Card Hunter Review: Something free should not be so good

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When I first learnt about Card Hunter from Direcow, Penny-Arcade and Rock Paper Shotgun, I figured that coming from so many people I trusted, it had to be good. I didn’t know how good it was. The first day I started playing, I didn’t stop until 2am. And then managed to oversleep and get into work late. That’s how good it is.

Card hunter is a cross between an RPG and a CCG. The RPG is the skin and soul of the game, with the single player campaign mode following your exploits as a party of adventurers together with your DM, Gary, in the land of Cardhuntria, a fantasy land that looks a lot like D&D. The CCG is the muscles and skeleton of the game. Combat is played on a grid based battle map, with your party jostling for tactical advantage against the kobolds or golems Gary is throwing against you. Your abilities rely on the cards you draw in your decks, with opposing sides playing cards until both pass, the next turn starts and players redraw and continue the fight.

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The beautiful convergence of RPG and CCG comes in its deck building mechanic, and when I say beautiful, I mean it. Items you pick up and equip change the composition of cards in your deck, which will totally change gameplay. For example, your wizard may have a lightning staff, or a staff of fireballs. If you know your party is going into an enchanted forest to deal with treants, equipping the staff of fireballs (and loading up on flammables) will allow you to torch to magical hippie trees and beat the battle that much more easily. It’s sheer elegance in its simplicity (points for whoever gets that reference).

The card game and RPG elements come together so well, I can actually imagine the system being used as an RPG. In fact, it probably already has, with some custom battle generators available to the public from within the game. The art style is also amazing, reminiscent of old D&D battle campaigns. In fact, after playing card hunter, it really reminds me of D&D 4th ed, with its power-based system (part of me actually thinks this is a better 4th ed).

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Card Hunter is also a free to play, flash based browser game. Words like ‘free to play’ would normally send alarm bells ringing in my head. They usually mean that progress is ultimately random (Candy Crush), or a slog to play against unless you spend money (Hearthstone). Card hunter however turns all of these assumptions on its head. Yes, you could spend money to open chests of items, or speed up loot acquisition in the game, but this doesn’t really help you all that much. More importantly is your ability to strategize and bring the correct loadout of party members and items. Your legendary warhammer of destiny might be amazing, but you will want to swap in your common rusty cleaver instead if you will be dealing with oozes that ignore crushing damage.

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Similarly, just because you have powerful attacks means doesn’t mean you will win all the time. The AI is brutal, rewarding smart tactical decisions over purely relying on your cards; if you choose to charge in, chances are your party will be cut to ribbons. Just like in a real RP scenario. I have often discarded other cards to keep my basic moves purely for tactical repositioning. What you’d likely spend money on is purely for cosmetic changes on your party, or to unlock additional campaign adventures. And I’m ok with that! I’d much rather have an enjoyable time in free-to-play, and give the creators money because they deserve it, than to have a mediocre slog of a time, and have to pay them just to make the experience enjoyable.

The one place I haven’t checked out yet is the multiplayer. I don’t know how equipment will affect playing against other people, but honestly, I have been having so much fun in the campaign that I can’t tear myself away.

The best part is, it’s free! If you don’t believe what I’ve said, you can check it out yourself. And you really don’t need to pay a single cent to enjoy Card Hunter, unless you honestly think they deserve it.

Card hunter is out now, and you need to go sign up.

About kakita

Singapore’s resident Press Ganger, that is, the man to go to for Privateer Press’ WARMACHINE, and HORDES. Kakita also dabbles in Games Workshop’s WARHAMMER FANTASY and WARHAMMER 40K lines.

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