Friday, May 23, 2014

Freebie Alert: Card Hunter is everything you never knew you wanted.

As a tween, I would bound into my local “Scholars” collectibles store, owned by a guy who I’m pretty sure was Sonny Bono, and ponder the tabletop RPGs. It was daunting in the coolest way. Crazy elaborate terrain setups, paint kits, and magnifying lenses, all for a board game. I would marvel at the pewter Ogres and Dwarves and Warriors, wondering what sort of life I could inject into their little tin hearts. But it was not for me. There were video games to play, you see, and somehow fifty dollars for a game I could play by myself felt better than fifty dollars for tiny creatures I’d need a cohort to enjoy. But still, I wondered.

So upon discovering “Card Hunter” on Youtube personality Alzorath's channel, I kind of fell in love. My precious creatures, sight-lines, and complicated terrains had come to life, little pewter hearts transformed to digital paper stand-ups that had me wondering why my tween self never thought of that. Sure, I had played tactical RPGs before but “Card Hunter” wasn’t just a tactical RPG, it was a Tabletop Tactical RPG with a mainline to my childhood that was free to boot.


On paper Card Hunter plays like a combination of “Magic The Gathering” and “Final Fantasy: Tactics”, but is a little more complex than that. In short, you're given characters of various classes, and you equip those characters with weaponry that has various cards associated with it - spells, attacks, movements, and buffs. This allows you to build characters in any way you want through their equipment. If you want your Wizard to have a lot of long-range spells, equip him with items that have long-range spells attached to them. Want your Dwarf Warrior to be all about short-range bashing? Give him weapons that feature bashing attacks, and buffs that boost it. You then turn around and use these characters in turn-based battles against the enemy.

The mechanics used to fight these battles are solid, emphasizing planning and character placement. While the tutorial is a little complex, once you get your legs under you, the difficulty curve is just about right - allowing you to tackle enemies a level or two above your characters if you execute with precision. Progressing through the single player campaign introduces new terrain types, win conditions, and special circumstances that prevent the game from falling into a monotonous grind.

The thrill of drawing high-damage cards when you need them, or finally cornering a high-level enemy in order to blast him with a powerful spell is frequent and rewarding. Victory rewards you in a tangible sense, too; yielding precious loot, gold, and experience points. If you’re the kind of person who salivates at the idea of getting newer and better equipment in games like Skyrim, Borderlands, or World of Warcraft, and find inventory management to have a zen-like appeal, Card Hunter is for you. By level 5 you’ll have so many different weapons, armors, and attachments that you could spend hours specing out your characters to play to their strengths and your preferred strategies. In the early going you’ll come across weapons that require power-tokens to be equipped which you don’t get until level 7, so you’ll end up with a lot of high-level equipment you’re just aching to use, but can’t. Due in part to that, you may find yourself a bit overwhelmed by your consistently growing inventory, scared to sell something you might need later, or holding onto an item that has nebulously defined benefits. 

But aside from the inventory clutter, the gameplay portion of “Card Hunter” is of high quality and compelling for anyone who likes RPGs, CCGs, and Strategy Games, and is worth a look for anyone even remotely interested in a fresh take on those genres. 

But Card Hunter being free-to-play may give you a not-so-fresh feeling going in. I was weary I wouldn’t be able to tackle multiplayer, or own any of the really *good* equipment, unless I ponied up some real dough to get some pizza, which is this game’s premium currency. Those worries are unfounded. Card Hunter doles out the pizza pretty early and pretty often, and unlike other games which give you the premium currency and then make you use it on some specific power-up, I was able to take the Pizza I was given for a specific reason and use it elsewhere, despite the game saying I should buy a specific item or dungeon pack. I appreciate it. If you choose to drop money, you can sign up for a premium membership which yields you extra items per quest, and gives you free pizza a month. 

Whether or not it's a good idea financially, it appears Card Hunter has taken the approach that gamers are willing to drop money on games they appreciate, because through my time with the game I haven’t really run into any situation where I’ve felt like I need to spent money on it to progress, or that I was underpowered. 

Rarely does a game manage to evoke nostalgia and feel completely fresh at the same time, and this is one of those instances. Card Hunter takes place in the ‘real’ world, in your friend Gary’s basement, who narrates your adventures using his older brother’s dungeon mastering books. I spent many years yearning to be one of those dorks in their basement, playing D&D long into the night, sipping on Mountain Dew until my pee turned bright green, and Card Hunter delivers a wonderful simulation of that very experience, late-night pizza deliveries and all, which in turn makes the whole shebang feel fresh. 

Card Hunter is the perfect counter-balance to “Grand Theft Auto V”, indie and ballsy and well-meaning, rock-n-roll because it’s so desperate to charm and entertain and deliver quality gameplay in a very specific way that all ages can enjoy - If I had kids, I’d want to play this game with them for years. If Card Hunter was a 15 dollar downloadable game, it’d still get an incredibly high score, but the fact it’s so charming, so deep, so accessible (it’s a flash based browser game, you can play it on your Ouya for crying out loud), means I think I have to give this thing the fully monty on principal alone.

Play Card Hunter. Play it now. Don’t stop until you’re bored. 

You won’t stop. 

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