So, I've been beating the Cardhunter drum for a while now, and I thought I'd take a few moments to explain why it's been absorbing 95% of my gaming hours.

First up, it's a genre-bender. We've got a grid-based playing field and turn-based play flow, like many strategy wargames. We also have a deck-and-card element ala Magic: The Gathering, and we have characters, classes, and levels like any classic RPG.

When your characters start out at level 1, they have a few equipment slots - a warrior, for example, will have slots for two weapons, and one pair of boots. Each piece of equipment represents a number of cards in your deck, and when you place a piece of equipment into a slot, you get the cards that come with the equipment - a dagger, for example, might have a few low-damage armor piercing cards on it, while a hammer would be more about bludgeoning and bashing cards.

Also, more powerful items require "power orbs" to equip - you earn power orbs as you go up in levels, and they come in two flavors (blue, and the more powerful gold). But, you can never earn enough power orbs to slot everything on your character - about half of your orb slots will go unfilled, and therefore you'll be wearing at least some equipment that has a less powerful set of cards.

Already, this is a pretty neat concept - in just about any other deck-building game, when you find a great card, you put the maximum number of copies in your deck. The next time you find another copy of that card, it's useless - so the only way to keep collecting treasure you care about is to keep having cards that go up in power. This is a self-escalating problem that requires incredible game system management or will certainly implode. Cardhunter elegantly eliminates that problem by making every equipment decision a tradeoff. Weapon A has a single powerful attack card and a bunch of wimpy hits, Weapon B has no killer card but just a bunch of solid hits, Weapon C has some good offense and some blocking / defensive cards, Weapon D has some really neat attacks but needs two power orbs... I could go on at length. It really makes deck building fun in a way I've never seen before.

Character generation, likewise, is pretty slick - you get three characters, and you get to select a race and class for each. Each race has a different "default move" card (a mechanism that ensures you can move each character at least once a turn, but also allows for multiple moves), with elves being faster and dwarves being slower than humans. Each race also gets a special racial skill slot (humans are more about battlefield control, elves are about moving / scouting, dwarves are about holding positions). Classes are well-done, too; primary responsibilities are informed by equipment selections - fighters get weapons that have strong, close-range hits, while wizards get staves that have weaker, longer-range hits, and so forth. I've played through the campaign about six times now, each time with a different party makeup and each time the game is interestingly different.

Every time I play the game, I'm struck by the expertly thought-out system. Most of what happens is very intuitive, and the few areas where things get complex it's easy for me to see why the game decisions were made the way they were. I guess I'm saying that this is not your typical "hey, dudes, we should totally make a game" kind of arrangement - the folks who put this one together know what they're doing and it shows.

The last thing I want to touch on is the freemium model. Now, I've played a handful of freemium games, and i've seen myself how and why they quickly turn from actual games into money-spending competitions. I'm gonna come right out and say it - Cardhunter got it right. Here's the scoop: your "premium currency" (i.e., real dollars) can be spent on a couple things. You can buy gold, but gold isn't a great way to get equipment (you might use it to buy the One Neat Thing you want for your deck, but it's prohibitively expensive and the shops are randomized - you don't get to buy just whatever you want.) The second is that you can buy special "treasure hunt" maps, which are additional playable levels that guarantee at least one rare item as a reward for finishing... the first time you finish. After that, they're just regular campaign levels.

Finally, there's the membership, which is where I expect their bread and butter comes from. Membership is fairly inexpensive (at the time of this writing, somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 a month), and it improves your treasure hunting in a remarkably fair way: it's one more of the best category of treasure in a chest. That is, if a member opens a treasure chest that has three random items, and one guaranteed to be uncommon or better, their membership bonus is one more item uncommon or better. It's enough to be totally worth the membership, but it doesn't give me a serious advantage over the next player in line - and it doesn't give me access to anything exclusive.

I've been playing the game as a beta for about two months now. I'd have expected myself to get burned out on it by now, but so far, I'm still going strong. There have been a couple game balance tweaks and so forth, and it seems to me that Blue Manchu (the authoring studio) is really investing the time to get as much right as they can. I'm not going to put them on a pedestal or anything, but in an age of studios cheerfully belching out churnware, Cardhunter has a downright artisanal quality to it.

So, come join me in the beta! I can't remember the last time I was this enthusiastically happy with a game, and I'd like to hear the thoughts of my fellow gamers.

Cheers,

Cap'n Curry

AdamPFarnsworth wrote on 08/19/2013 at 05:03pm

I think you've talked me into checking it out. Is it on Steam?

CapnCurry   Supporter   Post Author wrote on 08/19/2013 at 05:46pm

No, it's a stand-alone web game. You can submit your email for the Beta at cardhunter.com.

AdamPFarnsworth wrote on 08/19/2013 at 06:20pm

rad man

AdamPFarnsworth wrote on 08/19/2013 at 08:37pm

I'm in the beta queue!

beansmyname   Supporter wrote on 08/20/2013 at 09:00pm

Consider it done. Signed up. We'll see what happens.

Nayelianne wrote on 08/25/2013 at 01:36am

Signed up as well. Hopefully I'll still manage to get things done and not get too addicted, haha.

AdamPFarnsworth wrote on 08/25/2013 at 10:39pm

I did lose myself in it, until the free weekend of Guild Wars 2 lol

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