A few months before my 15th birthday, my mother and I moved from Oklahoma City, where I grew up, to California. I know what you’re thinking…”Wow, California? There are so many awesome cities there with so much to do, how did you choose?” Well, we went where the family was, and that was glorious, beautiful, exciting…Fresno. Fresno, which is pretty much a smaller, more boring Oklahoma City. The biggest change for me was the loss of my Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons groups of friends, left behind as I traded in the y’all for the brah.
Just kidding, I still say y’all, and I’ve never seriously said brah.
Surely this trip down memory lane must have a point? Of course it does! (And don’t call me Shirley). When I left my gaming groups behind, I failed to mix into new groups in my new home, which resulted in what has become nearly 15 years of having no Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons in my life (aside from the occasional video game). Now, I have a new group to develop: the Card Hunter group. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d be looking at when I agreed to take on a Card Hunter appointment for PAX Prime 2012, but by Odin’s beard, I am glad I did.
Card Hunter was one of the highlights of the show for me.
My absolute first impression of the game, before even sitting down at a demo station, was that it looked like a mix of Magic: The Gathering and tabletop Dungeons & Dragons. I said as much to Ben, the studio’s Art Director and my guide for the session, and received a bit of a knowing nod and grin. I spoke to him for a few minutes about the motivation behind the game, and there was a strong desire to make something different and to service what seemed to be a neglected market. After two years of development, he still enjoys playing the game, which is more than can be said for some developers, I’m sure.
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Once I sat down and started playing, I was intrigued by the visual presentation. The demo starts with a Game Master introducing you to the game and the basic setup. You then see a tileset similar to what you would find in a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons game laying on what appears to be a table with some scattered chips and sodas. There is definitely an attempt to make you feel like you’re playing a tabletop game instead of a video game, and I think it’s fantastic.
Aside from the wonderful feeling of a tabletop experience, the gameplay experience itself is absolutely wonderful, and incredibly diverse. In essence, Card Hunter is a strategy game that uses cards on a grid. Your characters spawn at one end of the map, and the enemies will spawn throughout the map. Each of your characters has a hand of cards to play, and each time one of your characters plays a card, the turn passes to your opponent. Once both you and your opponent have reached a point where no more cards can be (or want to be) played, you both pass, and the turn round is over. All but two cards for each character are discarded, and new cards are drawn. Play continues in this manner until you are either defeated or emerge victorious.
There is a great deal of depth to the gameplay, created and enhanced by the card aspect. Various cards can have various effects and possibilities that you may not immediately grasp. What may seem to be a card with no offensive capabilities can in fact, when used intelligently or creatively, cause massive damage. The final battle of the demo pits you against a dragon. This dragon spits acid on a number of the tiles. At the end of a round, each square of acid deals 5 damage to any character on that tile. With careful planning and strategy, the right cards can cause the dragon to take high damage from its own acid squares. There is a lot of potential that will be discovered simply by trying new things and seeing what happens. Aside from various attack and movement cards, there are also defensive cards. These cards are not playable cards, however, and are simply automatically equipped and defend you against attacks as they are made.
Once a battle is complete, you come to the deck construction screen where you can modify your full deck for the next fight. You are also presented with a loot chest. The loot chests will give you items that can be equipped to your characters. The items are composed of various cards, so swapping an item will remove the old item’s cards from your deck, and bring the new item’s cards into your deck. You are able to preview what cards compose each item before committing to a swap, though, so you can still manage your deck construction seamlessly.
Two years in the making, there is a lot of complexity to this little game. Developed by Blue Manchu Games, Card Hunter is expected to be available early 2013. This is one to keep your eyes on. At an event with multiple AAA titles, the indies really managed to stand out and shine. Card Hunter shone the brightest.