I have started playing Card Hunter. I was enthusiastic about it before release, mentally moved on, and am now getting back to it. I have enjoyed it, although its luster seems to fade quickly.
Card Hunter feels great, a mix of retro aesthetic with modern functionality. Personally, I am way past tired of the retro trend of faux 8-bit graphics; this reaches back even further to the classic Dungeons & Dragons modules. That nostalgia appeals to me. It recreates a bit of the tabletop experience, with dice and miniatures.
The game plays a bit like 4th Edition D&D crossed with a card game, which might explain why Tobold was fond of it. Your race and class define your equipment slots; your equipment defines what cards are in your deck. Each turn, your characters draw two cards plus one movement card, and those cards determine your options this round. This gives you controlled randomness, in that you control what goes in your deck but not the order. I enjoy it as a bit of turn-based strategy that feels more like D&D than many CRPGs.
I find that the equipment-based ability system is not giving me enough variety or interesting tradeoffs. Within limits, it does let you customize your deck to your preferences, so your wizard can focus on short-range arcane blasts, long range electricity, or fire DoTs. While you are leveling, however, it seems very easy for a good loot drop to be clearly superior, and you work around that. It exhibits the common card game problem of having one card be a 3-damage attack and another a 4-damage attack with no additional cost for playing the 4-damage attack. This is attenuated by having combinations of cards in each piece of equipment, so a strong card can be paired with a weaker one, but Card Hunter practices balance through rarity which again leads to clearly superior options, and limiting those options through random loot drops is less than compelling. (Of course, if you like Diablo-style loot-based advancement with random drops, this will be awesome.) There is technically variety, but if your options are “blue staff,” “green dagger,” and “shotgun,” it is hard to make a case for that dagger. There are some tradeoffs like the different types of magic above, and I am finding more in higher levels as power stones become a limiting factor.
I expect some puzzle-like play, but I have not seen much. There is a “Mauve Manticore 6” fight, which looks like a monthly puzzle, but this one feels more like a challenge of randomization than strategy; you play with a pre-made deck, you find out what is in it while playing, and the opponents are designed for the map you’re playing on. There are clearly puzzle pieces here, but you may need to lose a few games before the luck of the draw shows them all. There are fights that are intended to switch up your playstyle, say between those types of magic, but so far they can be easily solved by brute force (upgrade equipment) or good luck. This might speak well for the game in that I can adapt my strategy by changing my deck for these opponents or changing how I used it based on the map (or both). For example, a fight that explicitly says to try AE attacks against massed opponents falls just as easily when you force them through a chokepoint that keeps them from applying their greater numbers.
The monetization scheme somehow fails to feel like pay to win even though it involves paying for loot (and see above for the importance of loot). You can buy gold, which can buy items, and you can buy chests of random items. You can buy adventures with guaranteed epic drops. But what I consider its primary form of monetization is to subscribe, which seems entirely unobjectionable to the MMO mind. Subscription is literally presented as “buy the DM some pizza,” and its reward is an extra piece of loot per day per fight. That is phrased in the positive, which is P2W but good psychology. I think of it in the negative: Card Hunter has loot-based advancement, and subscribers advance at the normal rate while F2P players must grind more. I might think badly of this if I were not willing to spend money.
I am mostly ignoring the excuse plots that set up the fights, but the story arc of the people playing the game is fun. Gary is an enjoyable nerd, his brother is a huge jerk, and he has yet to notice that the pizza girl is interested in the game. The midgame module that pits you against the older brother’s author avater is a surprisingly satisfying fight, since you are set up to want to punch him in the face from his first lines.
Many of my comments have been critical, but the early “it feels like old school D&D” counts for a lot of weight. There is something satisfying about whacking kobolds, and this does it pretty well. If you like classic, turn-based D&D combat, this recreates that experience with a card game-based twist.