Restore the Oak Song and Save the Forest in this Stylish Turn-Based Tactical Roguelite Game
Here comes another deck builder. Does it have what it takes to stand out from the rest? Can it renew the attention of the growing group of gamers who are sick of deck builders? Or will it blend into the overwhelming amount of games in the genre? Let’s find out.
Oaken is about the Great Oak losing its voice, called the Oak Song. Without the Oak Song, the forest and all the creatures in it start to get infected with darkness. You are a sapling, known as The Lady, on a quest to discover what happened to the Oak Song. Hopefully, in finding the answer, you can restore the Great Oak back to its former glory and bring peace back to the forest.
There is a blend of a few different genres in Oaken. First and foremost, it is a turn-based deck builder. However, it is also a roguelike tactical game played out on a hexagonal grid. The focus definitely felt more on the roguelike tactical combat side of things, and it worked well in Oaken’s favor.
It does have the typical randomly generated maps with the branching routes and different events. There are narrative-focused events, combat events, and so on. All of the events selected while traveling through the map added to the story nicely. The combat events are where things stood out, though.
Before entering combat, there is always a brief that describes the objective, secondary objective, special environmental effects, and what enemies to expect. There is a bit of a background story for the event also included. It’s an excellent addition for people who want to learn more about the game’s lore. This is also the perfect time to double-check your deck to ensure everything is how you want it for the upcoming conflict.
A few things make the deck building in Oaken stand out. Foremost, the deck is split into Spell and Character cards. These feel more like characters in your party than just cards in a deck. You can give them special abilities, you have to monitor their health, and they can even level up. More on that in a bit.
The Combat System
Once your deck is ready, you can start the battle. There is almost always a primary and a secondary objective. The primary goal is to defeat the enemy hero or a set number of enemies. The secondary objective is what forces you to strategize a bit more instead of focusing on brute strength. It can really change how you resolve the conflict. It might be protecting a poor creature that is trying to get away from the darkness.
Or cleansing the battlefield of all the horns, aka stepping on them and taking the damage while still having enough left to defeat the enemy. One of the more interesting ones I came across was defeating the enemy hero without any of the other enemy units taking damage.
With the objectives in mind, you make your move. On your turn, you can move your characters, play spells or character cards to the field, use abilities, and even attack an enemy with your character or other characters in your party. Moving and attacking does not require energy, but using abilities or cards does. Using a card more than once in a conflict will exhaust it with negative effects.
Like most deck builders, you have a set amount of energy each turn to use on abilities or cards. Unlike a lot of deck builders, you are on a grid where position and facing matter. When a unit attacks another unit, there is a counterattack that happens. This can be avoided if you or the enemy attack from outside of the unit’s frontal arc. This is also important to keep in mind when summoning new characters to the field. They cannot move their first turn, so you must play them on the field so they are facing in a way that the enemy cannot get behind them on their turn.
Progression and Combos
As you progress in the game, you will also get trinkets that will make positioning matter even more. You will start to be able to build combos, which is where the strategic fun begins. For example, you might have a trinket that says your characters get +1 to attack when a green hex is created underneath them. Then you play a Seeding, which creates green hexes in its frontal arc when it is played. You play it facing two of your units already on the field, boosting both of their attacks by +1. Now they have enough attack to finish off the enemy hero.
At the end of every conflict, you will collect Lumi Dust. This can be used to level up a unit, which increases its attack and defense, or Heal a team from Fatigue or Exhaustion. Then you will get an award. Sometimes the award is choosing a new spell or character card for your deck. Sometimes you pick a Whisp that you can use to give your characters special abilities. Then, you apply your awards and move to the next event on the map.
I love the art, and you can tell the designer does too. There aren’t too many card games where you get a Preview Panel to get a better look at the characters on your cards. All of the characters are whimsical and adorable looking. I always enjoyed going to the Preview Panel when I got a new character to look at. The art on the cards is translated very well into the 3D models.
All of the characters are on their own bases. This gave the game a board game feel that I enjoyed. The gorgeous animations did a great job of preventing any of the characters from feeling stiff though. This prevented it from feeling like a digitalized board game.
All of the environments were also well done. Many different tilesets to change the setting and the backgrounds all added to the mood and setting nicely.
As I mentioned before, the deck-building genre is getting overly crowded. There are so many games that follow the same formula. Do a battle, add a card/upgrade a card, do another battle etcetera. Oaken could have easily stuck to this formula. Luckily, they did not.
I think that Oaken does a great job of blending genres. The tactical gameplay is what really makes this game stand out from the other deck builders. I enjoyed the grid battles and the focus on combos with the cards that you have. The decks were all relatively small compared to a lot of other games. The goal was more on developing the ones you had for a central strategy rather than trying to manage your ever-growing deck.
Everything about Oaken felt small and intimate. I could tell that the developers were deeply invested in the game’s art and strategy. This was something that I could enjoy both on my PC as well as on the go with my Steam Deck.
So, should you consider checking out Oaken even if you are burnt out on deck-building games? I would say yes. The deck building is only a tiny portion of the game. If you are into roguelike or grid-based tactical games, then you will enjoy this one. Oaken is Available on PC via Steam and Humble, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation.