Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 10, 2013
Card Hunter first impressions

After having made sure that there is no NDA (the beta forum is even public) I want to tell you some more about Card Hunter. You could say that it is a game about a game, you are playing a group of kids playing old-school D&D in the basement. There is soda and junk food on the table, and the artwork of the modules is spot on 80's D&D. Only of course you can't play a real pen & paper game on a computer, so the gameplay has been replaced by one of the best turn-based, card-based tactical games I have ever played.

Your party consists of a classic trio of a warrior, a priest, and a wizard, with your choice of race as dwarf, human, or elf. What your characters can do, whether it is moving, attacking, or mitigating damage, totally depends on the "cards" in that characters "deck". So there are cards like Walk that let you move 2 spaces, or Bash which lets you deal 4 damage to an enemy next to you. But unlike other games, e.g. Magic the Gathering, you can't choose what is in your deck freely. Instead cards are contained in gear, for example you could wear Plain Old Boots that contain 3 Walk cards.

Characters start out with very few gear slots, with no gear in them, but an empty gear slot counts as a very basic item and thus already has some basic cards in it. Every time you finish a fight you get a treasure chest full of items, which you can then equip. Or sell and buy other gear with the gold. At the end of an adventure consisting of several fights on different maps you also receive xp, which make your characters gain levels. With higher levels you get more slots for gear, and you can equip higher level items. Later you also get "talents", shown as little dots, and some gear comes with a requirement of a number of those dots, limiting how many items with talent requirements you can equip. Gear comes in all levels, and in different rarities (common, uncommon, rare, epic, legendary).

The link of cards to gear has important consequences. In other trading card games you often wanted to have lots of rare, more powerful cards. In Card Hunter, while of course you'd prefer rare or epic gear over normal gear of the same level, you have the same effect as in a MMORPG: Yesterday's epic will be outdated by tomorrow's uncommon of a higher level. High-level gear doesn't help you if you character doesn't fulfil the level requirement, or doesn't have the talent points. So while there are various ways in the Free2Play model to get more gear with real money, like a premium account that gets you one extra item in every treasure chest, you can't simply buy your way to victory.

Instead you will have to play to win. And Card Hunter is not an easy game. And if I use words like challenging or difficult here, please understand that this is not about reflexes or being able to memorize sequences of button presses. In Card Hunter you will need to think. You and Gary the DM, the computer-controlled opponent playing all the monsters, play cards in turn. You start out with something like 4 cards per character, randomly drawn from the deck of that character, based on the gear he is equipped with. So already in the first turn you need to make decisions on which card from which character to play, while the other two characters won't do anything that turn. You can also pass, which is what at some point you will need to do when you have run out of useful cards to play. When both you and your opponent pass, new cards are drawn. So on the one hand you will need to deal with your draws being random, as well as some dice rolls affecting actions. But on the other hand the sequence in which you do things is extremely important. If you play all your move cards early, the enemy might be able to move away from you afterwards and play ranged attacks on you without you being able to retaliate. Your Righteous Frenzy, which lasts only until new cards are drawn, won't be any good if played after you exhausted your attack cards already. And so on.

There is a huge number of different adventures and game maps already in the beta. And the randomness of the draw makes the same map play out differently even if you play it twice with the same characters and the same gear. You can't just memorize the best moves, you will have to make the best out of the cards you have been dealt each and every turn. And then of course you'll think you need better cards, which means you need better gear, which is a huge motivation to play and advance your characters. And unlike other games you can't simply grind easy encounters endlessly. Each adventure can be played only once per day, and if you play adventures more than 2 levels below your characters' level, their level will be reduced temporarily and they won't earn any xp. As you can recruit more than the three characters that fit into one party, I'm currently planning on opening a second party to play through the lower level adventures that aren't of much use to my more advanced main party any more. This is a game I play because I have fun playing it every single turn, and not just because I need some reward for some hypothetical fun promised for some future date. Fun, fun, fun!

I would like to make one final remark on the quality of execution of the game: It is outstanding, far more than you would expect from a Free2Play browser game. The artwork representing cardboard figurines on a battle map is extremely well done, and everything looks just like it should on a game table. There is a lot of content for a beta game, and balance is generally excellent. I can see myself spending many fun hours with this game. If you like tactical turn-based games, I can only highly recommend signing up for the Card Hunter beta.

This looks really, really interesting, very similar to what I've thought of in the past for an MMO I'd want to make or play.

I do hope I can get into the beta.
Looks like an interesting game. I've signed up for the beta.
My friend and I both signed up for the beta based on your posts. Hope we get in soon! Looking forward to multi-player too, though Tobold -- with your extensive MtG experience -- you'll probably destroy me.

By the way, are some spam comments making it into post?
I deleted the spam comments. Google's automatic spam filter sucks.
Thanks for putting this on my radar Tobold...sounds like a perfect way to relax for 30 minutes after work, which is just the kind of game I need these days.

I signed up for the beta too... no luck yet though. It does sound very interesting.

Not convinced that the FTP model is best for a game like this, though. People who like these games, surely like them enough to pay.
I signed up for the beta when you first posted this and got in a few days ago! I have to say that all you said was correct. This is one of the best strategy games I have played and is certainly unique. Thanks for the recommendation!
I signed up for the beta when you first posted this and got in a few days ago! I have to say that all you said was correct. This is one of the best strategy games I have played and is certainly unique. Thanks for the recommendation!
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