Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review: Card Hunter Beta

I have been playing a lot of Card Hunter over the past week or so. In case the trailer I posted last week when I released some beta keys wasn't clear (it really wasn't), Card Hunter is a Flash-based game by developer, Blue Manchu.

My party getting ready to battle a bunch of kobolds
The game offers a unique take on turn-based RPGs. While most RPG videogames have you take on the role of the characters in the made up world itself, Card Hunter adds a framing story that holds you one level above the fantasy adventure. Rather than taking on the role of human warrior, dwarven cleric or elven wizard, you are a guy sitting at a table playing these characters in a tabletop RPG run by a dorky guy named Gary with occasional snide commentary from his more experienced DM brother, Melvin. So, it's sort of like Chess Master?

The frame story also ties in the game's money-making scheme. Though it is free to play, there are certain options that can only be purchased with pizza (one of the in-game currencies) and pizza can only be purchased with real money. Gary occasionally throws a few slices your way as a sort of tutorial on how the system works (first taste is always free), but certain special levels, decks and character portraits will require real money to unlock.

The game is clearly an homage to old school D&D. The class and race options, monsters, place names and even the visual design all hearken back to early editions of Dungeons and Dragons. The gameplay in Card Hunster differs from D&D however, in that all of your actions are determined by decks of cards tied to each character (hence Card Hunter). The specific cards in a deck are granted by items like weapons, armor or shields, or by a character's racial or class traits. You can adjust your deck by switching out items, and as your character levels, they gain more potential item slots.

The encounter intro screens have a wonderfully old-school feel
Each adventure consists of a series of skirmishes in which your characters must battle against Gary's baddies. Most are straight up fights, though some encounters have the added option of occupying victory spaces in order to earn points towards the encounter's resolution. Once the baddies are dead, and/or your victory star meter fills up, you win, collect your loot and move onto the next battle. In between skirmishes, intro screens designed to look like old-school game books provide a basic storyline to flesh out each adventure.

The card-based gameplay makes for a quick and addictive experience. You should be able to burn through a fight in about 5-10 minutes, and an adventure in about 1/2 hour. One thing that I have noticed, as my characters have begun to level up and earn bigger decks is that it is more common for me to draw a useless hand. While my hands in early levels, were almost always a mix of movement cards and attacks, now that my decks are bigger, I'll occasionally get a bunch of moves when I need an attack, or several attacks when I'm clear across the room from my enemy. I try my best to balance the variety in my deck, but with no way (that I know of) to reduce the number of cards, the chances of drawing a good mix seem to be dropping as my levels go up.

My center character's deck has 4 move cards and just 1 short range attack!
The levels can also honestly get a bit redundant after a while. While this is good because it keeps the game quick to pick up and get back into, I would love to see a couple more bells and whistles in the final release. Perhaps deadly terrain that characters can get pushed into? or objectives with a round limit to complete? Collectible drops that help forward an encounter? I'd also love to see a ranged attack class other than the wizard, perhaps a thief or ranger.

Hopefully some of the minor gameplay issues like the card mix will be addressed before the game gets out of beta. Until then, I will continue to enjoy my beta test experience. If I get more keys thrown my way, I'll be sure to post about it here, so keep your eye on the blog.

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