First Impressions: Card Hunter (beta)

I got into the Card Hunter beta last Thursday.

It is rare anymore for me to spend a lengthy amount of time playing the same game. Game developers these days front-load their daily bonuses in such a way that the most “efficient” way to maximize your playtime is to switch between 3-4 titles. And yet I spent ten hours playing Card Hunter on Saturday, and another six on Sunday. So, spoiler alert: I really like this game.

Card Hunter grabbed me from the word Go. In essence, this F2P browser-based game is a tactical, turn-based RPG where your abilities come in the form of random cards. Instead of building an entire deck on your own, a character’s game deck is actually the sum total of the cards associated with that character’s equipped items. This might sound complicated, but it is the exact opposite – after about 5 minutes of looking at the screen, the system becomes immediately grokkable and engaging. For example, here is a character sheet:

I have an immediate urge to go play right now.

I have an immediate urge to go play right now.

All of the cards along the bottom are the sum total of the deck. When you look at a specific item…

Kinda funny how it's pretty much always going to be purple = epic from now on.

Kinda funny how it’s pretty much always going to be purple = epic from now on.

…you can see what cards it contributes to the overall deck. As you might imagine, weapons usually contribute attack cards, armor contributes armor cards, and so on. Occasionally though, you will have some items that contribute cards from outside their “theme.” Most items are limited to certain classes, of which there are three: fighter, cleric, and wizard. You can have either human, elf, or dwarf versions of any of those classes, with the differences being the typical D&D tropes; elves have low HP and fast movement, dwarves have the opposite, and humans are in the middle.

How does the game play? Fabulously.

Yes. YES!

Yes. YES!

As you can see, the “setting/lore” of the game is retro-D&D, and it is adhered to from start to finish. All characters are represented with those figurines, and all the maps are exactly like this one (with different terrain and such, of course). The game’s F2P currency are slices of pizza, the battles are all prefaced with D&D-module write-ups, and there is clearly some tension going on inbetween the new DM Gary and his rules-lawyer brother Melvin in campaign mode – not to mention Gary’s awkward crush on the pizza delivery girl. Change some names around, add in two more teenagers, and Card Hunter could have described my high school D&D experience to a T.

As far as the game flow goes, it is pretty intuitive. You and your opponent take turns playing one card from any of your characters’ hands. You don’t have to alternate which character’s cards you play – if your warrior has 3 attack cards and someone within reach during each of his/her turns, you can wail on them 3 times. When you and your opponent pass turns in sequence, the Round ends, everyone discards down to two cards, three cards are drawn (one of which is always a movement card), and any Round triggers fire (e.g. players starting their turn in lava take 10 damage, etc).

The strategic brilliance of this combat system simply cannot be praised enough. Yes, the card-based nature of abilities can lead to immensely frustrating, if not outright impossible scenarios. In the screenshot above, for example, my elven mage has drawn all movement cards, severely crippling any initial attack I could muster. Defeat can (and will) be drawn from the jaws of victory even if you are careful. Here was a moment I exclaimed “You have got to be shitting me” out loud:

I mean, come on!

I mean, come on!

The above screenshot was taken from the dreaded Compass of Fucking Xorr level, right from where you might imagine is an insurmountable advantage. The armored dogs are dead, I have the last mercenary backed into a corner with 5 HP, and all my dudes are (barely) alive. It’s a new Round, my turn, and… look at the bottom. Don’t see many red cards, do you?

In fact, I drew exactly one attack card, and it only deals 3 damage. That larger card in the screenshot is a “seen” card that I know is in the merc’s hand, and it’s a doozy. Basically, any time you would deal damage to the merc, he rolls a d6: on a 4 or higher, the damage is reduced by 3. Like many Armor cards, it also has the Keep quality, which means it stays in his hand after triggering, ready for the next reduction in damage. And from fighting this guy, let me just tell you that his attack cards all deal 6+ damage from two squares away.

I did kill the merc on the turn after this one, as he just happened to draw a “drawback” card that caused him to discard all his armor cards. But it was a close one either way.

In any event, I am having a blast with Card Hunter thus far. That might sound strange after I just dedicated a few paragraphs to describing what could have been a terrible RNG-based wipe, but that kinda goes with the TCG territory. Who hasn’t been mana-screwed in Magic: the Gathering before? Part of tactical thinking should include the possibility of things going wrong – if games like Frozen Synapse taught me anything, it would be that. If nothing else, it keeps you on your toes.

I’ll go over the other elements of Card Hunter, including the ever-important F2P bits, next time.

Posted on June 24, 2013, in Impressions and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I’m really looking forward to this game. I love the tactical grid based combat system with the card aspect thrown in. I haven’t gotten into the beta yet but I check my email daily.


  2. Just got in a couple days ago myself. Only spent several hours so far but really liking it. The only frustrating part so far is that certain scenarios seem tailor made for specific race/class combos. For example, there’s one early on where a bunch of goblins are setting an ambush. My wizard was absolutely useless, so it wasn’t until I went back to the inn and recruited another warrior that I was able to complete it. Same thing happened a couple missions later where my dwarf warrior waddled around the middle of the map while the enemy dashed out of range every turn. Is there any way other than trial and error to determine who you should bring to each encounter?


    • Although it’s a bit cheesy to say, Diversity is the key. I have a warrior/wizard/cleric cliche combo, and what I make sure to do is have all the bases covered with their item load-outs (which is admittedly harder to do early on). Basically, my warrior is loaded with spear-range weapons and penetration attacks. The wizard used to be somewhat of a pyro, but I switched all her short-range fire cards out for the longer-range lightning attacks and every lava spell I can get my hands on. Finally, my cleric has a bunch of heals and blunt attacks.

      You are right in that these scenarios aren’t kidding around. The final trog mission where the trog wizard just dances across the river slinging lightning all day was hugely frustrating. I also felt it was cheesy when skeletons have armor, because they become immune to penetration attacks and I was left with bash attacks that could barely dent them.

      Overall though, I typically found that only 1 of my characters was “useless” at a time in the particularly lopsided battles; even then, I could occasionally draw out the fight long enough to draw that one useful card from them and turn the tide. Sometimes I simply used that useless character as a meat shield, or as bait to get the enemy to chase me around (hoard all the movement cards since your attacks might be wastes of time).

      The biggest thing, IMO, is keeping a healthy stock of items. If your wizard is no good against the goblins, why not switch what cards he/she has available? I’m sorta biased towards the lava/acid cards myself, especially since they can be used to either deal a ton of damage or act as terrain impediments. Bringing in other characters can probably work too, but I imagine it’d be a pain to keep them on level with your party.


  3. While I’m certainly enjoying my time with Card Hunter, Multiplayer is just way too unbalanced. I’m finding players of equal rating with considerably better cards/gear than me. I’m finding that as much as I’ve progressed in Single Player, I’ve halted in Multi.

    Besides that, the game is fantastic.


  4. Reblogged this on CoolGray Corner and commented:
    Great to see some productive thoughts here. Card Hunter can only improve from here on out.


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