Dungeons & Dragons is endemic to nerd culture. T-shirts with natural d20s, Coffee mugs with dragons, a whole host of posters, a literal Bag of Holding, and a number of D&D podcasts; Let's not forget to mention the actual game itself, or its many imitators and satirical send-ups. But an honest homage, presenting the feeling of first breaking into an older friends dusty books, gathering your socially awkward friends and badly playing the first of many dice and paper adventures has not been presented until now.
Enter Card Hunter. Assuming the role of a character that players name, we join Gary as he breaks out his older brothers Card Hunter books, figures and maps, and play through his collection of modules, gathering loot, wealth and power and battling ever stronger monsters.
Visually, the title is very neat and clean. Simulating, of all things, a wooden table, with a map in isometric view placed upon it. Surrounding, various dice, cards and other relics of tabletop gaming. Atop the map, small cardboard miniatures, denoting location on the map for both ally and foe. Between individual missions, placards describing the next adventure or a map of the world of Card Hunter.
Audibly, there isn't much to it. Not a lot of music, so players would be wise to bring their own. The sound effects are nice and descriptive, clearly highlighting what is happening; There is little else to be had aside from that.
Gameplay is this browser-based game shines like no-other, but lets knock some of the negative aspects out of the way. While other freemium games have an air of desperate pleading about them, Card Hunter seems perfectly content to let players try the freemiums out and be done with the sales pitch. The only constant reminder is the 'club item'. At the end of each battle, when loot is being delved out, an additional item is displayed which is only available to Card Hunter Club members, which costs 1600 'pizza', Card Hunters cash-to-in-game-currency, for a six month membership; this is approximately $52.80, not factoring in bulk purchase discounts. Being that the club is entirely optional, but adds value by enhancing the experience, it's not really that negative an issue.
Another issue seems to be the up-scale in difficulty. At some point, the enemies seem to go from almost too easy to too difficult straight away; the difficulty curve is a little off. Still, a little 'grinding' for loot and XP will even that out, so while the problem exists, it can be solved readily.
As far as how the game is played, it works very well. The player controls up to three heroes, each of which has their own 'deck' built up of cards provided by their items, or lack thereof. Decks are comprised of attacks, defense, movement and 'magic' cards. The magic cards cover all the cards that don't quite fit the first three. When a players character, or PC, equips an item, it's mechanics (damage, accuracy etc) is covered by providing a certain number of cards to the deck. As players progress, more item slots open up; more items mean more cards, and more cards means more power.
Each mission is structured like a D&D module, with a number of acts and a brief description of what is happening. Remember, players are controlling a character playing a roleplaying game, but what is being simulated is the experience of playing roleplaying games, not the roleplaying itself. Each act is a combat scenario, with all actions dictated from an individual hand for each character. Movement cards change the characters place on the board, defense and armor cards are played automatically when applicable and attack cards deliver damage either via melee weapon or arcane spell. 'Magic' cards can be played instead of movement or attack cards, and serve to alter gameplay somehow, either by imbuing an enduring trait on a character, healing or enchanting a character to some extent.
Once each combat scenario is won, players receive loot in the form of actual items, either vendor trash or actual items useful to your characters. Adding or changing items will alter a players deck, so caution when making changes are necessary; it is possible to render a character useless by mismatching their equipment. Remaining loot can be sold with the trash for gold, the strictly in-game currency, that can be used to buy potentially better items. Freemium currency can also gain 'rare' chests and new character stand-ins. Gary, the players' GM, will grant enough pizza to use these features once, which is far better than constant reminders that these shops exist; Again, these freemiums are not strictly necessary to enjoy the game, they merely enhance the game itself.
Overall, Card Hunter is a fresh, fun take on the freemium Flash game, and deserves time and attention. It is in closed beta, so register here. Keys take a few days to be delivered, and your patience will be rewarded.
Spokanites can learn more about the world of Cardhuntria at Card Hunters official website. I do play there under the name OperatorJames, and if you see me, I will happily settle down for a match. That is also my name on Xbox Live, and I will happily play a game with you.