Card Hunter themed to evoke pen and paper role-playing in the 1980s, which means a certain amount of very deliberate cheesiness and a conscious embracing of fantasy tropes as cheerful and colourful rather than gritty, darkness. Various dungeon masters ‘direct’ your adventures, and they’re very much in the mould of nerd stereotypes – the awkward enthusiast, the snooty, pony-tailed elitist – while you make delightful faux-cardboard cut-out characters do battle. This can sometimes overflow into the grinning at foolishness territory, but in the main they give the game life and character.
The presentation is board game, but the the mechanics are card-based. Your deck is built by equipping armour and weapons to your party, each one of which means new ability cards, which may or may not come up during your next fight, rather than direct damage/defence. Quests, meanwhile, are turn-based fights with a slight puzzle focus – i.e. most enemies or map layouts have some sort of gimmick which prevents you from simply stomping them with attacks.
There’s a ton going on, but Card Hunter manages to remain highly strategic even when there are thousands of possible deck permutations. I’ve noticed fellow gamers complain that they have to ‘grind’ early dungeons, which close for 24 hours after a successful run unless you pay to unlock them, in order to progress, when in fact quite the opposite is true. Learn the game well, play tactically and thoughtfully and the grinding isn’t required. If you ignore everything you’ve learnt over the first few quests and still refuse to do this and yes, you’ll be repeating yourself endlessly, and no, maybe Card Hunter isn’t for you.
It’s got its limitations, however, and I’d hoped the Steam release would mean a bit of an upgrade. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Its browser-based origins are all too evident even when it’s running as a standalone client – no zoom, no rotation, not much scaling up to high resolutions, almost no keyboard controls… I ended up playing it in a window because all the fake wood effect dead space around the main UI made it look too stark in full screen. Maybe these things will come with time, and success, but for now expect something pretty but a little rudimentary-feeling.
The one thing that came from the Steam release was co-op, which allows you to play the single player campaign with a friend. The downside is that instead of being able to use a party of 3, you each pick one character and have to beat the same quests, but with two characters. This can prove difficult since you only have direct control over one character and your friend needs to be playing on point for any real strategy to come off, so while it was a nice idea, I feel the co-op could have been rebalanced, or even just a separate set of quests, that could only be played co-operatively.
There are a few expansions available for Card Hunter, some of which are really quite expensive. It costs $13 to unlock the expansion, that’s on top of the earlier $20 for the ‘Basic’ edition , and maybe Club membership which gives you bonus loot every fight, and Pizza and Gold which buys chests and new figurines. You all should know my feelings towards microtransactions by now, I think Card Hunter might have gone a little overboard. Card Hunter gives you an awful lot for free, and on that basis there’s simply every reason to recommend grabbing the base version, but the costs involved to get ‘everything’ are eye-watering.
I do wish its Steam relaunch had pared things back to a more traditional base & expansions model but sadly you are required to make any purchases in game. All the loot-buying stuff is disconcerting, and becoming a member for Pizza where you get special treatment, even if ability rather than gear is broadly what wins the day. Card Hunter falls between a traditional and free-to-play layout, and while I’m a British and everything tends to grind my gears, I do think that this is quite a nice pass time. I’m glad it’s on Steam.
Card Hunter is developed by Blue Manchu studios and is available on you internet browser at https://www.cardhunter.com/ or is on Steam as a free download.