Card Hunter: Irrational Co-Founder Goes Solo

The danger of a phrase like ‘Irrational Co-Founder’ is a bunch of people will probably presume you’re talking about Ken Levine. So let’s get that clear up-front: this is not a post about Ken Levine. This is a post about another founder member of System Shock 2/BioShock developers Irrational. Jon Chey has been with the studio since the very start, and prior to that did a stint at god-factory Looking Glass – so he’s someone you should take an interest in. Lately, he’s been heading up the former Aussie wing of Irrational, rebranded as 2K Australia and which did a bunch of the work on BioShock 2 and the upcoming XCOM (I know, I know) – but now he’s going it alone as an indie dev named Blu Manchu. The first project puts board games, card games, browser games, RPGs and strategy games into a blender, so he’s not exactly starting off small.

Trying to describe Card Hunter (especially without actually having played it) is going to be tricky, so let’s start with this adorable spoof trailer they’ve made:

Do I need to explain that it’s not actually a boardgame? I hope I don’t. It does, however, have a rather nice pseudo-boardgame, semi-3D look to it.

I’m also getting a bit of a Munchkin or Talisman vibe, and the game’s official summary adds to that:

– It’s free to play and you win cards by playing the game, not by buying expensive booster packs.
– Search dungeons to find treasure and then equip your loot to build out your decks.
– Use your cards to move your characters and battle monsters’ decks.

We’re taking two great flavours and combining them into something new. Classic fantasy adventuring meets collectible card gaming and the result is entirely new. Tired of pressing buttons while grinding away at quests? Card Hunter is all about skill – your skill at deck building and playing your cards. Tired of paying for endless new card sets? Card Hunter lets you win by playing, not by paying.

Which isn’t entirely illuminating either, so let’s quote from Chey’s interview with Gamasutra instead:

“Imagine you’re playing a board game/card game, only it’s largely a single-player experience. The best way to describe it is, imagine I take an MMO, and every time you fight a monster, instead of playing a timer game with with pull downs and buttons that you click, you’re playing a turn-based strategy game.

You have little pieces on a board, and you play cards to move those pieces around, and that’s the battle you fight. And at the end of the battle you win some treasure, which you then use to trick your characters like you do in an MMO, but those characters are actually pieces in the board game.”

Which sounds pretty good to me, although I do hope there’s some meaty multiplayer modes in time too.

Also worth reading the Gamasutra interview for is Chey’s comments on why Irrational made the jump to console and sold themselves to 2K:

“I think we would have liked to have stayed PC developers, but we just got squeezed out. I think we’d still be squeezed out of that market. The big budget shooter PC market, I doubt it’s ever going to come back to life, other than ports from the console side.

So yeah, we were squeezed out of that, and had to go to console, and I think it turned out to be great for us, because hey, we could make a real business out of it, and make games that sold several million copies, which is what we needed to do for the budgets we were investing in them.”

But before anyone boo-hisses, bear in mind that Chey’s now trying to turn those fat console-bucks to a greater good – back on PC, back being experimental. “That has given me the ability now to fund the speculative — frankly, very speculative — game development. I’m entirely funding this venture. There’s no publisher investment, there’s no publisher, there’s no outside investment, so I don’t have to convince anybody that this is a good idea other than myself, which is a little frightening, but at the same time I think it’s an opportunity to do some games that wouldn’t get funded otherwise, frankly.”

He also talks about the fact that the aforementioned ‘squeeze’ is gone and there’s now an awful lot more scope to be successful on PC than there was a few years back. Hooray for PC!

There’s more on Card Hunter at the official site, and hopefully we’ll get to have a go soon.


  1. SpinalJack says:

    boo hiss

    “we were squeezed out of that, and had to go to console”

    Tell that to notch

    • TheBoff says:

      Because notch is in the market of “big budget shooters”.

    • mjig says:

      I’d really like to know just how much of a “big budget” title goes toward the graphics and marketing versus how much goes toward the actual game. It just seems strange that developers could do it before, make a big PC exclusive, but suddenly can’t anymore, even though there’s more gamers than ever on ALL platforms.

    • thesisko says:

      I think what he means is that the rise of multi-platform “AAA” shooters make it hard for a PC-exclusive to compete.

      Personally, I think a PC-exclusive FPS with a modest “System Shot 2”-budget could be successful, but it’s not the kind of game a big developer would try to make, because it would be less profitable and require actual talent rather than just throwing money into production values / marketing.

    • Walsh says:

      Bad example, studios need to release multiple games to survive. I doubt notch’s next game will be anywhere near as successful. If they even do another game.

    • carn1x says:

      Mojang’s next game is Scrolls. I think notch also mentioned a willingness to provide a helping hand to other indie devs, so they could end up as an indie publisher somewhat.

      Especially seeing as they are quite closely tied with Oxeye, I imagine Mojang will help “market” games like Cobalt.

    • shoptroll says:

      Aren’t the swelling budgets (and team sizes by extension) plus non-expanding audience the same problem we’re starting to see on consoles? Isn’t that why designers like Brian Reynolds and Soren Johnson are now working in the mobile/social space? Or why there’s been a massive uptick in smaller indie games being released digitally?

    • thesisko says:

      Budgets only swell when developers try to sell more copies by increasing production and marketing values. Which makes sense when your main competitors are doing the same thing with similar looking games. Lots of smaller developers are perfectly able to keep making games around similar budgets, but how can CoD clone #1 compete with CoD clone #2 except with more spectacular visuals and more marketing $?

    • shoptroll says:


      True, but according to EA’s Riccitello consoles are becoming less important…

      “Consoles used to be 80% of the industry as recently as 2000. Consoles today are 40% of the game industry,” Sounds awfully similar to what Chey is saying happened with the PC market.

      link to

  2. Morte66 says:

    Well, good luck to him.

  3. Alexander Norris says:

    Gee, I’ve seen that card design somewhere before. I wonder where…

    That aside, this looks really neat.

  4. BobsLawnService says:

    Seems like a pleasant enough chap and his game looks like a breath of originality. I’ll be keeping my eye on this.

  5. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    Looks very much like a digital version of Castle Ravenloft – a rather disappointing board game which I sold on after 5 goes.

  6. sabrage says:

    It looks gorgeous, but I have little interest in browser games. They seem so… Disposable. I’ll give it a go when it hits, though.

  7. Serious J says:

    It’s a bit surprising that we don’t see more games that are just board games in 3D. Hopefully the new browser/apps games trend will change this. There are hundreds of awesome, intricate and fun board games sitting on dusty shelves that would translate into enjoyable games.

    I look at the board games articles on here lately just thinking “I would so play this if it was a multiplayer video game”

    • chabuhi says:

      I agree! Carcasonne on my ipad is a blast! Loads of fun and I don’t have to do maths.

    • PoLLeNSKi says:

      Uh oh

    • Kamos says:

      There was a time, before publishers were given the power to decide what kinds of games we are allowed to play, when games like that were made.

  8. Kebab says:

    Please, please, please, next time you see him tell him I want a System Shock 2 remake. Exactly like the old one, but in HD and working on a modern Windows system.

    He won’t know who I am but the seed of idea needs to take root. One day, I hope, it will blossom and all of Looking Glass will get back together like the Blues Brothers to play one final, System Shock 2 gig.

    Hopefully without the arresting part at the end, although considering the IP is likely locked away by some fat corp, it may well be.


    • Lars Westergren says:

      He has no say in that at all. EA owns the rights, talk to them.

    • Gonefornow says:

      A spiritual successor then..
      Oh wait.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      System Shock still plays just fine. Remaking a classic that is still perfectly playable is a bad idea. That said, an “HD” re-release that doesn’t fuss with the underlying mechanics ala Monkey Island/Halo wouldn’t be too bad. But with the rights situation and the abysmal sales of the original release, ANY kind of official release is unlikely.

      Card Hunter looks like a lot of fun, but it seems oddly insubstantial coming from a guy with Chey’s background. Maybe that’s the point though.

    • Zerotonine says:

      It’s even worse than that, check out this article:

      link to

      A mess of trademarks, game development rights etc. between EA and an insurance company after LGS went under. Not much hope there :(

    • Grey_Ghost says:

      There are mods for SS2 that do update the graphics, especially those super low poly creature models. There is also a fix for it not starting on multi-core systems. Try looking at

  9. Phinor says:

    From the first picture I immediately had my hopes up. I thought this is yet another brilliant $10 indie game. But F2P (=pay triple digits) browser game? Pass until further notice, sorry.

  10. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I like to imagine that he was absolutely disgusted with the direction X-COM was taking, which is why he left and the first thing he made was a TBS game.

  11. Gothnak says:

    Yay, geektastic card/board game…

    I’ve started something similar on PC, wish i didn’t have to do it in my spare time.. hrmpf…

  12. Gonefornow says:

    Blue Man Shoe?

    The game does look lovely though.
    Maybe I can squeeze some time out of my oh-so-busy schedule to play it whenever it comes to PC.

  13. Gap Gen says:

    I’m gonna put it out there and say that Talisman is funnier than Munchkins. When we played it for the first time, I was having a grand old time playing the Thief as a robber-baron, stealing from the other players to amass a vast mule train of stuff. Someone else played the Evil Wizard for what can only be described as “lulz”, doing whatever seemed funniest at the time. Someone else played the priest and ended up being asleep or a toad for like 90% of the game, and then started a vendetta with the second-weakest player. The only problem is that the Talisman end-game is so weak, for an otherwise incredibly well-designed game.

    • Kdansky says:

      Talisman fun? Sure.
      Talisman well-designed? What are you smoking?!

    • Stompywitch says:

      Munchkin is great if you’ve got too many friends, need to get rid of some, and aren’t in much of a hurry.

    • Hallgrim says:

      @Kdansky: Talisman is very well designed (to be poorly balanced).

    • Gap Gen says:

      Well, it was our first time, but I thought that it was perfectly balanced to reward doing funny things over letting stuff like skill or tactics get in the way. Like I said, the only issue I had was the end-game. That and we were playing with 7 people so it ended at like 1am.

  14. Tei says:

    So how you pay this game, if you don’t pay for the cards? I am not normally interested in these details, but I have seen good games close because a poor bussines model, so seems is a good idea to ask.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      In the Gamasutra interview he mentions vanity items and speeding up progress. What that entails exactly I do not know.

  15. Vexing Vision says:

    Agreed with Tei, the businessmodel is going to be very interesting. I suspect they’ll be going with something like League of Legends (where you also can’t buy the Runes) and sell access to specific character classes.

    That said, I love the looks. Definitely going to check it out.

  16. JiminyJickers says:

    Do a single player version and I’d be real keen. I would even throw bags of money at it. Well, maybe just one bag partially filled with money.

  17. RF says:

    Sounds awesome, signed up.

  18. zeroskill says:

    Looks great, this made my to watch list for sure.

  19. Shazbut says:

    A board game on a computer! Now they just need to make a computer game as a board game….
    “EVENT: Windows Protection Fault
    At the end of your draw phase, immediately dismantle board and then put all the pieces back in the box, then reassamble board and start a new game”

  20. Ultimus Maximus says:

    He’s got quite an interesting team:

    link to

    Richard Garfield, creator of MtG and, more importantly, Netrunner, as a design consultant…

    I have a feeling that this could turn out well.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      I hereby profess my undying love to you, Ultimus Maximus, for making that Netrunner remark.

    • JFS says:

      Richard Garfield. I didn’t know he was even still alive.

    • EOT says:

      He isn’t. He’s just a brain in a jar.

    • shoptroll says:

      Yay for Netrunner!

      Garfield’s been getting his hands dirty with a lot of digital CCGs lately. There was Spectromancer a couple years ago and Hothead just published Kard Combat on iOS last week. There might be one or two other games I’m forgetting about.

  21. InternetBatman says:

    This looks freaking awesome, like Guardians of Graxia but possibly a bit better. Also I love that snark on Magic’s eight million pieces of DLC. I hope it’s good enough to beat Marvel Overpower, which was surprisingly good.

  22. Lobotomist says:

    Now this looks AWESOME!

    Can not wait !

  23. Bhazor says:

    Silly boy. Doesn’t he know turn based gameplay is dead? Or did he miss that meeting at 2K,

  24. safetydank says:

    My dusty old synapses are telling me the trailer apes an old Aussie ad for Hero Quest. But the one I’m thinking of isn’t on YouTube.

  25. Uthred says:

    I quite enjoyed the, possibly unintentional, callback to the old Hero Quest adverts in the trailer

    • Josh W says:

      Weird, my first thought was what a terrible marketing choice this was. Not sure if they were doing tripple irony or what, but I just got 2 layers of crapness.

  26. wodin says:

    Love the look of this game….maybe we will get some of those great baordgames that keep getting mentioned on here ported to the PC looking the way they should…so we can find people who want to play em…as they are few on the ground around my way…

  27. brulleks says:

    Ashamed to say I burst out laughing at “I’ve got a magic ring!”

    Yes, I know it was meant to be funny, but probably not in quite the same way that I perceived it.

  28. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    You have to be kidding me. A guy working on XCOM leaves his company to make a tiled turn-based strategy game. Brilliant.

  29. Hoaxfish says:

    Clearly this is just a time-travelling copy of Mojang’s Scrolls.

    … still, it looks pretty interesting, especially hopefully for how the new cards are gained.