Developed by Blue Manchu. Published by Blue Manchu. Released September 12, 2013. Available on PC/Mac via Steam and Browser. Game content codes provided by publisher.

Editor’s Note: We’ve broken the article into two pages, with the first page being predominantly exposition about the game and the writer’s previous experiences around the title. Click here to skip to page 2 for gameplay details about Card Hunter.

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People have been telling me to check out Australian dev studio Blue Manchu’s Card Hunter for years, but I’ve avoided it until recently. The name and very brief description led me to assume it was some sort of CCG genre spinoff, which I try hard to avoid, given the obscene level of investment I’ve made in both Magic and Hearthstone, and I simply don’t have the budget to support my collector’s obsession with any more games. It started as a browser game as well, which I’m instinctively skeptical of, despite intellectually knowing that browser doesn’t necessarily mean bad these days.

Quite recently, my wife and I saw Loot and Legends on the iPad and decided to check it out. It was simple, accessible, and quite fun, so we started talking about it around Escapist HQ. To my surprise, everybody I spoke to immediately heard the description and started talking about Card Hunter, which they’d mostly all played by this point. It turns out, Loot and Legends is just the mobile port of Card Hunter, rejiggered by DropForge for iOS, and simplified to a fairly large extent. With this new info, I looked up Card Hunter for a bit more detail, and even at a glance, I could see it had substantially more depth to it than the iPad version.

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I absolutely recommend Loot and Legends for those who predominantly multitask their media consumption. Its simplified structure lends itself to being played while watching a movie or TV show. If you want a standalone gaming experience, though, Card Hunter is worth looking into. It’s worth noting that in doing a bit of research, I learned that Dr. Richard Garfield, the mastermind responsible for creating Magic: the Gathering, which is no small thing, consulted on the game. Magic reportedly has 20 million players worldwide at this point, and continues to be corporate behemoth Hasbro’s biggest brand. It’s easy to see the influence that Magic had on Card Hunter‘s design, in addition to a heavy inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons.

Card Hunter brings together a number of different systems for an excellent blend of genres and experiences, ranging from RPG progression to loot hunting to card-based combat. The game’s story is an odd one for sure, as the narrative is predominantly a meta-story about an RPG group’s campaign, the Dungeon Master’s crush on the pizza delivery girl, and animosity between the self-designated DM guru and the new DM. Given that this was the focus of the most prominent character’s dialogue, the depth of story that the dungeons have around them is seriously impressive.

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Each adventure node on the world map will have a small number of dungeons for you to clear to complete it. “Dungeons” is definitely a misnomer, since they’re single room combat encounters, but each one of these encounters has a lengthy text description told within the campaign’s fantasy setting. Each encounter you defeat gives you a chest full of loot, which you’ll use to outfit your characters to suit your needs for a given encounter. Sometimes you’ll be fighting nothing but skeletons, so your stabbing sword isn’t going to be of much help compared to a giant mace, for example. You’ve got three classes, which serve the archetypal roles of an adventuring party. Warriors serve as your tanks and frontline beaters, while Priests serve a Cleric or Paladin role of tanky healer/support. Finally, you’ve got your squishy DPS/crowd control caster class.

Moving past the heavy D&D influence, the combat is a turn-based card game, where each character’s deck is decided by the equipment on each character. Every turn, you’ll get to use one card from one character, then the enemy gets to do the same. It goes back and forth until you clear the enemies, or party wipe, which seem to happen in roughly equal measure. Every action requires a card, including movement, so you’ll need to manage your plays carefully to ensure you don’t run out of move cards while standing on a damaging ground effect or the like. Once you’ve exhausted your starting hand, or run out of good plays, you’ll pass the turn until both you and the opponent have done so, and the next round begins, and you draw new cards.

As you level up your characters, you’ll be collecting loot to boost their combat decks, but you might notice small colored pips on some equipment. The pips indicate higher power level on the equipment, but characters only get pips at certain level milestones, meaning you’ll only be able to use one of these items at first, and get to equip more and more as you continue to level up. This system was irksome at first glance, but on playing more and more with it, I’ve decided that it’s actually quite a nimble approach to balancing player power against the encounters they’re leveled for. Even a single pip can offer a ton of flexibility, since a pip weapon might have more powerful melee attacks for close-combat encounters, but pip boots might offer additional mobility to help your slower characters close the gap against ranged enemies.

Card Hunter is free to play, with currency (pizza) and content packs being available for purchase in game with real money. Its origin as a browser game is a particularly nice bonus, since even if you typically play on Steam, you’ll have to log into the game’s servers, where your save data is stored, which means you can pick up whenever you want from a browser, like, for example, if you’re supposed to be writing an article at work, but there are goblins that need stabbing. The most recent content expansion is Expedition to the Sky Citadel, which brings an odd juxtaposition of the fantasy setting with a futuristic adventure, complete with relevant loot. There are even entirely new card mechanics involved, like laser weapons that can malfunction when you attack, as well as some entertaining cosmetic options, like a space suit-clad figure to represent your tank.

Finally, you’ve got the multiplayer options, including PVP and cooperative adventuring. One flaw in the co-op mode, though, is that if you’ve only got one friend available, you’re stuck with a 2-person party, since neither of you will be able to bring a second character along to complete the group. Co-op is a lot of fun, but there is the drawback of only getting to make a move occasionally, or skipping entire rounds even, dependent primarily on whether you drew more useful cards than your teammates.

In short, Card Hunter is a D&D campaign run by a caricature of young Gary Gygax (at least based on my experience with the Dungeons and Dragons Online dungeon narrated by Gygax), with an hilarious metastory about the pizza delivery girl and surprising narrative depth in the campaign modules themselves, alongside a card-based combat system derived from the loot hunt that is integral to most RPGs. Also, it’s free to play on both Steam and the browser.

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