PAX West 2017: Hi-Rez designer Scott Lussier talks about the future for Hand of the Gods

Scott Lussier - Lead Game Designer
Scott Lussier, Lead Game Designer for Hand of the Gods (Credit: Hi-Rez Studios)

PAX West 2017: Hi-Rez Studios’ lead game designer Scott Lussier dealt me in for Hand of the Gods, a game that marries turn-based unit combat ala XCOM with collectible cards and deck building.

And no, Hand of the Gods is not just a Hearthstone or digital Magic the Gathering clone—an unfortunate and innacurate comparison many are quick to make. Although to be fair, Hi-Rez Studios does have a rather unfortunate knack for making innovative games that are often written by casual observers as just clones of better-known games.

But just like Smite is more than just a League of Legends clone and Paladins is not an Overwatch clone, Hand of the Gods is not just a Hearthstone clone.

“Hand of the Gods is more like Final Fantasy Tactics meets collectible card game,” Scott Lussier, Lead designer for Hand of the Gods explains.

If you’re curious to read more about the story and lore behind Hand of the Gods, check out the comics by Dark Horse Comics.

In the beginning…

“Development for Hand of the Gods started on paper about a year and a half ago, and about 15 months ago we moved the game from Unreal Engine 3 to Unreal Engine 4,” Lussier explains, “so the models in it will even pop a little more than the ones used in Smite.”

Hand of the Gods formally entered Closed Beta in January 2017, so all said that’s a pretty impressive clip for game development. Suffice to say that hard work and probably some efficiency gained by using some of the creative work and assets from Smite helped Hi-Rez develop rapidly.

Bear in mind that because Hand of the Gods is in beta (and likely will be for a long while still), many aspects covered in this article can still change. Although Lussier was able to drop one little ‘unannounced’ tidbit when we spoke. (Read on to find out what.)

Hand of the Gods 101

If you’ve never played or heard of Hand of the Gods, or a CCG (Collectible Card Game), here’s a brief run down.

Hand of the Gods combines turn-based unit combat with collectible card deck building. Each pantheon is represented by a deck of 25 cards and a designated leader with a unique ability.

The  goal is to destroy the enemy summoning stone, which is usually accomplished by creating an army, crossing the battlefield, and smashing the stone with attacks.

You start with 5 cards. You draw a card each turn, and spend mana playing cards to cast spells and/or summon units to the battlefield. You can also spend mana to play cards that will bolster units, damage enemy units, or a nearly limitless array of effects.

After a unit has been summoned (and on the board for 1 turn), you can command it to move and attack. There are numerous ranged and melee units, from simple footmen and archers to other gods and creatures with special abilities.

Hand of the Gods screenshots

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For example, Ah Puch (Mayan God of Decay) is in charge of the Mayan pantheon deck. His special ability can be used to summon a zombie to the battlefield, in addition to whatever units he can summon or spells he can cast by playing the cards in his hand.

(Side note: Ah Puch is not the pantheon leader because he’s the head of the Mayan pantheon in mythology. Someone wanted an excuse to have a zombie army deck.)

Standoff

So simple even a demigod can learn it

Like other deck building games, the basic mechanics are simple. It’s the metagame of progression, deck building, new cards, and the infinite strategies that keep gamers playing.

Consider this basic example: Ah Puch’s ability to drop zombies onto the battlefield can be used to basically feed another summoned unit: Hun Batz (the Mayan monkey god), who gains attack power and movement speed when friendly units die. This ability works extremely well with an army of zombie cannon-fodder, and can turn one or more Hun Batz units into some truly nasty monkeys capable of dishing out catastrophic melee damage.

This is just a basic example, but possible strategies are endless. You can only have 25 cards in a deck, but there will always be more cards.

“By the end of September, there should be around 260 cards available —and more will be on the way naturally,” Lussier adds.

In addition, there are currently 6 available pantheons (drawn from pantheons in Smite), with a 7th pantheon slated to be released by the end of September.

Lord of the cards

During the current Beta period you can purchase a Founders pack or a Venus card pack (which offers a higher percentage of better cards), as well as Core card packs to get you started. You also get some different icons and card skins as part of the package.

Cards are currently divided amongst pantheon-specific cards and ‘neutral’ cards, or those that can be used by all pantheons. Each card pack contains 5 cards that can be Common, Rare, Legendary, or Epic.

Tactics 2017-09-02 19-52-08-24
Hand of the Gods screenshot: Playing around with deck building.

Like other Hi-Rez games, Hand of the Gods is free-to-play. Playing earns Favor (the in-game currency) which can be used to buy more ‘Core’ card packs. You can also purchase Runes (i.e. the ‘real money’ currency). Basically, Runes let you buy more cards faster. For example, you could drop $50 on 3500 runes, and use them to buy 60 core packs (300 cards).

Similar to Smite where you can level up your mastery of each character, you can level up your mastery of each pantheon deck.

And while specific rewards and other systems are still in flux, Scott Lussier confirmed that one definite reward will be the mastery skins (Gold, Legendary, and Diamond skins used in Smite) for your pantheon leader. (This is the tidbit that Scott Lussier indicated hadn’t been formally revealed yet.)

Tactics 2017-09-02 20-21-53-24
Hand of the Gods screenshot. (Although it doesn’t look good for me here, I think this was the first game I actually won.)

In the future, you can expect additional card packs, seasonal events, card skins, player icons, and more to fill the Hand of the Gods store.

Also like Smite, you’ll be able to purchase skins for your pantheon leader At PAX West 2017 for example, Ah Puch (representing the Mayan pantheon) was equipped with his “Jack Frost” skin.

“Skins for units may be a possibility later,”  Lussier indicated.

The road ahead

There’s still a fairly long road ahead and a lot of development left for Hand of the Gods, but the road is clear and Hi-Rez is committed to it. Like all such card games, game balance is delicate, and it’s crucial that the game’s payment system doesn’t become “pay to win”.

Another item up for consideration is PvE or a story/single-player mode. But the current focus is on the PvP mode, economy, and getting the current beta to release.

Coming to PC, and…

Hand of the Gods is currently available in beta form on the PC through a direct download from Hi-Rez. In addition, it will also be available through Steam “soon” (according to Lussier), with Xbox One and PS4 versions hopefully arriving this Fall.

Nintendo Switch and a mobile version for tablets and phones may be coming later, ” Lussier explains. “But right now it’s a bit too early to say anything definite.”

As our introductory session came to an end, I casually suggested some sort of Tribes-related card or homage. Lussier just chuckled. I think he considered having Gabriel Mughelli haul me away.

Hand of the Gods card art

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