Ah, CD Projekt Red, why are you so hard to quit? Ever since Witcher 2, you keep meeting my expectations, and Witcher 3 The Wild Hunt was no exception. It’s one thing that you’ve made a stunning world with a narrative to boot, but on top of that, you made even the most diligent and pickiest RPG videogame enthusiast, such as myself, busy with the little things sprinkled in-game. The part where I’ve spent an unnecessarily ridiculous amount of time is the Gwent card game, where collecting the cards and beating the NPCs only triggered my thirst for more and naturally I was stoked when I heard that they will be releasing a stand-alone Gwent card game.
Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game.
When I get asked: “Are you into card games?”, I just glance at my Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic the Gathering stacks and I raise my eyebrow. I love card games, but as far as the digital versions of all card games go, they all lack a certain something. Most Yu-Gi-Oh platforms are fun, but only due to the game, the apps themselves are clunky as hell, MTG apps are old news, but let’s face the elephant in the room, the king of the digital card games, Hearthstone peaked, and now if you’re not playing a solid meta-deck, there’s little room for exploration. It became one dimensional, and gimping of old cards and the introduction of new cards further drew itself into a corner, since most builds are meta oriented. It’s about time Hearthstone get a solid competitor, and to be honest, Gwent has some pretty big shoes to fill if it’s going to come toe to toe with Ben Brode’s matured behemoth.
Right off the bat, firing up Gwent put me in the mood with its Fantasy-Slavic music, and pleasing visuals. The game is pretty much identical to the one in Witcher 3, but I must keep in mind that this time around these opponents are no mere NPCs. This is the real deal, where I get to bash heads with fellow Witcher fans. Most card games have issues with being too complex for beginners, but from the get-go, CD Projekt took notes from Blizzard and kept it simple. To be honest, it has this same pick-up-and-play feel just like Hearthstone, where the game and the progress of each duel feels more like a two-player board game than anything else. Witcher 3 has been around for a while now, and the player skill level is a big hurdle to overcome, so there’s a chance for this to put off some novice players.
The rules: tl:dr;
You play a best-two-out-of-three duel, where you need to increase the number that indicates your army’s strength, while keeping the enemy at bay with various effects. You draw ten cards, with the leader card on top. Each player side has three combat rows, representing close combat, ranged combat, and siege, that are card types. There are Unit cards and Special cards. That’s it. Those are the basics. The trick is to outlast your opponent and pull moves that will put you in an advantage, while stalling the enemy. Try not to play the strongest cards immediately, and understand the weather effects, such as fog that nerfs ranged combat rows, or snow which is a close combat card’s bane. In the end, if two turns are skipped, the round is over and the results go on the board. Like mentioned before, best two out of three rounds win. Seemingly simple!
The biggest curve ball adjusting to Gwent will be the fact that you don’t draw cards after a turn. Some of my friends that didn’t play the Witcher straight up started sprinkling the strongest cards, Salt Bae style, taking the first round, only to have their asses handed to them on a silver platter in the next two turns. Patience is a virtue while playing Gwent.
The game itself pays homage to the card game found in The Witcher 3 with its gameplay, because it really oozes politics. In the bigger picture, when it comes to feudal politics and methods of old, it wasn’t about who kills more, it’s about the potential to win. The entire way Gwent’s mechanic works is a way of caricaturing how kingdoms negotiate superiority, where conflicts are small and present, but large scale attack is only a last-ditch effort. In some battles, it is wiser to keep your cards and lose a round, or even try to lure your opponent to use his strong cards and then forfeit the round, making your enemy enter the next round weak. This makes Gwent seem more like military negotiations than a duel. It gives it a sense of scale, where few moves have colossal consequences.
One thing is obvious. The game is not made just because Hearthstone is a massive success. Apart from a few approaches that Gwent initially shares (not borrows) with Hearthstone, like easy-to-access gameplay, the free to play model leaves the game open to CD Projekt’s hardcore fan-base. They have been whining about wanting a separate card game for a while now, and oh-boy, they are delivering.
So far there are several decks: Monsters, Nilfgaardian Empire, Northern Realms, Scoia’tael, Skellige. Each deck has its own characteristic effect – Scoia’tael decides who gets the first turn of the duel, Nilfgaardian wins any round ending in a draw, and so on. Only after the players start experimenting with building their own deck, certain card synergies and combinations start showing up, mostly unavailable to novice players.
In conclusion, I like to think myself as a moderate card game enthusiast, I’ve tried most of card games, but only a few managed to keep me interested for a while. Judging that I’m well over 180h into The Witcher 3 with a huge chunk of that just playing Gwent as a quick pick-me-up, it’s refreshing playing the game with real people. Most of time when I feel confident, I get absolutely annihilated, so when you get an advantage early on in the duel, stay on your toes, the opponent is most likely holding back. With that said, I can’t wait for the game to become open to the masses, and the only bad thing I can say is that the mobile version is not announced, but that was the case with Hearthstone’s launch too, so fingers crossed.