Review: Card Hunter old school D&D inspirations shine in this F2P game

Card Hunter is an innovative turn-based strategy game, miniature warfare game, and collectible (virtual) card game wrapped in old-school (late 70’s/early 80’s)  Dungeons and Dragons inspirations sure to strike a nostalgic chord with classic tabletop gamers.

 What it is

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Card Hunter combat combines turn-based miniature gaming with card-based play mechanics.
Card Hunter is played entirely in a browser or your Steam client. And it can be played as a single-player or multiplayer (co-op or competitive) game.
The single-player campaign is led by your virtual and benevolent  dungeon master “Gary”, and occasionally his ass of an older brother Melvin. Both will seem strangely familiar…
If you ever played the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons in someone’s basement during the late 70’s or early 80’s, you’ll quickly recognize Card Hunter’s artistic inspirations, which are drawn from the trappings of your tabletop gaming youth—from the campaign ‘module’ art (inspired by the early works of Erol Otus, who illustrated a lot of early D&D books and modules) to Card Hunter’s nostalgic play on classic D&D module names (like Keep on the Hinterlands).
Card Hunter wears its inspirations loudly and proudly. Even your virtual dungeon masters Gary and Melvin are sure to remind you of someone you knew (or know) from your real-word gaming table. There’s even a (virtual) game table with a bowl of virtual snacks, polyhedral dice, and other game table trappings.
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Items and equipment add additional cards to your deck. Similarly, as you gain levels you’ll gain additional cards and abilities. 
And if you decide to pay some real world money to earn bonus loot, different minis for your characters, and other bonus odds and ends, you must purchase Pizza as currency.
If you were ever a fan of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax or Erol Otus, you’ll feel right at home in Card Hunter, even if it is a totally different game (and a different platform) from its aesthetic roots.

How it’s played

For the single player campaign, you primarily control 3 characters in Card Hunter, each of which represents 1/3 of the cards in your deck. Classes consist of Warrior, Wizard, or Cleric, and races include Dwarf, Elf, or Human. Each class and race has its own unique skills (slots) for various powers that form the deck of cards you use to play: attacks, spells, movement, and a vast array of other effects such as buffs, debuffs, and many others.

Each slot in a character’s inventory can be slotted with an item that adds more cards to your deck. Your inventory increases as you gain levels.

Your play hand consists of 5 for each (surviving) character you control on the battlefield, but you can only play a single card (move, attack, etc.) each turn. Once both players have passed their turn (usually because they’ve exhausted their usable cards), the round ends and 3 new cards are drawn for each surviving combatant. If your total card count would be more than 5 after cards are drawn, you must discard down to 2 cards.

Some battlefields add an additional strategy element in the form of victory squares. Control the most victory squares at the end of a round, and you gain a victory point. On these maps you can win by destroying all your enemies, or simply getting enough victory points to win the game. (You also gain victory points for killing enemies.)

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Those dice are just for show…

In the single player game, you can play through an extensive series of campaign modules, each of which consists of 3-4 consecutive combats (each of which takes about 5-10 minutes to play), with loot acquired at the end of each. If you’re a ‘subscriber’ you can pay a little Pizza (i.e. real world currency) to receive bonus loot items as well as access to new content releases.

Leveling up your characters not only adds inventory slots, it also adds ‘power tokens’ to characters, which enable you to equip more powerful items. You can also sell treasure items and unneeded loot for gold, which can be used to purchase items in Card Hunter’s various shops.

In the single player game, Gary (and sometimes Melvin) plays the monsters while serving up bits of nerd humor and even meta-story (Gary has a crush on the pizza delivery girl. Melvin antagonizes Gary in a way only a nerd with a superiority complex can.)

Basic to advanced in (about) 6 levels…

About the first 6 levels (or so) of the game are pretty straightforward, and most of your cards are generally movement or pretty basic attacks.

But after about level 7 the power and complexity of the cards—and hence the strategies for using them—become much deeper. And the single player campaign modules get increasingly difficult, often pitting you against hordes of creatures on tricky battlefields. It’s a bit difficult to tell if the increased difficulty is the result of not having powerful enough cards (and maybe needing to grind a little to acquire better ones), or if the game is trying to prod you into spending real money to purchase more powerful gear.

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A look at the cards a certain item (weapon) will add to your deck.

But often, repeated failures just force you to re-evaluate your strategy and possibly tweak your deck a bit by equipping different items on your characters. And Gary, the ever-helpful GM, will give you free hints about the challenges ahead to help you choose wisely. For example, he may inform you that all of the monsters have only melee attacks, so you should try to strike from a distance whenever possible.

In some modules you are given predefined number of characters (2-4 generally) and ability cards (i.e. a pre-defined deck). These adventures tend to be very challenging and require strong strategy (and a measure of luck) to overcome.

Since it’s release, there have been several new DLC packs made available in the game, as well as new ‘challenge’ modules that are very tricky and require a little puzzle-solving type strategy to win. And even when it’s frustrating to beat, Card Hunter’s charm keeps you coming back for more.

Of course, luck also plays a role in your victory, and the luck of the draw can be just as damning (or saving) as the roll of a 20-sided die. Sometimes your best fighter might just happen to draw a hand full of movement or defense cards and nothing else, or your wizard keeps drawing cone attacks when he needs a long-range lightning bolt. (Did I mention there’s ‘friendly fire’?)

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Equipping a character.

Even in the face of repeated failures, I kept coming back for more—and that was just in the single player Campaign game.Card Hunter is also a fun competitive or co-op multiplayer game, although competitive play is definitely best for those who truly enjoy deck-building. You can also purchase (with pizza, of course) pre-built ‘parties’ (decks) for multiplayer matches.

Although ranked, unranked, and casual game modes are available, most of the players playing are likely to have invested a fair bit of time (and possibly money) tweaking and designing their decks. As long as you’re into this aspect of the game,Card Hunter is plenty of fun, and you can win valuable loot. It’s a deep (albeit a little less casual) experience.

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Overall: Recommended

Card Hunter’s campaign game alone is more than enough fun to recommend giving it a try, and it’s nostalgic vibe from the golden age of tabletop gaming is sure to strike a chord with some (i.e. older) players.

It’s free-to-play so you don’t have much to lose. You can play it in any browser (Cardhunter.com) or download and play it through Steam (and earn Steam achievements, make purchases with Steam wallet, and take advantage of Steam’s other features as well).

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