The 2016 Summer Steam Sale is underway and there is not a whole lot that piqued my interest. That, combined with the stark reality that I now own most of the games I find interesting already. Having access to games is a wonderful return on investment, so I often take the “buy-low” approach on games I think I will enjoy later. So with oodles of classic and popular titles in my library, I decided to scratch my “phone game” itch. That is, I wanted a game based around a freemium model that is mindless and addicting and if I like it well enough, I’ll throw money at it to increase my happiness. I don’t love admitting that sometimes this is exactly the type of game I’m looking for, but here we are. (One of my last mobile forays was Rage of Bahamut, which I’m pretty sure I only stopped playing because my phone got old.) My wife swears by the therapeutic value of these games and has diligently played a few minutes of Dragonvale every day since it’s release, if she has the chance. She is a multi-billionaire in that game with a dragon park that would make John Hammond weep. So let’s see what Card Hunter is all about!
Signing up for the external account was easy enough, the load-in seems very charming and nostalgic. However, I was a little put off when the DM/Narrator/Guide drops the phrase: “…my older brother Melvin has been telling me how great it is.” Melvin? Come on, nerds are cool now! No need to drudge up the Dark Days. I’ll try and put this well meaning jab behind me and push through.
I played the first little tutorial game and it is surprisingly charming! The mechanics are simple, the cards are very easy to understand, and the animations are very tight. This is probably because the game is simulated after cardboard cutouts on an isometric board game, but still. The basic premise is as follows (as far as I can tell): You have some characters who each have card decks. These cards allow you to perform actions like move and attack. When it is your turn, you chose a character and play one of their cards. You then try to complete the objective before you. For example, I had a wizard who had a card to cast a fireball on some bad guys, and I did that thing. Simple enough for me, and relatively intuitive. For anyone who has played D&D 4e, playing character cards to dictate your every move on a square grid-map is nothing new.
As I played, I could not help but make a mental comparison of Card Hunter to a less serious version of Descent: Journey’s into the Dark. I would have expected to make a comparison to the irreverent Munchkin, it being the tongue-and-cheek cousin of the role playing game, but Card Hunter is taking itself seriously enough for now. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in the comforting way that a flesh-and-blood GM might say “Yes, you are being attacked by a wereduck! Haha, how silly! The wereduck gets a surprise round while you all laugh. Roll to save against cursed.” It might be even closer to say that the game remind me of Final Fantasy Tactics, but with humor and less classes. I really like FFT. It is one of my favorite games. Moving on, in Card Hunter so far, it seems that you never have the complete illusion of playing against faceless “evil,” but of a friend (Gary the GM, in this case) making choices for his dark forces, trying to make an encounter juuust hard enough, but still secretly rooting for you to win. I really like winning, so right now Gary is getting an A+ in my book.
In case you were concerned, do not be alarmed, THERE IS LOOT. I mean, in my heart of hearts, I knew there would be loot. BUT THERE IT IS. Just sitting there. Waiting to be looted. The loot seems to effect the cards and moves that your character has, adding new cards based on the items each character used. I just got a new sword and it replaced the cards that represented my warrior’s bare hand. So now instead of “weak strike” from my fist, I now have access to moves like “perforating strike” with The Goldleaf Blade. My warrior deck is now stronger! Which I imagine let’s me fight harder enemies, to get better loot, to fight harder enemies, to oh dear I seem to have déjà vu. But that’s fine. I like these kinds of cycles, because I am not well. Back to the game. It seems that my newfound cards will serve me quite well against a new foe that can be best defeated by my new cards. Thanks tutorial! Seriously though, thanks, this is actually a decent tutorial so far. Something I am noticing in the next fight (which is 1v1 against a green dragon), is that the game uses a simple smart target system which took me off guard. Basically, if there is only one available target, or you have an attack that targets two people and there are only two valid options, the game simply does it for you. Not having to do that “confirmation click” was odd, but now I realized I enjoy not having to confirm the obvious. I will say that I do not enjoy that if you choose a movement based card, you cannot cancel it. You can’t win them all, I guess.
My brief tutorial is over and Melvin came to yell at me and Gary and it turns out we have to play our own adventure with our own characters. This is both saddening, as Gary and I were having a wonderful time, but also encouraging because now I think I get to MAKE A CUSTOM TEAM! Decking out your squad is, of course, the best part of any RPG.
I ended up going with “Davren Steelheart,” because I am a purist and believe that RPG names should be at least KIND of cool. I also ended up with an elf wizard named “The Silver Lady” because of the previous rule I just stated. I am deep (well, more like mildly engrossed) in a beginner module where I fight kobolds and take their treasure. So far, so good. No particularly menacing challenges yet, which I’m sure is because I am a veteran game player with a mind like a steel trap and not because it’s the beginner campaign.
I defeated the kobolds and their dark priest handily, earning me the right to choose the priest class and finally round out my holy trinity of RPG party members. The game seems to have now opened up to me with new adventures and stores and treasures galore. Of course, one of the first things I did was check out the cash shop, the money credits renamed to “Pizza Slices.” (Again, it’s 2016. I get it’s part of the shtick, but nerds are truly a well rounded group of folks now!!) So far, I have enjoyed the free to play version enough that I don’t see the need to grab my wallet just yet, but I’m not ruling it out. I imagine that my tune may change when I try out the multiplayer option, as is wont to happen with most freemium game structures. In the meantime, Card Hunter is a lovely stroll down nostalgia lane with enough familiarity to keep you interested and just enough random loot to make you want to come back for more. I recommend Card Hunter if you enjoy simplicity, riffs on table-top RPGs, loot and card collection, and occasionally spending money to stay relevant. Currently “free” on Steam, so your cost of entry is literally zero to give it a spin. Nothing to lose but time!