Hands-On: Card Hunter

One of the games my greedy little brain is currently most anticipating, now that my previous most-anticipated games have arrived, is Blu Manchu’s Card Hunter. A boardgame/CCG mash-up from one of Irrational’s former bigwigs and a cartel of highly experienced devs, its focus is on recreating cheerfully dusty boardgame socials as it on coming up with some tight strategy/roleplaying mechanics.

I’ve been able to play the demo made available on the show floor at PAX, but without having to experience the unbridled horror of being in the close vicinity of other human beings. It’s only two matches, but I liked what I saw, yes I did. I liked it very much indeed.

While the attention is inevitably drawn mainly to the entirely charming (but cheese-free) pseudo-hand-drawn characters, styled to resemble cardboard playing places and looking ever so neat and crisp with it (do not fear Card Hunter’s browser-based nature), the turn-based strategic battles are at least as important to why Card Hunter works. It’s oddly reminiscent of smaller-scale, far more randomised XCOM. Your little team of fantasy heroes (in this instance a mage, a dwarven healer and a human warrior) is up against a enemy with greater numbers, and must carefully choose abilities each turn to whittle them away.

It’s the thoughtfully making the best of what you’ve got aspect that reminds me of XCOM, and the attendant ability to get into or spectacularly find a way out of a tight spot. The big difference is that abilities come via randomly-selected cards rather than fixed character attributes – although what gear you equip on your characters before each match dictates what set of cards will be randomly picked from once battle commences.

So, a better sword means your Warrior will have some beefier attacks to call upon, if the right cards come up. The interesting thing is that movement is also a card – so you might end up with a character positively bristiling with deadly attacks, but unable to stride over to the monsters arraigned against him and give them a right old stabbing. Less of a problem for mages, however, where it’s more likely you’ll curse when a movement card comes up instead of a honking great fireball.

You’ve also got trick cards in there that can grant extra cards to other members of your party, grant everyone a free move, that sort of thing. Very Magic, but with the visual and navigational logic of a boardgame. It’s much more immediate than a CCG because of this – and likely has a whole new layer of tactics in terms of character positioning.

There’s a fascinating tension in that neither player (whether you vs AI or you vs another human) can get new cards until both have clicked next turn without spending a card. So there’s an aspect of calling each other’s bluff – spending any remaining cards that you don’t really need to, purely because every turn that the other guy has no cards to spend is another turn you don’t get biffed on. Conversely, if you end your round without doing anything in the hope of new cards, the other guy might then pull something out of the hat to really mess you up while you’re left helpless.

My favourite aspect of Card Hunter is easily the chess-style collection of ‘killed’ character and monster pieces that builds up along the side of the board as each match proceeeds. It’s something visual and not-quite-but-almost tangible, a far and satisfying cry from scoreboards and questlogs. Look upon my trophies, ye mighty, and despair. Unless you’re losing, of course – barely possible in these two introductory missions, but presumably as the challenge heightens (or you’re in multiplayer) you’ll see the little cardboard evidence of your own failures stacking up.

On the nitpick front, I found some of the interface and presentation of stats ever so slightly too fussy – certainly not opaque, but slightly at odds with the easy, instant neatness of the art style. Still, very early days, who knows what that side of things will wind up looking like. And it certainly didn’t stop my extreme frustration at the demo ending, denying me the chance to use my new loot and puzzle over more complex battles. I’m super-keen to see more of Card Hunter: there’s an elegance to it that makes it one of those games I feel like I’ve always known, even though I’ve never played it before in my life. And I positively demand a real-life boardgame version of it, too.

Card Hunter will be out soonish, maybe. You can sign up for the impending beta right here.


  1. dontnormally says:

    Aw, no new info here…
    Have been waiting for this one for a long time.

    edit: check out Captain Forever, a game by Farbs (who is now working on Card Hunter). It’s a free, procedural, spaceship-building, death-sim.

    link to captainforever.com

    • Jubaal says:

      Thanks for the link. What an awesome little game!

    • wodin says:

      Captain Forever games are great..I thought he was making another Capt game?

    • Farbs says:


      I’m working on Captain Jameson, the fourth in the series, in parallel.

      Some day, some soft heavenly day, I will remember what it is to sleep.

  2. AmateurScience says:

    This looks absolutely delightful, and the system of deck-building through cards attached to gear is a neat twist: very much looking forward to having a play.

  3. MythArcana says:

    And there’s no DLC to worry about, either. Only 300 new cards to purchase every 90 days. Yeah, I did all that with MTGO already, thanks.

    • dontnormally says:

      They’ve already made it clear that all cards will be unlocked through winning matches in single player.

    • Torn says:

      So according to their site it’s not nickel and diming you with booster packs — you win cards by playing the game: link to cardhunter.com

      Not sure how they’ll monetise it if it really is a F2P game… I suspect if you pay you can unlock all cards straight away instead of having to win them by playing (grinding?) the game.

    • atticus says:

      And MTGO and this is basically the same game, right?

      Your justification for not spending money on a game, is that you spent money on another game? Fine if you don’t have the cash, but if you’re boycotting this because it shares some mechanics with a different game, I think you’re just being silly.

      • bluebomberman says:

        I think the OP meant that these games tend to suck on your wallet like vampire squids.

    • Gothnak says:

      Wow, that is exactly the payment model i want… Day 1, access to 300 cards i unlock via gameplay. 3 months down the line, pay £10 (because i like the game), 300 more cards to unlock via gameplay.

      No pay to win, but pay for content… I’d love it if MTG worked the same way.

  4. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I don’t quite understand why this needs to be a browser-based free-to-play game. I’d happily fork over a sum of money to get this on the old HD with single player and multiplayer options.

    Am I being fussy? How long can one expect a browser-based game to last? Or any online game?

    • dE says:

      The Browser Thing might just be what they’re most experienced with, I don’t know. But I kinda agree, I’d love to fork over a fixed sum for this. On the other hand, Indie Multiplayer Titles rarely do well unless they’re F2P. And even then they’re often struggling.

    • Caiman says:

      A downloadable client is planned, according to the FAQ on their page. Whether that also has to be online isn’t clear. Also not clear is how they’re monetizing it. They say the aim is to have the entire game playable for free, but a store will allow you to “enhance your game experience” but without being pay to win. Hats for your cards, perhaps? As long as the game is free but with the option to essentially send a donation to the devs for an awesome game by buying something cool but not affecting the gameplay I’d be happy with that.

      • Corporate Dog says:

        Yep. As long as I feel like I’m getting a solid gameplay experience without the NEED to buy new cards/hats, I’ll happily buy new cards/hats to support the devs.

        RUMOR TIME: One of the Blu Manchu devs tweeted a retrospective article on ‘Freedom Force’ a month or so back. I half-jokingly asked when Ken Levine was going to do the Kickstarter dance, and give us another FF sequel. Dev told me that their plan was to take all of their Card Hunter money, buy the FF IP from Irrational, and crank out a turn-based FF.

  5. pakoito says:

    Shut up and take my beta application!

  6. iucounu says:

    Did anyone ever play Metal Gear Acid on the PSP? Anyone? ‘cos that did TBS mediated by deck-building really well (though you only ever had the one character.) If this is, what, Shining Force Acid that would be excellent.

  7. Atic Atac says:

    Grinding or paying for cards is a no go for me no matter how good the game may look. Magic the Gathering taught me that lesson.

    Please someone use the Living Cardgame system that Fantasy Flight uses where you buy the whole expansion of cards at once and don’t have to go for stupid random boosters and drops. I hate that customizable card games always have to have this expensive collection element to them as well.