In today’s gaming environment, writing reviews is difficult due to the neverending development of games. Developers will start a game with an open beta, then release it, and continue to make updates for years and years to come. Reviewing a game in these circumstances is always with the caveat: “gameplay may change in the future, for better or worse.” Developers are always making changes to their existing games, modifying balance, adding new content, or creating new game modes.
As such, Blue Manchu’s Card Hunter was a game I worked carefully on during it’s beta development phase after having received an invite to the beta through a friend. The developers were actually quite attentive to the beta tester’s feedback, and changed most of the cards to improve the balance and flow of the game. I definitely did not regret my efforts put into Card Hunter‘s beta. However, the game was on a deadline and needed to be released in order to make some money. It was a rushed release, and the game’s balance was pretty awful. Some cards clearly outclassed others and a few cards were downright broken for the multiplayer mode. I left the game and decided to check up on it at a later date.
I can now honestly say Card Hunter has some of the best gameplay and balance out of the vast majority of CCG’s today. The balance is superior to giants like Hearthstone, and actually has a core gameplay that isn’t like every other CCG. I am very pleased at this turn of events, knowing that many of the cards I bitched about in the forums were finally changed or nerfed.
For those who do not know, Card Hunter‘s main draw is its Dungeons and Dragons board game style combined with using a deck of cards to play your character. RPG elements are included in the form of acquiring new items, which are the only way to put new cards into your deck. As far as I’m aware, no other board game, card game, or RPG is built like this. Being the gameplay junkie I am, of course Card Hunter‘s innovation was irresistible.
Despite looking like a complex game, Card Hunter is surprisingly simple to play once you’re past all of the menu screens. Each turn, your characters draw two cards in addition to their racial movement card. The three races are dwarves, humans, and elves. Dwarves have the most hp but least movement, while elves have the highest mobility but are fragile. A character can only carry two cards over per turn. The cards can be armor, attack, block, or additional movement cards. Attack cards are divided into spells and melee. There is no ranged bow and arrow class but I would not be surprised to see it added at a future date.
As for the menu screen, it’s not that bad either.
It may look like an eyeful, but in reality the only thing the player needs to care about is the items to the right of the character. You need to level up your character to acquire more power tokens, which are those little blue orbs next to the items you see, and items that require more power tokens are generally more powerful. So deck building in Card Hunter isn’t like Magic The Gathering or Hearthstone where you need to constantly test out different decks to find that perfect build of luck and power.
Generally speaking, you want to level up your character so you can equip better items and use more powerful abilities. It’s pretty straightforward until you get to harder stages in the single-player campaign whereby monsters have specific weaknesses to certain attacks that require careful itemization.
Things change drastically in multiplayer, however. In multiplayer, all characters are the same level. Most characters have access to the same sets of cards, so in order to stand out a player needs to carefully build a good team of the right races and cards to win. On top of this, there are many different maps, each that favor different strategies, so it’s nearly impossible for any one deck to be the best all the time. There are, however, certain rare items that offer better cards on average for the same power level than others, and items are shared between multiplayer and single player, so the emphasis to win in this game is to hunt cards. Overall, multiplayer mode is one of the best parts of the game and offers huge value.
And by better cards, I do not mean to imply that there are some cards and items which clearly outclass all the others. There are many different viable builds that keeps battle variety high, and many builds work with items you usually think will be worthless (until you need it!).
The best part? The entire game costs $0.00. You could make an account and start playing right now, and beat the entire single-player campaign without spending a dime. You could even do very well in the multiplayer. However, if you want access to all the content, and if you want to speed up the grind, you can still drop $10-20 to maximize your Card Hunter experience.
This game is decidedly not Pay2Win, but paying does give a huge advantage in terms of grind-reduction. By far the best purchase you can make is to join the card hunter’s club, which gives you bonus loot for every win you make in single player or multiplayer. Card hunter’s club is only $10 for a month, and if you can play this game 2-4 times per week then the card hunter’s club will basically max your deck in a month of grinding.
Regardless, despite the praise I am lavishing upon Card Hunter, please understand there used to be major gameplay issues with card balance when this game was released in 2013. It’s taken them a long time, but last December a major balance overhaul was released and (finally!) many of the changes I tried to bring to the developer’s attention in 2013 were finally fixed nearly a year and a half after the game’s release.
Having played through the game again, I can now safely recommend Card Hunter not only as an innovative title that really has no rival, but is completed with a plethora of interesting abilities and deep gameplay. The developers at Blue Manchu took their sweet time, but somehow everything pulled through. Honestly the amount of gameplay improvements with card balance reminds me of how much Starcraft evolved two years after it’s release.
Obviously, Card Hunter won’t be your thing if you don’t like strategy games, but one thing I will say is not to dismiss this game just because you may not like card games. The card aspect of this game hardly feels random at all. Most decks and items are built in such a fashion that no matter what cards you get, you’ll always have powerful options at your disposal. Sometimes you’ll get screwed over by bad luck, but compared to other card games, Card Hunter has the least luck involved. Additionally, as you get better items, the luck factor becomes negligible. A card game where luck is not the dominating factor? Now you know you’re playing one of the all-time greats.
As based on the rating system:
Gameplay — Technically brilliant and perfect. I suppose, given the all-star lineup of developers who worked on Card Hunter, the odds were high this would occur. When you’ve got the producer of System Shock 2 next to the creators and high-level competitive admins of Magic: The Gathering, good things are bound to happen. The only reason you will not enjoy this game is if you hate games like Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Advance Wars. But don’t write this game off just because you hate card games. This is not your ordinary card game. This is the card game for people who hate card games. A year ago this game would have scored 10 less. 45 out of 45.
Controls — Point and click. Menus are easily organized and combat is played on a grid. No way to mess this one up. People can play this game on a tablet. 25 out of 25.
Graphics — The characters and levels have their own crisp style of artwork. However, there’s no animations, and the entire presentation can feel a bit sterile. 5 out of 15.
Sound — There are good sound effects to match the battles, and some ambient effects to each level, but there’s no real music to speak of. 3 out of 10.
Story — The story is an attempt to bring down the fourth-wall by having the player beat two brothers who are hardcore nerds and play the GM of the entire story. Other than that, the story is typical D&D stuff with wizards, dragons, and other monsters, all located inside of ruins, dungeons, and castles. I suppose many players love the nerd humor but I barely read any of it. 1 out of 5.
Total Score — 86%. Games like this don’t come around very often. The fact that it’s all played on your browser and is mostly for free is huge value. No matter your taste in games, I highly recommend giving this game a minimum of two hours of your time. At worst you’ll be exposed to an extremely creative style of gameplay that will be copied for years and decades to come, and at best you’ll have a new addiction.
I wouldn’t call Card Hunter the manliest of games. The colors are bright and friendly, and the violence is safe enough for a 6-year old. It has a lot of tough female characters, and the single-player mode has an extremely beta narrator. However, the game at least acknowledges these facts and in no-shape or form pretends to be realistic. Also, many of the female characters in this game are at least attractive.
Total Masculine Value:
Three out of Five Booth Babes (the other two have left to flirt with some alpha males).