Card Hunter Preview: Hardcore Nerdage With No Physical Evidence

I’ll admit it: I’m no fan of card games. You have to collect and trade in order to grow your deck and rise above the power of your friends – assuming you can find enough who share your interest – all while absorbing the harsh, judgmental glares of ‘outsiders.’ Perhaps this is why the free-to-play, PC-only antics of Blue Manchu’s Card Hunter appealed to me so much. It also doesn’t hurt that from a distance, it looks a bit like Final Fantasy Tactics.

Card Hunter
Developer: Blue Manchu
Publisher: Blue Manchu
Platform: PC
Release date: TBA

Wandering into PAX Prime’s Indie Megabooth, Card Hunter caught my eye (again, FFT holds a special place in my heart). The combat resembles that of any tactical rpg, where you take turns moving on a grid, your attack choice and positioning determining the outcome of battle. The twist here, however, is that you characters can only perform the commands offered by the cards they draw at random from their deck after every turn. Commands range from a massive magic spell to simple movements of only two squares. This adds an element of randomness to each fight and also ensures no two battles ever play out in the same way.

As I played, Jon Chey, founder of Blue Manchu, was describing the facets of the game and guiding me to victory. Recognize that name? Well, you should. It was Chey, along with Ken Levine, who founded Irrational Games, the developer responsible for BioShock. Wow, right? So what does a background in gripping, story-driven FPSs mean when it comes to a collectible card game for PC? More than you’d think…

For one, Chey knows quality and creativity, and it shows. Just because Card Hunter is a free-to-play browser-based game doesn’t mean it is – for lack of a witty metaphor – a piece of trash. This is Chey’s passion project, and during my time with the game I noticed how incredibly complex the game was. And that was just with the standard decks that my three main characters had at their immediate disposal.

Obtaining more cards is the ultimate goal of Card Hunter, and you can do so one of two ways. The free way is to win, as each victory grants you treasure/equipment that translates into a slew of new cards for your deck. The alternative is to purchase these treasures/equipment, and is the way in which Card Hunter is monetized. Given how short (not a criticism) each battle was, I could see myself amassing a large deck rather quickly without ever paying a dime.

I only played a couple of rounds against the AI (including one against a massive dragon), and Chey emphasized that the story-driven, adventurous single-player mode is where most of the effort has been put so far. However, there will be a full multiplayer mode as well. He even mentioned the possibility of holding tournaments where the victors would win extra cards.

On top of being extremely fun, I have to reiterate that Card Hunter is flash-based and free. So really, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give it a go when it comes out.

Game Front is on-site at PAX Prime all weekend (Aug 31-Sep 2), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!

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