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Dungeons & Dragons, Without The Dudgeon & Dragging

The differences between playing a board game and a video game are immense. Video games tend to be about the visceral experience, about the perfect execution of moments by both the developers and the players. We're most excited during a fantastic set piece, or when we just pulled off a feat of dexterity we might have thought impossible. 

A board game relies on a different type of engagement. The game itself is basically just a collection of rules, within which the players will make their own experience. Cards and dice are your holy artifacts, as you communally try to channel the spirit of the creator.

This inability to dazzle and the many hindrances to guiding or defining the player's experience, lead board game designers to create games that lend themselves to this kind of interpretation, focusing on tactical and strategic decisions in a way which naturally allows the player to replay the same game several times, getting closer to its core each time he cracks open the box. 

Card Hunter is a video game insofar as you'll play it in your browser. It's a board game insofar as how it'll give you a raft of choices to make, and show you, again and again, the results of those choices.

Loot drops are usually a pretty good example of an anti-choice. When a new gun drops in Borderlands, you look at the difference between its stats and the gun you already have, and then pick the one that is clearly better. Card Hunter flips this on its head, and makes your choice of equipment the defining strategic decision of the game. It is equipment that will determine the abilities, manifested in card form, that you'll be able to bring to bear against your enemies. 

Cards are the defining element of Card Hunter; they are your only way to block, heal, attack or even move. Aside from your character's health, there are no statistics to offer an escape from the game's focus on the digital determinants of your fate. Your only certainty is that you'll draw a single movement card, quality dependent on your choice of race, every turn. 

So, in picking your weapons, your armor, your boots, you're making decisions about whether your Priest will heal or buff, how your Warrior will deal with armor, what kind of elements your Wizard will fling at the targets of his arcane rage. However, there are also more subtle elements than that. You're picking the ratios of your deck, determining just how many movement cards there will be to how many attacks, considering how many defensive or utility cards you can add in before you've blunted the deck. Each slot has its focus, and whilst I haven't yet found a pair of boots that offers straight damage, I have found one that offers mobile attack cards versus one that offers straight movement.

Then there's the choice between high deviation items and ones with a little more consistency. Each item doesn't just determine one card; they determine a swath of them, with the type determining the number, from 3 to 6. So which is better, the club that offers 6 decent attacks, or the mace that offers one fantastic one, two great ones, and three fairly trashy ones?

In the guts of actual combat, you'll swap turns between yourself and your opponent every time you play a card. Each character you control has their own hand, but that and their hit points are the only ways they are individuals as opposed to members of your team. You'll have to weather the fortune of the draw to be able to defeat your opponents, remembering a glut of attacks now means a drought later, carefully choosing the two cards you hold at end of turn to make sure that the next round isn't a write-off. 

That is, essentially, the strategic and tactical meat of Card Hunter. You'll have to adapt to the situations you come across; enemies have their set game plans and they can often destroy an unprepared player, so you'll need to work out one of your own that will use their utterly inflexible AI nature as a sledgehammer with which to crush them. The differing focuses of the classes mean there are multiple moving parts you'll need to solve to create that perfect counter plan.

In the heat of battle, your job will be to anticipate the future and deftly manage your actions so that you might be able to carry out the strategy you crafted when you equipped your character for this fight.

The game itself is an intuitive and accessible take on some very strategically complex mechanics that reek of classic board gaming. The art style of the game perfectly compliments its fundamentals, with the overall experience presented as teenagers playing what seems to be a mash-up of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering. Characters and monsters are represented by cardboard miniatures in an incredibly endearing quirk, with quests essentially being modules your GM has bought and is now running you through. The plot and atmosphere of the work taps into the fantasy of the perfect tabletop experience, with good friends, a gloriously geeky traditional sword and sorcery theme and thoroughly enjoyable gameplay.

Card Hunter is a free-to-play browser-based game, which may turn some people off. In my experience, the model is quite reasonable with regards to single-player; there's a steady drip of loot and experience in the free experience, to the point where you'll never need to play anything but fresh content. However, the paid experience runs the gamut from the benign element of alternative character skins to a "subscription" where you'll get increased loot drops for a set number of days, as well as purchasable quests offering exclusive epic loot. There is a great free experience here, but if you're turned off by the idea that paying players are having a more highly powered [and probably objectively better] experience, you may want to look elsewhere. 

Whilst I haven't played much of it so far, there's a multiplayer aspect to Card Hunter that can provide a way to get some additional loot or an opportunity to hone your skills. How balanced it is, both with regards to specific items and between paying and non-paying players, I cannot say. I certainly won't begrudge the developers the inclusion of it, though.

If you're interested in Card Hunter, then direct the noble steed that is your browser to cardhunter.com, and godspeed.
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About Calibanone of us since 12:14 AM on 03.26.2012