Among the plethora of online games available nowadays, both free, otherwise, and in-between, there’s quite the variety when it comes to RPGs, tactics games and TCGs. Very rarely do you get something that combines all three of those characteristics into a cohesive, functional and more importantly, fun experience, and at no cost. I am referring to a nice, little browser-based game called Card Hunter, developed by Blue Manchu Games.
The development team that has worked – and I guess is still working to a certain degree – on the game, has some serious gaming industry pedigree, both video games as well as the more table-top variety.
Jonathan Chey, the founder of Blue Manchu Games, has, in the past, co-founded Irrational Games, produced System Shock 2 and worked as a Director of Development for BioShock, just to name a couple of his stats.
The other members of the team have worked at LucasArts, Irrational Games, Origin Systems and Trion Worlds, not to mention that they somehow got Richard Garfield himself – the creator of Magic: The Gathering, to consult on the game.
Fantasy role-play aspect
Card Hunter is deeply steeped in fantasy role-play culture, starting from the setting of the game – simulating a DnD session with a GM narrating, and interruptions and such, to the fact that you’re playing on a board situated on a table, with dice and cards around. Also the figures representing your characters are literally cardboard cut-outs which one would use if they were to be lacking actual miniatures.
You can find all the tropes of the genre, from the character classes, spells and abilities to the various enemies and item hunting, to also the use of a map with very suggestively thematic names.
Piling on the fantasy atmosphere, the story descriptions are reminiscent of now ancient Dungeons and Dragons Campaign module booklets – both in writing style and especially in illustration style, they’re great blasts from the past for those of us old enough to remember ye olde booklets.
Tactical combat aspect
The board that the adventures take place on features a square grid – fucking square grids again! – which movement and abilities taking into account this fact, as well as obstacles. The direction that your characters are facing will also come into play in various situations, especially when it comes to being attacked from behind. As a nice little touch, when moving the characters these lift off the board and set down where you order them to move, much like what would happen in real life.
The advantages of computer-based RPGs
The advantages of creating the Card Hunter game as a computer-based RPG, even though the inspiration sources are solidly based in real world gaming, come full into play in this situation since the player can easily see the range and direction that they can walk, as well as where their abilities can reach.
This might sound as something of a standard feature in a turn-based tactical combat game, but having gone through my fair share of mid-DnD session discussions relating to where things are, and the various ranges between them, it actually is a GREAT thing when you look at it in this context.
One other benefit of having a computer deal with the calculations, and ability interactions, is that they will happen almost instantaneously. Damage and abilities resolve so fast that you can’t keep up with what happens, which can be a good or a bad thing, but in case you’re interested, you can always look through what happened in the log, which is always visible in the upper left corner of the screen.
Card Hunter is also Collectible card game
Besides the fantasy role-playing aspect and the tactical combat, Card Hunter is also a deck building collectible card game.
The cards act as both a mechanical inspiration as well as a tribute to Magic: The Gathering cards, which makes sense since Richard Garfield consulted on the game. Their look, abilities and flavor text, whilst considerably simplified when compared to MTG, harkens back to the first editions of Magic: The Gathering.
It seems that even though the team loves MTG they took a page out of Hearthstone’s book and in order to keep the game a more lite, or casual affair – as opposed to Magic: The Gathering – the cards’ contents take more of an inspiration from the World of Warcraft miniature game.
You unlock more and more equipment slots for your characters as they level up – which works in tune with the rather balanced progression of dungeon difficulty.
The card shuffles can, and will, fuck you over from time to time, much like what happens in a real life game of Magic, even if your mana curve is fucking FLAWLESS!
Sounds and music
Not very much to say about the music, except that it’s used sparingly, but it does a good job in terms of atmospheric and other sound effects.
The in-game currency which you can buy with real money is called “pizza” – again, rather thematic – and players can use it to purchase different cutouts for their characters, which is exclusively an aesthetic thing, but you can also purchase in-game gold and random treasure chests. You can also use pizza for a type of subscription system which will allow you to gain an extra item after each victory.
Since we’re in the online realm, Card Hunter also has a Multiplayer feature which is almost a separate game unto its own. This is where real-world money comes much more into play since you need to spend some “pizza” on sets of adventurers. Granted, these adventurers come loaded with a ton of higher level items and whatnot, and depending on the type of experience you’re looking for, playing against a human opponent might be worth a few shekles once in awhile.
Is it Fun2Play or Pay2Win?
This one is a resounding Fun2Play, due to all of the characteristics I mentioned till now, as well, and most importantly, the fact that it is much more of a casual experience than the source inspirations are.
You can always just load it in a tab and play a mission when you’re in the mood for a quick break from whatever it was that you were doing on, or off, the web. Also, there’s quite a bit of content to get through till you feel that your characters are undergeared, it hasn’t happened for me, but I haven’t gone past level 7 dungeons.