Card Hunter: the deck-building mechanics

, | Game diaries

Card Hunter features one of the most unique deck building mechanics I’ve experienced in the collectible card game genre. In most strategy games, the difference between a short sword and a mace would largely be in the damage dealt and possibly the damage type. And actually I think a short sword and mace usually deal the same damage. Anyway, Card Hunter instead assigns cards that are the very actions you perform during combat to a given piece of equipment, and these action cards form the deck you draw from while you engage in battle.

After the break, what makes this system work so well.

The system mixes the thrill of finding new cards with the satisfaction of being able to equip new and better equipment onto a paper doll type inventory system, while providing solid weight to the strategy behind building your deck. What makes it all work is the excellent user-interface. Highlighting an item in a slot reveals at a glance the cards that are attached to it from the deck, right-clicking on an item brings a larger view of items to be read, and cards themselves have the name of the item on them to remind you from which piece of equipment the card comes from.

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So the next question one might ask is what in the world are those blue orbs with the lightning bolt symbol? Those are called Power Tokens and you gain them as your characters level-up. They act as gates to keep low level characters from using the most powerful equipment — you gain your first minor (blue) token at level seven and one more every level after that until you hit fourteen, giving you eight total minor tokens. Then at level fifteen one of them becomes a major (yellow) token, which allow for the use of a higher tiered item. Though you can actually use higher level tokens in place of lower level tokens, you’ll never have more than eight at a time, and character sheets feature around twelve token slots total, so there is a lot of decisions to be made as to when equip an item that requires a token or two, and when to use lower quality items that won’t require a token.

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Further setting the equipment apart from character to character are the slots unique to each class. Mages have robes, arcane items, and staves while fighters have three weapon slots and clerics have divine item slots, to name just a few . The items that go into each slot type are well thought out to allow for items that contain cards unique to multiple tactical styles. A fighter could be equipped with a variety of weapons that feature bludgeoning damage as well as a trait that allows bludgeoning weapons to deal heavier damage, while a cle ric could be decked out with items consisting of unholy cards that serve to damage the cleric but devastate the enemy.

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The thrill of the games combat is in Card Hunter’s terrific mission design, and the satisfaction with building your decks in such a way as to exploit a given enemy weakness. Some missions you will be facing foes who are primarily spell casters, and as such your warriors should be equipping armor that provides the excellent Shimmering Armor card and Missile Blocks, great defense against magical spell attacks (Shimmering Armor prevents 3 damage on a roll of 3+ from ranged and spell attacks, never sell items that have these attached to them). Or if you face off against a large number of skeletons whose Only Bones armor cards reduce damage from slashing and piercing attacks to 0, you may want to rethink all those stabby weapons in favor of some club-types.

Rounding out the system are the racial slots featured on each character. Elves can equip race specific cards that allow for vast mobility and speed, while humans tend to have skills that pronounce leadership, such as giving orders that allow all other party members to move a space or two, or perhaps draw an extra card. Dwarves have skills that promote how tough they are, for example extra block cards, or cards that make the character Immovable (resistant to being pushed).

Here is an example of powerful (if early) elven racial skill item:

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Dodge is a bit complex, but incredibly powerful. It basically has two uses — if you wish you can discard it as a move card, it’s worth two movement points. Never discount being able to move when needed, especially at the cost of a valuable card like Dodge. The second use reads that when targeted by an attack, on a 4 or higher (on a six sided dice), you can move one space. This means you can literally dance out of range of the attack trying to hit you — and unlike most response effects, you can keep this one!

Elvish Insight is incredible – being able to see exactly what cards an opponent has for an entire round, and replace the Insight with a fresh draw, is very powerful. Especially when you synergize knowing what cards your enemies have with spells such as Wall of Fire or Acid Spray, so you know when to change the terrain your foes stand upon and avoid them dropping a movement card at the last minute and hopping off your deadly trap.

The equipment system and the mechanics that differentiate the games classes, races, and vast array of items available to find is a fascinating one. Easy to use, but seemingly endless in its depth, it’s one of the things that makes Card Hunter so special. This wraps up my dairy series, I hope some of you who might have given this a pass (especially with the phrase “free to play”being involved) have given it a chance or will give it a chance, it’s really work taking a look at. Thanks for reading!

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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.

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