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Contributor Scott Lufkin, a card carrying Card Hunter fan, will be covering the first week of Blue Manchu’s tactical fantasy combat meets deck-building game, which you can play here. Scott previously wrote our Tactics Ogre game diary, which starts here.

At last year’s Penny Arcade Expo, I saw a demo of an indie game called Card Hunter. The gameplay featured a player moving virtual cardboard units straight out of a boardgame on a tile based landscape lovingly detailed to look like a cardboard map, complete with dice and pencils off to the side. It was called Card Hunter. It was a free to play, browser based game, which at that point I believed was a pox on gaming.

After the break, what changed my mind?

Card Hunter features dozens of little campaigns comprised of 2-4 battles each, accessible via a large world map. At the end of each battle you open a chest containing random loot. Loot in this case is equipment for your character’s paper doll inventory system. Each piece of equipment has cards attached to it; the sum of all the attached cards is the deck you draw from during battle. For example, a Zapping Wand has two Zap! spells that deal 3 damage up to range 5, and a Tiny Zap! spell that deals 2 damage at a range of 4. By putting this wand on your character those three cards go into his deck, so he could potentially draw them during
combat.

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I managed to get into the beta, but not before I spent hours reading amazing after action reports written by the initial wave of beta testers, serving only to whet my appetite further. When I finally got my hands on Card Hunter I spent the better part of a month obsessing over acquiring loot, which leads to better cards and more strategy. I talked to friends about the challenging battles I was struggling with, and at some point realized I was generally putting more effort into fashioning solid builds using the gear I had acquired in order to overcome difficult encounters than I had put into solving strategic problems in any other strategy game in quite some time.

At one point, for example, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning realizing I had a few cards I wasn’t using that might make those horrible Troglodytes just a little less nasty. What makes the strategy in this game work is some fights can be incredibly hard, but with the right combination of equipment and cards, and a little luck when drawing your hand, a tough fight can become child’s play. Very satisfying, but not in a “solving a puzzle” sort of way, but rather a “using the tools provided to drum up a solution” sort of way. Card Hunter trips a lot of my trigger points when it comes to what type of game I personally enjoy. It’s a strategy game, it’s turn-based, it’s got a really pleasing art style, and it’s as deep and engaging as it is light hearted and easy to pick up and get going.

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Card Hunter is available right now, and last night’s launch has gone smoothly as of this posting. Nothing has blown up yet. It’s completely free to play. In my experience with the beta, where I spent exactly $0, you can
have a ton of fun and even see most of the content. The only thing you miss out by not paying is the 11 additional “Treasure Hunts” that dot the map, which cost $10. There are other things you can spend money on that are largely cosmetic.

Tomorrow: going from beta to final

Scott Lufkin currently lives in Iowa with his wife, two children, and a beloved PC. He posts on the Quarter to Three forums as BleedTheFreak.