Lord of the Cards: ‘Card Hunter’

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2013 has seen a literally absurd number of card based games, most of them free-to-play, but all of them incorporating some form of collectible card system. 

Lord of the Cards is a new Stick Skills feature outlining the new card games this year has seen, letting you know what each one is about and whether you should partake. Most of these are good, but which one is the best? 

Our first entry is the recently released Card Hunter, a browser-based title with a curious twist on the TCG format. 

Card Hunter

Card Hunter is yet another in the incredibly long line of card-based video games this year (Scrolls, SolForge, Hearthstone, and more), but it goes the extra mile by not only featuring cards, but integrating a massive board-based game with deep rulesets and complex tactics. Developed by Blue Manchu, which is headed by Irrational Games co-founder Jon Chey and boasts Magic: The Gathering designers as consultants, the game has a strong leg-up.

The game is styled after those classic tabletop games, complete with card draws, dice rolls, square board spaces and cardboard character pieces. Pan around the isometric board and you can spot dice, rulebooks, stacks of score papers and the odd slice of pizza lying about. It’s a charming style that’s emphasized further by corny exchanges between the nerdy main characters playing the game with you.

The board is completely flat, but there are still certain squares that cannot be traversed or attacked over—this is quite literally a digital version of a pure board game, which also means the animations are quite boring. It’s a mild inconvenience, but when even MTG: Duels of the Plainswalkers features more exciting animation, there’s a (albeit non-dealbreaking) problem. The art design is just fine, but the card visuals themselves are dismally basic.

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At the outset of any Card Hunters game, each side is at opposite ends of the board, and takes turns playing cards. Any and all actions in the game are performed through cards, selected from the current hand. Movement cards will let the pieces traverse across the board, attack cards will visit damage upon the opponent (as long as they are in range), and armor cards, if in the hand, will be played in response to an attack. A die roll, if higher than a predetermined number, will protect against some damage. When met with a lack of playable cards in a hand, a player can pass, and all hands are discarded for a new turn once both players pass. It’s a fairly basic surface idea, but the level of strategy, planning, and forward thinking that can go into a game makes it far more complicated.

There’s also a multiplayer mode that works largely the same as the single player, and in an awesome twist, power-leveled players do not have an edge: each player gets his or her own deck and equally leveled characters. These single games challenge players to correctly utilize their deck and as always, having a cunning opponent that is able to utilize forward thinking better than a computer makes things far more interesting.

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Loot management in between games is where things get really crazy. Those cards in each character’s deck? They’re defined by the equipment he or she holds. For example, finding a new sword will boost your deck because there are six or so cards tied to that item. Equipping the item adds the cards to your deck. Of course, this comes with the caveat that you’ll be replacing another piece of equipment, and thus removing a handful of cards. You’ll need to study your loadout carefully to determine what cards you prefer, and in the early game this will often come down to choosing between several moderately good cards, and one awesome card with a few mediocre ones. But oh, does unleashing that powerful card feel great. If you enjoy poring over different combinations and crunching numbers to determine potential outcomes, you’ll be spending a lot of time here. If you’d rather not do that…then Card Hunter might not be for you, as this aspect is crucial, and the lack of an option to recommend the best outcome makes this something for only the hardcore.

It’s an unavoidable caveat with card-based games, and Card Hunter falls victim as well; the luck of the draw and the roll factors in heavily here. If you draw a bad hand filled with nothing but movement cards, you’re in a pretty terrible place, particularly if the opponent has multiple ranged attack cards or has inflicted progressive damage. The armor cards can be even more frustrating. Many enemies have armor cards that play automatically when attacked and are not discarded, and that have low die roll requirements, which means that there’s a high chance of them not taking any damage, and a 100% chance of that roll occurring every time. Earlier in the game, where there are very few high-damage attack cards or damage-increasing spells, this can be frustrating. It’s authentic, but the balance is ever-so-slightly off.

Either player can be victimized by poor hands; a new hand is only drawn when two players choose to Pass in sequence. If one player passes while the opponent still has playable cards, the first player is helpless while the second player chips away at the helpless adversary. While any game can have this problem, the fact that you can generally only get a new hand after the other player has also exhausted his or her playable cards can make things pretty painful for a while if that opponent has a hand full of damaging opportunities.

cardhunter3The million dollar question for any free-to-play game is how the pay structure works. With Card Hunter, premium currency is in the form of pizza slices, modestly priced payment used toward extra chests with guaranteed rare items. The expense can add up, but these are completely optional if you don’t wish to buy them. More expensive is the Club Membership, which awards an additional rare item every time you win a battle. This comes out to about $10 a month, so if you play a great deal of the game, it might be a better deal than if you only played a few games at a time.

Ultimately, Card Hunter is definitely not for everyone. The game has an extremely steep learning curve, a deep ruleset, and is about as far from “casual” as you can get for a free browser title. The game has a bit of a leg-up in this series given the game board, loot, and so on, but the fact remains that it does all of it so well that it’s difficult to resist. Roll your sleeves up for a challenge, but dive into Card Hunter as a very good free-to-play card game.

Chris has been writing about the industry in some capacity for over 5 years, and loves doing it. When he's not enjoying the latest novelty indie game, he can be found watching movies or telling lame jokes. PSN: SheriffSheridan, Steam: cmichaelsheridan