Platform: PC (Flash browser game)
Release Date: 13 September 2013
Developer: Blue Manchu
Flash browser games tend to have a stigma about them as being basic, unpolished and just generally lower quality than other formats. It’s only natural, then, that the sharp-looking Card Hunter has received a lot of attention lately. High expectations have been set for the game that promises not only a symbiotic blend between turn-based strategy RPG and card game genres, but also one that sets out to avoid the many pitfalls of being a free-to-play game.
While the game draws heavily on Dungeons and Dragons – in fact the game’s concept is that you are playing tabletop DnD with your satirically dorky friend Gary – the overall gameplay is very different. Each piece of armor or trinket that you find is associated with a certain number of playing cards, each with their own unique effect. By equipping your characters with the loot you find, you will form their deck of cards that they will draw from during gameplay. In a battle, you will need to strategically use your cards to move around the board, damage enemies, heal and buff yourself, and much more. Your characters do level up as you progress, but it only serves to allow your units to wear more and stronger equipment. The absence of any attribute or skill points means that you can completely customize your mini-army and change your strategy at the drop of a hat.
On the card aspect of the game, it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with all of the abilities you are given but it does well to create a lot of strategic depth. There are a lot of offensive, defensive and support cards for each class that allow you to build however you want, though, just like in any other card game, you will need to balance them out. It might seem like a good idea to pump your wizard full of powerful damaging cards but you might find that he’s stuck on the other side of the map because you didn’t give him enough movement cards. Alternatively, you have the random element of the game that might mean you simply don’t draw any movement cards which can be frustrating. Although pretty much all card games have the luck aspect of card-drawing, in a fast-paced game like Card Hunter in which you have to discard all but 2 of your cards each round, you can’t really keep many cards in reserve so bad luck is just wasteful.
The levels are designed fairly well, and you will often come across battles that you might have to change your strategy for. A common gimmick are monsters who have a lot of armor cards which you can choose to deal with by taking penetrative damage cards or by stocking your wizard with spells that corrode armor. It’s a lot of fun when terrain cards start to come into play, where you can ignore movement penalties or place acid or lava squares that do intense damage to anyone that is stuck on one when the turn ends. This allows you to take advantage of the thin corridors or slowing terrain on each map.
The overall design of the game is very attractive. You are essentially playing on a table with all of your gaming notes, map and character sheets laid out, giving everything a paper-y feel. Even your characters are cardboard cut-outs and the cartoon style is appealing instead of child-like. Possibly the biggest accomplishment of Card Hunter is how it manages to make both DnD and card games – often seen as niche and nerdy – much more accessible. Everything is explained clearly and whenever a new card is introduced it pauses and waits until you’re ready to continue. It’s easy to compare your excessively long list of loot with what you’re already wearing and you can quickly click to see all items of a particular type. There’s even a battle log in-game that lets you see each card that has been played and what they did. It couldn’t be simpler.
There isn’t really a story to the game, so if you’re expecting a DnD-style epic quest you will be disappointed. Each adventure has a little storyline that generally involves you clearing out a cave of troggs or what-not, and it can be funny sometimes, but it’s not really one of the main features of the game. The main focus is on Gary, your absurdly nerdy friend who runs the games for you, and his interactions with other characters like his arrogant brother Melvin and the cute pizza delivery girl. It’s all fairly cliche but helps to maintain a very charming, light-hearted atmosphere throughout the game and is guaranteed to make you smile every so often. It makes you feel like you really are playing a board game with a friend rather than an intense battle game.
The game delivers well on it’s promise to not be pay-to-win. You can subscribe to the ‘Card Hunter Club’ and you will receive an extra piece of loot after each battle, but it’s just as random as the other loot and is useful as often as it’s useless – and you can’t get items that aren’t available for non-paying players. Otherwise, you can buy extra currency to purchase more (randomized) loot, more skins for your characters or to unlock a couple of new adventures. Ultimately it feels like the people who pay real-life money want to support the developers more than they actually want the rewards they get.
The multiplayer feature of the game is fairly standard but easy to use. One click puts you in the queue and you will be put into a battle with a random player (according to the matchmaker of course). Multiplayer is a little more frustrating than the campaign as the stakes are higher – every bad hand or missed dice roll is twice as frustrating when it’s not just the AI that’s watching you. It also feels a little unfair when someone whips out an overpowering spell from an epic item they obtained simply due to luck.
Card Hunter is most suitably a casual game. Hardcore strategy games rely on you being able to predict enemy movements and place measures to prevent them, but this is impossible due to the randomness in Card Hunter. You are never sure if you will successfully kill an enemy because more often than not you have to complete one or more dice rolls to see if your attack went through. While the loot system adds a lot of addictiveness to the game, you can’t customize your units completely how you want, as you need items with the exact cards you want on them. Though, unless you’re a massive control freak it’s not really a big complaint, and overall the blend between card game and strategy RPG is very well done. Card Hunter is perfect for anyone that doesn’t like the slow-paced aspect of card games or just wants a casual strategy game to waste (a lot of) time on.
Card Hunter has only just come out of beta and so far there have been quite a few technical problems. The developers have been extremely responsive however, and the problems are all being fixed quickly. There is often someone in the multiplayer lobby chatting with players and helping to sort out any issues that anybody has. In a free-to-play game, it’s value is often in updates and continued maintenance and so far the dedication of the Blue Manchu staff is glowing. It will be exciting to see how they encourage the community to continue growing.
Check out the trailer here: