Two games in my recent rotation are Guild of Dungeoneering and Hand of Fate. Both use card-based mechanics and a bit of deckbuilding alongside roguelike elements. Both games set you against fixed challenges, where the path there is built from a player-influenced set of cards. Your weapons against them are player-influenced sets of cards.
Hand of Fate gives you more control over the enemy deck but less on how it comes into play. You pick out what cards (challenges) are in the dealer’s hands, subject to restraints like fixed cards for each quest and based on your progress through sidequests. Once that happens, it is all in the dealer’s hands. The dealer lays out cards on a path you must follow, sometimes with paths you can choose, but always with cards face-down. That is its most rogue-like element. You never know what you’re walking into until the card flips over, and there are few chances to flip cards other than walking into them. In Guild of Dungeoneering, the player has no control over which cards form the dungeon, but the player chooses which, where, and how many to play each turn. You are occasionally dealt nigh-impossible cards for your hero, but it feels like a lot more control. The interesting decisions in Hand of Fate come during deck construction, while they come during gameplay for Guild of Dungeoneering. Score one for Guild of Dungeoneering, since most of your time is spent playing.
Both games let you customize your hero and equipment. Guild of Dungeoneering gives you an expanding roster of heroes to pick from. Hand of Fate has an expansion that lets you pick “Fate” modifiers (characters). More choice up front for Hand of Fate, at an extra dollar cost, but less choice throughout the game. Equipment generally comes with victories in both games. Guild of Dungeoneering lets you pick one of a few choices for each victory. Hand of Fate has far fewer choices but more equipment slots and a fair number of shops to buy and sell equipment. You customize a deck of possible equipment finds at the start of each Hand of Fate game; Guild of Dungeoneering unlocks more cards with the same cash pool that lets you unlock more heroes, and all cards are available each time. Better equipment customization options in Hand of Fate, and more individual choices in Guild of Dungeoneering.
Hand of Fate has a lot of random events. Most of them are a card-based “subgame,” although the whole game is “pick one of four face-down cards.” Not a terribly interesting decision. Equipment and curses can influence it, which has led me to the question of whether the odds are as they appear or if the cards are simply a graphic covering a percentile chance, as the wheel is in Renowned Explorers: International Society. In REIS, the wheel always likes to show a very close spin, nearly winning or losing on each. In Hand of Fate, there is equipment that straight up eliminates a “fail” card from the mix, but other equipment refers to changing odds in a way that makes no sense if you have a 25% chance of getting each card. Hand of Fate also has a combat subgame, which is somewhat entertaining but not great; if you see combat as the centerpiece of a game, and why wouldn’t you in a fantasy quest about getting loot and killing foes, it is not a strong centerpiece.
Guild of Dungeoneering uses a card game as its combat. Each character and monster has base abilities and skills, which translate into cards. Your equipment adds skills, which adds cards. Specialize, and you get stronger cards. Diversify, and you get more variety in cards, but you still play just one per round. The card game is nothing enormously special, variations on two types of attacks and blocks along with some exotic effects. It is entertaining, but most of the decision seems to be made by how well your class/equipment plays against this sort of monster plus whether one of you gets extremely bad luck. That makes your play in the other level of card game very important, but there are relatively few chances to feel like your beautiful mid-combat play saved the day. You can play well, but stacking the odds in your favor is stronger than playing the odds.
On the graphics and atmosphere side, Hand of Fate is dark and brooding. It has an aura of mysticism, although it seems skin deep. Guild of Dungeoneering is cartoony and cute, its narrator somewhat meaner. Hand of Fate has a bitter fortune teller laying out the cards and commenting on your progress. Guild of Dungeoneering has a bard taunting death for every quest. Graphics for either game are decent enough for what they are trying to do.
I think I have been enjoying Guild of Dungeoneering more, because its card game combat is better than Hand of Fate’s combination of random choices and action combat. The card game combat is not top tier, but it does one thing pretty well as opposed to having two “meh” mechanics.