Over the last decade the gaming industry has grown an infatuation with card-based games and experiences. Think of how many collectable card games came out after Blizzard’s Hearthstone – the amount of experiences that simply aped off that concept were tedious and repetitive. However some picked up this trend and morphed the collectable card game into concepts that were truly unique. When Hand of Fate released on Xbox One in February 2015 it was a completely unique take on how cards can affect gameplay and mix into other genres. It’s essentially an action-RPG that seamlessly mixes in card mechanics, yet this is so much more then a baked-in gimmick.
Hand of Fate opens with a hooded man with a collection of cards flowing around him, as he congratulates you for reaching him and asks if you are ready to play the game. This introduces you to one of the most prolific presences in the whole experience – the game master. He narrates much of your tale with wonderful dialogue and voice work, commenting on events that happen to you. But he also acts as your foil and nemesis for the actual game that you play against him.
It’s a card game that starts seemingly simply: the game master will lay out a set of cards on a table. Each of them has some random event or location on them – you may find a shop, a story with a choice to make, or a combat encounter. You move a little bronze character piece across each card trying to find “the stairs” card which will lead you to the next collection he sets. Ultimately the goal is to reach the end of his dungeon of cards and fight the final boss. Here’s the kicker though, you build the deck of cards that the game master uses, so you pick out some of the events and encounters that will happen.
The game plays essentially like a dungeon crawler with the events being randomly picked from a deck of your creation. When a combat encounter happens it moves into this third person action-RPG combat, as you control an adventurer and fight whatever random collection of enemies is chosen. This works incredibly well and plays much like the brilliance of the Batman Arkham combat. It’s satisfying and serves the card strategy well.
It starts easy but gets much harder as you move onward to reach harder and harder bosses. This is due to a certain level of resource management; you consume one unit of food every time you move to the next card. You can also collect gold which can be used to buy more food or really high quality equipment. So not only do you have to stay alive and fight a multitude of adversaries, you also have to make sure you constantly have enough food and riches.
The strategy comes from managing the cards in a way that allows you to acquire enough food, equipment and gold to actually make it to the end of the card dungeon. So when choosing your deck, the idea is to mix up the events and encounters to give these out in equal amounts when playing the game. It’s pretty ingenious and can become incredibly deep and complex, especially against the later bosses.
This is all supplemented by Hand of Fate’s wonderful music, narrative and gorgeous visuals. Playing the cards on the board is immersive and moody, with you always facing the game master on this red velvet table in this huge ancient medieval hall. Then when entering combat it sets the arenas in a variety of creative and pretty fantasy backdrops, from a coastal cave with huge ships in the distance to temples with glowing magical lights. The music is at times both mystical and really adventurous, giving the perfect soundtrack to what is happening in the cards. There is a serious level of polish in almost every facet of the design.
Hand of Fate is still a wonderful reinvention of the collectable card game genre, seamlessly mixing action-RPG dungeon crawling with addictive deck-building mechanics to create a truly unique experience. If you are interested in how card mechanics can be used to create a variety of experiences or if you just looking for a good RPG to sink your teeth into, Hand of Fate is most certainly worth going back to. Go and grab it right now from the Xbox Store for £15.99. And most certainly consider picking up Hand of Fate 2 as well.