Not long ago I would roll my eyes at a free-to-play game, web based or otherwise. This year has seen a few terrific gems that have changed my mind, such as Path of Exile, Neverwinter, and Mechwarrior Online. But the only free-to-play game to actually get money from me is Card Hunter. A few days ago, I spent $20 on in-game currency, called pizza, even though I’d seen most of the game’s content already in the beta.
After the jump, why would I do such a thing?
I spent the $20 in part because I wanted to support Blue Manchu for developing such a terrific, unique, and clever game that speaks directly to me. But I also spent it because they were so smart about the pay model. There are a handful of ways to spend your purchased pizza (note that when you start your first game, you are given a little free pizza now and then to teach you how to spend it but you can exit out of the menu and keep it for other purposes).
Card Hunter boasts a strong multiplayer community, and you can even skirmish with your multiplayer decks against the AI, but I approach it primarily for its single player content. As such there is really not a lot I would miss by not spending anything, which is in part why they got money from me. The single player content worth picking up is the 11 “Treasure Hunt” maps that dot the campaign as you progress through it. There are actually plenty of other missions to tackle, but as you can only earn each mission’s experience points and loot chest once every 24 hours. So having access to the 11 Treasure Hunts gives you more opportunities to earn extra experience points and loot, which means more card choices. Given the name of the game, this seems desirable. All 11 maps cost $10, or 330 pizza. You can also buy them for 40 pizzas each, but then you end up spending more on them all together. The game actually gives you 40 pizza to spend on the first Treasure Hunt for free, so you can even check that one out without spending anything.
Aside from the bonus maps, you can also spend pizza by becoming a member of the Card Hunting club. This is 300 pizza for one month (just under $10). Being a member of the card hunter club primarily nets you a bonus draw from every loot chest, which means if you complete a mission which contained four battles, you’ll have earned four random items. Given the number of times you’ll grind missions and explore new ones, this adds up over 30 days to hundreds of bonus items. Assuming you’re playing frequently enough, it’s a no-brainer, mathematically.
What else to spend pizza on? Well, the characters you’re playing can be represented with different cardboard figures! If you buy the $25 pack, you not only get all 11 Treasure Hunts and become a 30-day member of the club, but you get nine of the figures as well. The bonus figures are nice, but they look “different” than the ones you get for free being a new player, rather than “better”. This is a good thing, but I do appreciate there are some figures still in the plastic that I’d love to tear into and replace some of my party with. I’m especially fond of the graphical representation of figures you own (complete with residual glue around them) and the ones you have not purchased yet.
You can also convert pizza into in-game gold which can then be used to purchase individual items from the shops. Shops have a randomly generated selection of goods for sale, a list which regenerates daily, and can be a great way to get cards you are lacking. It’s definitely nice to know you are heading into a mission where you’ll be facing heavily armored units and so then grab some cards that feature armor-defeating effects, such as Shredding Strike or Dissolve Armor. However, you’ll earn in-game gold aplenty from just playing, so you probably need never convert pizza to gold. It’s nice you can do it, but it’s a little expensive. 200 pizza (roughly $7) is 1,000 gold. That is quite a lot of gold though, with most low level items costing between five and twenty-five gold. I did see one incredibly rare piece of armor in a shop for 40,000 gold though. That’s a lot of pizza.
If you find yourself swimming in leftover pizza after you’ve picked up treasure hunts, a club membership, and perhaps a fistful of figurines, what is left? Two things. One, you can open loot chests with pizza for a shot at some nice, random gear. The biggest chest costs a whopping 150 pizza (about $5) but yields five items, two of which will be Epic or better.
And two, multi-player! I’m a fan of how the games multi-player matches work, but too much of a chicken to play online with real people who might hurt my feelings when I make an ass of myself. Thankfully you can also skirmish against the AI in multi-player, though. But you need multi-player decks to get started! You do get your first multi-player deck for free, and by and large you are just drawing from the cards you’ve earned in single player when assembling a multi-player deck. However, multi-player matches feature units hard set at level 18 in order to be balanced, and this means unless you are around this level in the single player campaign, you are not earning items that will make you competitive. Buying multi-player decks is a great\ way to get access to very high level loot for your level 18 multiplayer characters to utilize straight away, if you want to dive into multiplayer without doing anything with the campaign. You can even win very rare items in ranked games, so I think people into that are in for a treat.
What makes Card Hunter’s pay model work for me is there are a lot of fun, worthwhile things to spend money on, but they’re all optional. You could pay nothing and jump into the campaign, earning your way through by leveling up and winning missions. Missions that are completed do indeed take some time to refresh before you can run them again, but every time you complete a mission you are unlocking more, usually more than one, to go through. The pace of unlocking item slots and teaching you the game is done very well, and you can be quite successful with no investment. It’s ironic that the game that requires the least amount of my cash received the most of it.
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.