Usually, games are developed by a large number of game developers. Even most smaller indie studios have a dozen people on board. However, Book of Hours is made by a 2 person team (Supported by contractors which are properly credited) and is the spiritual follow up to their smash hit Cultist Simulator. An achievement in itself, read our thoughts about this game below in our Book of Hours review.
Restoring the past
Book of Hours is a card based crafting game relying heavily on its narrative. You play as a librarian specializing in the occult. You are sent on your way to a remote village by the sea. Your task is to restore an ancient library or castle, called Hush House, to its former glory. It’s your goal to make it a grand occult library again. With some help here and there.
You start the game by arriving on a beach, tasked with finding your way to the local village. One of the things you’ll immediately notice is that there’s no tutorial whatsoever. And with no I mean absolutely nothing. You are presented with a small map of the beach, with the rest obscured by fog of war and an interface with a few cards on it. The first 5 minutes I genuinely just clicked stuff to see what it did. Your options are very limited at the start, because getting to the castle is basically your prologue and tutorial. It tries to make you acquainted with the game’s mechanics.
No hand holding
Having no tutorial or explanation regarding a game’s mechanics is not new nor necessarily a problem. However in those cases games usually rely on familiar gameplay from other games in the genre or a clear interface. Neither is the case for Book of Hours. Book of Hours’ gameplay is very unique so there’s not a lot of similar games you can refer to. And as I mentioned, I spent 5 minutes just figuring out what every part of the screen was. This is intended and what the developer was going for, but a combination of all of these factors will probably put a lot of players off.
After a while I figured out there’s a few types of cards. There’s item cards, of which you can carry five at a time. As the name implies, these are generally objects that you can interact with or use. There are memory cards, of which you get one per day based on the weather. If you want more, you have to talk with people or observe objects. There’s also soul cards, which are best described as actions. They can be used to perform various tasks. And last but not least there are sundries. This includes currency which you’ll need to enlist aid from others.
Play your cards right
Every card has various attributes. They mention whether they’re a thing or a person for example. Or what aspects they belong to such as Sky or Grail. Some cards have a value of one aspect and some have higher attribute values. As you progress throughout the game, you’ll find you’ll need higher valued cards for certain actions.
Your ultimate goal as a librarian is to decipher occult books in your library. You do this by combining various cards with the necessary attributes. During the deciphering you might fail, because you lack the required number. You’ll be given various opportunities to use other types of cards to boost your current aspect value. It took me a while to figure this out, which led to me being stuck for about half an hour. (Although I don’t hold this against the game, this is part of the puzzle).
Back and forth
Before you can get to deciphering the books in your library however, you’ll start with only one room unlocked from your castle. In order to unlock more rooms, you’ll need to enlist the aid of townsfolk. The first rooms are easy, but you’ll need upgraded cards as you progress. So you’ll need to switch between deciphering books, completing events and discovering new rooms continuously. This effectively leads to Book of Hours being one gigantic puzzle. And this is well executed. While you start out with a very small map, after a few hours you’ll have so many things to investigate and try that it becomes fairly addicting.
One straightforward pitfall however is that it can quickly become chaotic. It’s part of the challenge for puzzle enthusiasts, but I can also imagine inexperienced puzzlers will become easily lost. And with the lack of any form of guidance, this may cause players to quit after a few hours. As you uncover rooms of the castle, you’ll eventually end up with one giant mansion. Every room has its specific theme. You can drag around items as you like. This offers an, intended or unintended, decorating game within Book of Hours for Life Simulation enthusiasts.
In terms of gameplay, it’s good to know Book of Hours is completely combat free. And there’s no time pressure to get things done. While there is a day and night cycle, it is rather forgiving. Memory cards vanish when morning comes, so you want to use them up whenever you find an opening for them. But Soul cards refresh in the morning. You can also always pause the game. If you find yourself losing useful cards, there’s always a chance to get them back in your hand by following your previous steps. If the puzzles were a little less challenging, you might call it a perfect relaxing game.
With Book of Hours being about the occult, it probably won’t surprise you the game offers a darker color palette throughout its map. Inside of the castle, more vibrant colors are used from time to time. Book of Hours offers a beautifully handcrafted map and cards. Additionally, the game is accompanied by songs which offer background music to go with the game’s relaxing flow. You can always pause or skip songs as you wish.
In the end, after hours of play I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Book of Hours. Mixed is probably the best description. I’ll be honest; If I wasn’t reviewing the game I would have stopped within 15 minutes because the lack of any guidance combined with the unclear interface was a massive hurdle. But when I pushed through, I found a quirky and interesting puzzle game underneath which definitely kept me going. In the end, I do feel this game is mostly suited to hardcore puzzle enthusiasts.
- One massive puzzle
- Unique game concept
- No time or combat pressure
- No guidance at all
- Chaotic interface