I don’t like grinding. Okay, so when it’s combined with epic detail and rich narrative, like in Skyrim, or with ball-breaking skill, like in Dark Souls, it can add a fantastically fun and addictive element to a game. What I hate are games based around grinding for it’s own sake, the endless repetition of kill monster, upgrade gear, kill tougher monster in the service of nothing more than pressing psychological buttons. The Diablo series is probably the worst offender, but so are endless cheap and free-to-play role playing games.
Card Hunter falls into that category. A free-to-play browser based flash game, with inevitable in-app purchases, it challenges you to assemble a team of three characters from the classic warrior, wizard, cleric archetype and send them into various brief encounters with enemies in search of loot. So I should hate it. I want to hate it. But I can’t. In fact it’s one of the most horribly addictive games I’ve played in ages.
In spite of its crack-like qualities, I’ve only played the preview version for a couple of hours, for reasons we’ll return to later. So this isn’t really a proper review. By the time you read this you’ll be able to check out the real live version for yourself: and you should do so.
There are two reasons why Card Hunter succeeds where so many other games of its ilk manage to be nothing more than dryly repetitive and tedious. The first is the infectious glee it takes in re-creating the feel of everyone’s first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons. Everything is charmingly steeped in sentimentality, from the fonts used mimicking those in 1st edition AD&D adventure modules, to the inexperienced and enthusiastic dungeon master who serves as your narrator. It doesn’t so much hit the nostalgia buttons, as crush them with a sledgehammer, and it’s wonderful.
But the second secret is there’s actually a decent game engine underneath the presentation. Each character has slots for certain types of equipment, and they gain more as they level up. Each piece of equipment that you loot or buy comes with a selection of cards, and the cards of each item an adventurer has equipped makes up their draw deck. Most of the game takes place on small tactical maps where you play move and attack cards to try and outmaneuver and kill the monsters.
Armour gives you defensive cards which you don’t play, but which take up space in your hand and sometimes absorb damage based on a dice roll. I didn’t come across a very wide range of different effects during my brief time with the game, but throw in different terrain types and there’s just enough to make each encounter something you have to stop and think about if you want to succeed, rather than mindlessly wade in with wands and weapons.
But while there’s tactics, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of strategy. Specifically I was hoping for an experience a little more like the aged Magic: the Gathering PC game from Microprose where you had to carefully plan your deck overall and hunt down the cards you needed to complete it. But in my limited play time I didn’t see much in the way of synergies or complementary card effects to build a longer-term strategy around. Rather, it seems to come down to making sure your party is equipped appropriately for the sorts of monsters they’re likely to encounter.
Although that’s a little disappointing, and may harm the long-term appeal of the game, there’s still plenty to enjoy. It’s accessible, fresh and fun, a delightful contrast to so many lofty new releases with their grandiose goals. And the reason I only spent a couple of hours playing it? Because on launch, all progress on my preview account is going to be reset, and two hours was enough to convince me this was a game I was going to play a lot, and I couldn’t stand the thought of putting in the effort and starting over. There’s a multi-player mode too, so grab your gear, and I’ll see you on the dungeon floor.
3 thoughts to “Card Hunter First Impressions”
Good Review Matt and I agree as I am deep into Card Hunter at the moment. I really love the DM humor, would like to see more of that! The DM blushing when the attractive pizza delivery girl asks, “What are you guys playing?” Is PRICELESS! The sound is really good in this game. Playing the game with my studio speakers is a real treat, really satisfying battle sounds. Some of the battle have come down to real nail biters and no doubt someone outside my house walking by could have heard a groan from inside which is rare for me with a computer game. You nail the retro vibe in your review and it is of course why I am playing. Need to set up a multiplayer one evening Matt! *Sharpening y battleaxe*
I don’t know how far 2 or so hours got you – I got to Level 7ish in Beta, and the difficulty level ramped up considerably. Not sure if that is bc it was a Beta, or if it is designed that way to meet the P2Win criteria.
I didnt dive into Multiplayer at all, a good friend who is as experienced as any of us at these games was totally into the game, hit the same wall I did at level 7, and got his asskicked at multiplayer – in his opionion “Multiplayer is busted because the equipment you use makes a big difference, and I don’t feel like grinding for it.”
I dont see why I would pay monthly for this game, like an MMO. I get why the developers want to do it, I don’t see myself paying monthly.
Even if I dipped my toe and bought the basic edition for $25, I doubt I would pay anymore than that. Maybe I am unique in that I dont log into play games every day and rarely have the time I would like to spend on a game like this.
It’s a shame, really, because they spent alot of time recreating and capturing the 80’s basement D&D feel, and I think they could have something stellar on hand if they dropped the subscription model, and went with one price gets you everything. So in this case, they get nothing from me.
The difficulty is tough, but it’s not impossible. However, I have to agree with you on the subscription model. If their $25 basic package got you everything for ever more it’d have been an instant purchase. But I’m not subscribing to a game unless it’s constantly changing for my money.