There’s a reason that so many developers are investing in card games, and it isn’t just because Hearthstone is making money hand over fist. The concept of cards as a collectible item is easy for us to understand, whether you’ve collected Topps sports cards or regularly crack Magic: The Gathering packs. Not all card games are created equal, though.
A good card game requires delicate balance, a commitment to thematic “flavor”, engaging mechanics, and interactions that are accessible to new players but inspire experimentation to find unexpected and crafty combos. Most importantly, they have to do something different.
Gwent deviates significantly from the genre’s forebearers. Instead of drawing from a deck after each turn, you’re limited to 10 cards for the entirety of the game. You need to play them judiciously. Spend them too early, and you’ll be a pushover in rounds two and three. Hold back too long, and you could find you’ve missed an opportunity.
I had the chance to play two rounds of the upcoming free-to-play game, and was delighted with how CD Projekt has built something fresh. Unlike the version found in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which was designed to give players an ever-increasing sense of dominance, the stand-alone game is necessarily striving for balance.
In my first game, I chose a deck that plays off the game’s weather mechanic. Certain cards will cause effects on one of the three rows (melee, ranged, and siege). These can reduce the value of your opponent’s cards and, in the case of my chosen deck, boost certain monsters.
Even though you’re only playing with 10 cards in hand for the entire game, the rest of your deck is relevant. For example, one card allowed me to play every one of that type in my hand and deck if a fog effect was in play. My hero power, usable only once in the entire game, allowed me to cast a weather condition of my choice. Through careful timing and use of the monsters that pull from the deck, I won a two-to-zero victory.
The second game tapped into my love of Magic: The Gathering’s black cards. The graveyard was my playground, as I buried cards from my deck with creature effects, strengthened dead units with effect cards, and then pulled them back into play with other on-cast abilities. Both rounds were a blowout, netting me a second two-to zero victory.
The decks on display during the demo were great examples of how interactions work. I’m excited to try my hand at deck-building and see if I can best some of the tight synergy on display in the preview.
Gwent: The Witcher Card Game also features a full campaign with side-quests, voice-over, and a story starring familiar characters. You can read more about that in our E3 preview.
A closed beta will be starting on October 25. Gwent is coming for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC as a free-to-play title.