As a precautionary atonement for my opinions in this article, let me start by saying that I am a card game rookie. Growing up, I never played Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh! Heck, I never even collected Pokemon cards, let alone battled with them. But I did play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt last year and while I did enjoy the game’s massive world, the stories its quests were structured upon, and its gory combat, what ended up bring my favourite part of the game was actually a game within it. Specifically, the one-on-one card game called Gwent.
In Gwent, each player has three rows where they can place their cards: siege, range, and melee. Each card has an attack value – at the end of the round, whichever player has the higher overall attack for their cards in play wins the round. The match is best of three rounds. Players start with 10 cards chosen randomly from the deck they have put together, get a few more after each round, and the game ends when both players have no cards left.
Certain cards simply are worth their attack value but most have an added effect. Some will boost the attack of other cards, others will let you re-draw cards from your deck. The sheer diversity of effects that cards have is impressive and the linked list of cards countering certain cards which counter other cards, ad infinitum, means that strategy wins out over brute force. Often it takes a player a few steps in order to get the most out of a certain card. For example, one card allows the player to essentially copy and paste another card on their battlefield. While it might be tempting to copy and paste a card with a high attack of 8, it’s much better to first play one that will boost that card’s attack to 16, then copy and paste it to have the attack score at the end of the round be that much higher.
I offer up such a simple example because explaining a more complex strategy is just going to come off as convoluted and not really get us anywhere. However there is definitely a long series of strategies available to players, which stretch across five different factions that each have their own cards. I’ve played a decent amount of Gwent games – maybe 60 – and judging by how often my losses serve as lessons, I have a lot to learn about the deep strategy of the game. The many ways that cards can interact in Gwent mean that there can be a lot of fun had building decks based on a strategy and seeing how your ideas play out in the actual game.
Gwent is in beta but is and will remain free to play. Of course, you can always buy card packs if you want to and they come in the form of kegs. Without spending money, players will still receive kegs as they play games and level up. And to me, it seems like Gwent is extremely friendly to players who don’t want to spend money. One reason for this is that every keg has five cards in it but it’s five random cards stretched over five factions. Since each deck can only use one faction’s cards, it means that buying enough kegs to beef up one faction would cost you a whole bunch of real money. Even if you did spend tens of dollars on the game, Gwent does a great job at rewarding having a better strategy than your opponent over having better cards than your opponent.
Every once in awhile the matchmaking system will make an error and place you against an opponent twice your level. Yet, I still managed to win a few of these games due to either a clever strategy or an error on the opponent’s part. To the game’s credit, it becomes much easier to get kegs once you reach a high enough level to play ranked games and the game’s constant rewards kept me coming back in hopes of improving my decks.
All this being said, I have to go back to the fact that I haven’t played a card game before, so I can’t compare it to the giants out there like Hearthstone. I have played multiplayer games before though, and they are no different from card games in that balance between pieces in play are essential to a good experience. From what I’ve played, Gwent seems to strike that balance rather well. There are some issues with certain strategies being only beatable with a very specific deck build, and the developers will have to address these issues, but most matches are fair. The good news is that the development team is in constant contact with players and update the game regularly with changes to cards as well as new cards altogether. It looks like the commitment is there for long term support for the game.
There is no release date for Gwent other than Spring 2017. From my time with it, I see it as a balanced game with depth to its strategy and a lot of fun to be had, not only in playing the actual game but also in thinking up a strategy and then making it reality through the combinations and permutations of deck building. Whether you have played a card game before or are new to the genre, keep one eye out for a precise Gwent release date.