contemplates marrying a woman stuck in the realm of demons in order to bring her soul back to the physical world.
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Mentions of Hell are frequent, as they are essential for telling the story and keeping true to its presentation of religious influences on culture.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Black Book is a downloadable strategic deck-building game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PCs. The game has a story built from Slavic mythology. Following the death of her fiance, a young woman named Vasilisa longs to rescue his soul from the underworld. In order to do this, she must engage in the ritual to become a witch and unlock the power of a magical book that can grant any wish. Gameplay includes strategic card battles and tasks to help people in neighboring villages dealing with demons who cause anything from small inconveniences to terrible tragedies. While there's a brief discussion of romantic relationships, nothing explicit is talked about, and similarly, mentions of Hell are frequent, but are required for the explanation of scenarios and story points. While there's some blood effects from card battles, and mentions of suicide in the dialogue, there's nothing overtly gory or scary shown within play.
Is It Any Good?
This title doesn't try to be a history lesson, but it does a fantastic job of blending classic deck-building strategy mechanics into a fictional, but overall historically accurate world. It's easy to forget that so many of our present-day stories are pulled from the same traditional roots, and Black Book is a much-needed reminder of where these beloved stories of magic and fantasy come from. This comes to life in-game in small ways, such as the frequent use of traditional Russian words used in conjunction with English dialogue throughout the story. If a player forgets the meaning of the word, they can easily scroll over it to get a definition, no matter how many times it's already shown up. This subtly encourages players to actually remember these words, which many may never pursue learning on their own. Elements like this seamlessly integrate this careful research into a very entertaining story.
Another unique element is the collection of encyclopedia entries and Bailichkas, which are short fables that Vasilisa encounters throughout the story. Vasilisa needs to use the information learned from these pieces of information to directly make choices about what to say in-game. There are clear "right" and "wrong" answers, and the challenge is to apply the information in the book to what's being asked of Vasilisa during in-game events. While the need to attentively read through the encyclopedia isn't burdensome, it's tough to resist the urge to Google unfamiliar terms instead of searching for them in the book. While this isn't a flaw in the gameplay, but simply a preference in play style, it's worth mentioning that players who may lean towards only the deck-building strategy may get the feeling they're spending too much time in the library. Nevertheless, Black Book is rather ambitious for committing to include so much history in the first place, and it would be difficult to argue against its success as one of the most immersive deck-building games ever.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.