I almost didn’t remember to write a post for today, and for the best possible reason; I’ve been completely distracted with games. My work for the summer is, as it is with most college professors, sparse. I go to about a meeting a week since I’m volunteering to help align high school curriculum with college readiness requirements (which is much cooler than it sounds), and of course I’ve got all my housework as normal, but other than that, I’m free to relax. While that can cause problems (as I’ve discussed before), it can also be a wonderful mental vacation.
One delightful jewel I’ve found for the summer is the Card Hunter beta. I first heard about it from Tobold, who heartily encouraged me to play it. I put in my information and waited for my access key with beta’d breath (get it?). I expected it to be fun, since it had come so highly recommended from someone who by now must be even more jaded with games than I’ve become (as he’s been in the “business” of playing them longer, I mean), but I didn’t expect a free-to-play browser-based game to be this good. But it is.
What makes it so good? Well, several things. For one, it mixes three genres very well. It’s clearly D&D based, though of course not in a “licensed” way. Secondly, it makes good use of turn-based tactical mechanics. Lastly, it’s thrown in a collectible card game element. Rather than just having all abilities available to you every turn, as you might in a typical tactical game (like Fire Emblem), instead you draw cards from a deck individual to each character. To tie in the RPG element more, the decks from which you pull the cards are directly based on your gear, which is mostly randomly dropped as rewards for finishing levels.
The whole thing works marvelously well together. To top of those great mechanics, the “story” that accompanies the game is that you’re playing an RPG with your stereotypically nerdy buddy in his basement with his older brother hanging around and pizza being delivered by your buddy’s crush periodically. Many of the “made-in-the-spirit-of-laughing-with-not-at” jokes about RPG players are quite funny and hit near to home. Then again, maybe that’s just been my experience.
There’s more, though. As you may know, dear reader, I’ve always been against DLCs and have been notoriously cheap with my game purchases (Steam sale this week, by the way!). I recently wrote about “The Reciprocal Ed Value,” an idea that if you play a free to play game for more than a certain amount of time, you should in all good conscience buy something to support them. Even after writing, it though, I didn’t, as my buddy and I kept hopping from game to game until his sight got so bad he couldn’t play any more (more on that another depressing day).
Until Card Hunter.
I dropped ten bucks on it already to open up some of the premium missions. I didn’t really even have to think twice about it; the game’s that good, and I wanted not only to support its financial success but also gain access to those missions.
I think what makes the game so strong is that each level builds well on previous ones, keeping a strict set of rules while consistently adding new card mechanics in. There’s some serious difficulty ramps, too, like the first time you fight groups of baddies with “floor effects,” which can change the normally harmless floor beneath you into lava or spikes. You’ll likely die the first time you run into those jerks, but you learn from it: save your move cards. You’ll need them to escape.
And I do feel like I’m learning a lot as I move on, not only how to deal with floor effects but how to build the three characters in your party based on the likely encounters (more aoe for trash packs, more single-target for big bads) and various other techniques. I’ve been in more than one (realistically, probably four or five) situations where I had only one character left with another hit or two’s worth of hit points when I won – or lost. But with one exception, I’ve felt with each failure that I knew exactly what I needed to do differently.
That’s the starkest difference between this turn-based strategy game and my previous one, X-Com. When I began to fail at X-Com, I didn’t know what – if anything – I’d done wrong, nor how to change my strategy to be successful. After repeated failures, I lost interest in the game. Here, with one exception (more coming up on that), I’ve felt empowered with defeats rather than maddened.
The one exception I expect is meant to be the “boss level” of the first part of the game. The nerdy DM’s older brother’s made a “custom adventure” (the others being modules in old D&D fashion), and you’re warned that it’s tough. On the second board of the mission, your team is spread out in three corners of the map with several very lethal mobs in between. I’ve not figured out what to do there yet, but I suspect I will. Maybe I just need to bull rush the boss instead of trying to regroup. We’ll see.
At any rate, I heartily recommend you give the game a try. If I did ratings, I’d give it 5 of 5 sheep’d diamonds (what else?), but I don’t really do ratings.
In other news, I got a pang to play my rogue in WoW today. No action there yet, but maybe soon. Is anyone in a decent raiding guild right not that might be looking for new players who may only be testing the waters? Thoughts?
Stubborn (and feeling much better)