Card Hunter PC Review
The luck of the dice roll can switch one’s emotion in an erratic fashion. One minute you might have eliminated a devilish imp, turning you into a smirking, gloating victor, but then suddenly the favour turns away and you are in shambles as your tank bulking dwarf fails an armour roll and receives a smack down from the claws of a dragon. That’s some of my experience with Card Hunter, a free-to-play title that initially started out as a flash game for your favourite internet browsers back in 2013. It now has a stand-alone client on Steam – still free-to-play – to celebrate the release of its new expansion, Expedition to the Sky Citadel. The Steam version continues to interact with people playing the browser game, meaning that all those millions of Steam users now have access to join in with existing players to dabble with Card Hunter‘s blend of collectible card games (CCG) and classic tabletop RPGs.
Card Hunter focuses on combat more than any other aspect of the genre it portrays. It all comes down to your team of three picked heroes, built from the option of three classes (Warrior, Priest and Wizard, with portraits to add some identity to them) to explore through various adventures that appear on the world map. There is no real story as such, rather, each adventure doorway, which often includes one-to-three fights, has a paragraph explaining the situation to give an idea what is going. Once on an adventure, it boils down to successfully overcome whatever nasties await you, then returning home with new spoils, experience and a closing caption. Even without a story, there is a love for the tabletop games with its presentation, as the two grandmasters, Gary, and the more experienced Melvin, also Gary’s brother, will banter between each other and yourself to bring personality to what could have been a stale, uneventful time between fights. This is the game’s tale, and while these stereotypical geeky portrayals coming with all the cheesy dialogue and junk food scoffing that you probably expected, the writing style is filled with the right humour and some insightful context to come across entertaining and thoughtful, rather than offensive.
Trying to bring new people into the circle of tabletop RPGs or card games can be a daunting task, but here, the speed and simplicity of the game, along with its clear user interface, means no one needs to worry about the game being complicate. Everything is done through the use of cards – attacking, defending, moving, healing – which can be picked from your characters’ current in-hand cards. The tutorial does a wonderful job explaining the mechanics, beginning with how to play the cards to defeat your enemies, moving around the environment to either get in a good position or use obstacles/walls to your advantage, and gaining new cards to use in battle. It takes no time at all to learn the game, but that doesn’t mean the action is brain dead, as it becomes clear that you will need at least some tactical thinking to master the more complex map designs and skills that buff or de-buff your characters or the enemy.
Building a card deck is not done in the typical fashion that one might expect from playing card games like Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering. Deck building in Card Hunter is done through gear, so boots will often contain movement based cards, such as “Run” that allows the hero to move four spaces, or “Walk,” which only allows two. Weapons contain the attacks, while armour and shields handle the defensive side with armour cards that require dice rolls – a little dice automatically rolls at the bottom of the card to see whether you activate its defence to protect against incoming damage. As each individual party member levels up they gain more health and more accessory slots to equip more gear, which means more cards for the deck. Gear can come in many assortments, as the colour scheme used in action RPGs is implemented here to show if a weapon is common, uncommon, rare or legendary, the latter often having the best cards for that item’s level. Each class has their own distinctive weapons and armour that brings them unique skills, for example, the wizard will have more casting spells than physical attacks with his staff, and while it might be good to assign the best gear, sometimes the situation causes for a different card set to make the following battle easier. Gear is not only dropped from missions, but can also be bought from the various item shops that change their gear daily.
Even with a great deck setup, you are never in total control of what might happen when the cards are drawn. Typically, five cards can be held at any one time, and if a round has passed where a hero has more than two cards left in their arsenal, then the player must toss the rest to allow new cards to fill in the spaces. Luck is a big factor in the drawing of cards. When luck is in your favour, you can take it to the enemies real good, but having a character that is loaded with parry, movement or defence cards truly sucks when you are close to winning, as all you can do is just pass each turn until the computer is done with their turn. I had times where it took me three rounds for one of my characters to gain an attack card, which I can tell you wasn’t fun at all – cue angry statements about where the heck are my attacking cards!
Planning becomes a big advantage if you are willing to take the time to study your opponent’s cards. The game gives a simple example by using shields as a test. This enemy will automatically use the shield to block the first attack, so rather than wasting a heavy damage move, it is advised to spend a weaker attacking card to remove the shield, leaving them exposed for maximum damage from another attack. I found that casting cards on enemies that caused them to lose health per turn (fire damage) or take more damage from a hit (blood curse) were advantageous for taking down a strong opposition. Trapping enemies between the terrain that would slow their movement down or block their access is another handy ploy to accomplish. Part of the game is adjusting to each map layout and predicting what your next hand might be, if you received a lot of attacking cards, then you can expect more movement or defence to appear later in the fight, and if you don’t take that into account then enemies can get away from you, to the point you have to chase down the opponent, which extends the length of a battle that should have been over earlier. It might seem like a simple game from the screenshots, but there is depth here that keeps Card Hunter from turning into a monotonous time.
The free-to-play aspect of the game makes it easy to recommend to people to at least give it a shot. There is no harm in that, and since the single-player campaign can be played without ever having the feeling to cash in money to progress means Card Hunter demonstrates a good example of how to do free-to-play by not locking away forward progression. Completing a dungeon will lock it out until the next day, but it’s nice that the developers only limit this to completed dungeons. If you fall in battle on, say floor three of the current dungeon, you can try two more times, but fail those attempts means either having to restart from the first floor again or spend some of the in game currency (gold), which is earned from fights, to begin from the floor you died on. I find this fair, since the game will offer tips after defeat to give you something to consider when returning to the battle. The only time you would want to repeat a finished dungeon is to get more loot and experience, but I rarely felt the need, as repeating my failed attempts came with success.
Money can be spent on buying pizza slices, which are the other form of currency next to gold. Pizza comes in various bundles, 150 for $4.99, 330 for $9.99, 690 for $19.99, 1800 for $49.99 and the big party feast of 3800 for $98.99, which Steam will convert into your country’s currency. Pizza is used to buy legendary chests, new character figures for each class and additional content, such as the Expedition to the Sky Citadel treasure hunt that brings sci-fi elements to the standard Dungeons & Dragons setting, and club membership, an area which feels like a way to donate to the developers in turn for an extra reward drop from every chest you open, no matter if the chest comes from playing single player or multiplayer. Options are there to spend cash, but as I mentioned, it never feels like you have to, and it never throws poisonous tactics in your face to say “look at me, I’m a free-to-play game, so come buy some pizza.” at every opportunity it could have.
A friend or two can be brought in to play the campaign in cooperative. Having two friends is ideal, since battles are suppose to have three fighters, so playing cooperative with one friend is harder, due to a missing character. To make up for this the developers have given people playing two player cooperative an extra card to draw each round to try balance the disadvantage. It’s not quite ideal, but I assume people would rather be able to play in two player coop than not at all. Multiplayer, if you so wish, takes your campaign characters and makes them maximum level. The gear earned from the campaign or loot chests is then used to equip them, giving a slight advantage to the people who have played more of the game offline or spent cash to loot chests. Multiplayer is exactly like the offline game, but with two squads battling each other, rather than the AI monsters. Online is truly for the brave – I thought I was at least a decent Card Hunter player, but online showed me that I still need to learn positioning to overcome the mighty overlord players who have mastered the game’s mechanics.
Due to its origins, Card Hunter will run on the most basic PCs and laptops. It’s not a demanding game, but its presentation is adorably stylish. It captures the heart and soul of the tabletop games through the use of cardboard cut-outs that stand on circular bases and a flat board with cosmetics to represent the environmental theme, such as grass, cobble, perfectly capturing the 80s aesthetics. Its origins also handicap people on monitors that are over 1080p, as the text is incredibly small to read and there is no option in the settings to increase the scalability of the HUD or game. You will find plenty of space is displaying the wooden tabletop around the board, because the monitor has such a vast view of the surroundings. At least you can take in the dice, player notes and other furnishings that clutter around the playing board. People with a love of building will be happy with the inclusion of a map editor to come up with their own wacky creations to play against the computer or in multiplayer.
I was not sure what to expect when going into Card Hunter, but I was pleasantly surprised that Blue Manchu had done a terrific job merging the ideas of a collectible card game and pen-and-paper RPGs without tainting itself with the stench that hangs around some of the awful free-to-play game design that has often migrated from the mobile market. Card Hunter not only prides itself in capturing the spirit of tabletop gaming, but has also built a refreshing game on top of CCG concepts to bring tactical depth under its charming visuals, and best of all, it won’t cost you a penny to experience its joy.