When you start up Card Hunter, you may feel a little nostalgic. The game from Blue Manchu, which is currently in beta, blends a classic CCG and RPG-dungeon crawler in a browser game. Among its features include the ability to customize your three-person party, items, abilities, and spells via cards, then head off on adventures. These adventures consist of some good old creature-chasing, dungeon crawling, and once you get there, strategic card-based battles.
If this sounds standard, perhaps like something you’ve heard before, continue reading. Card Hunter is designed to have the look and feel of a game session with a friend acting as DM. From the tutorial to the graphics that resemble tabletop figures made from cardboard, there’s a sense of humor and whimsy that both hearkens back to the very tabletop tradition the devs draw from and presents it in a modern way. The feeling of play together, creating characters, naming them, equipping them, and setting off on grand adventures slaying Kobolds or dragons don’t have to diminish just because you might have those encounters online more and more now.
Place names, introductions, and the dialogue from your partner, the animated Gary (a first reference, but not the last), are all tinged with humor. The introductions to each level and in each sub-chapter, are also noteworthy. They feature a retro art style and tell the story in an entertaining way. Those days when games were accompanied by manuals, maps, and depictions of your hero in action are represented here. Even the tutorial is split in two parts by an intro that winds up being largely for comedic effect, even as you get a taste of more advanced play. The real tutorial then begins and gives a thorough intro to all of Card Hunter’s mechanics and systems.
You’ll be able to start with your first party member and build all the way up to three by the end of it. While the game makes you put together an initial party consisting of warrior, wizard, and cleric, you’ll actually be free to put together whatever party you like. Parties are capped at three characters, so you’ll have to choose wisely. More options come in the form of being able to choose exactly who your members will be and through equipping them. I chose to start with a Human warrior. Then I picked up an Elven wizard, followed by another Human to act as my cleric. Each class and race has its own pros and cons, and that’s reflected in their stats on the character sheets.
So where do the cards come in? The answer is – everywhere. Your decks are determined by what you are, or aren’t equipped with. Using your bare hands? You’ll only be able to fight with weak grabs and punches. Equip a weapon, however, and stronger blows and new cards entirely open up to you. Equip a second weapon if you’d like and temper your character’s arsenal. More or higher level or rarity doesn’t always explicitly mean better. It’s always up to your preferences how you want to balance your team and what abilities or spells you will want to have accessible on hand. For example, if you’re wearing armor, you’ll get cards that automatically come into play if an enemy attacks you. But if you’re facing armored enemies in a particular chapter, as a wizard, you might want to equip the weapon that gives you Penetrating Zap rather than the other, higher level wand that just gives you Big Zap.
Many possibilities exist through itemization and loot, and more opportunities to customize your fighters will open up as you level and new equipment slots open up. While you level, you’ll also likely gather up lots of loot. You’ll get loot at the end of each battle, with Club members (those who pay for premium member perks) will get an extra item of an increased rarity. At the conclusion of a chapter, you get a big loot chest. Loot can grant you many new cards as well as items to sell at the shop for gold. Players can also get gold through buying another currency, Pizza, with real money and then exchanging. Gold can then net you equipment of various rarity to strengthen and widen the variety of cards a character has access to.
The game is deliberately paced, which can mean the battles stretch out for a time. While some battles will be quick if you have the right party combination, weapons, skills, and levels, it’s wise to set aside more than just a few minutes for maximum fun in Card Hunter. Not only will your character setups need to be determined with care and an eye for balance, as well as skill against the enemies you will face, the time in battle will require good strategies and pace. Add enemies that can block, terrain differences, and other obstacles, and there’s definite challenge in the game. You’ll be able to pass if there are no moves you can or want to make, and movement cards (range determined by race) are obtained by chance just as others are during each round.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of CCGs and don’t have a real history in tabletop, but the mix here is challenging enough and has enough RPG elements and a classic feel to be very fun. The ability (and sometimes the need) to customize your characters, your party itself, and absolutely everything else with cards is well done. Look out for this one.