“So what is Hand of Fate?”
Hand of Fate is a card game and a roguelike action RPG. Well, that didn’t explain anything, did it? Remember those old text-based adventure games where each direction had a potentially lethal encounter, and maybe a secret treasure? Hand of Fate borrows from that heritage, but everything in the game has a card to represent it. A new suit of armour, a blessing from the gods, a shiny sword lying next to a dead adventurer at the bottom of a ravine and a group of six bandits, all are represented by cards. Though some of the cards, especially the encounters, aren’t exactly the same every time. That ravine might have strong vines and easy handholds on one adventure, or loose rocks and no handholds the next, meaning you will have to read the text and decide carefully. Those choices you make are then decided by picking a face-down chance card, which can have success, great success, failure or great failure as options. A difficult task, in the lower levels where the dealer is m0re spiteful, will have less success cards, meaning you have less chance of picking a positive outcome for encounters. Succeed and get gain cards and food and equipment, and possibly unlock new cards for later games. Fail and you might fight monsters or draw pain cards, which steal food and gold and health from you, making the road ahead more dangerous.
“Wait, so its a massive card game with hundreds of unique cards and several libraries of cards? No thanks!”
Fear not, friend. The dealer, despite being your opponent, loves his game. He has crafted the cards, balanced them and keeps fiddling to ensure there is a beautiful game for you to play. He might want to beat you, but he is fair and doesn’t cheat the rules. The game handles most of the mechanical, rule-related tasks for you, so that you can concentrate on your choices and the task at hand. While it eventually is in your interest to learn what cards are in the various decks on the table, you won’t fail due to not knowing the mechanics involved in the game. Gain, Equipment, Pain, Curse, Blessing, Monster, Encounter decks make up the background of what you are doing, for the most part: working your way through various rooms, gaining loot and surviving traps and ambushes to work deeper down into the dungeon of cards.
Combat is handled in small maps, often just a single large room where you get to control the action. Using an Arkham-esque flow of attacks, stuns, dodges and counters the combat is fairly shallow and, generally, easy. However, it often isn’t the combat that kills you. Starvation is a real threat, as your character needs to eat every day, with each move across the encounter board taking a day. Unless you get stuck in the swamps for a while, which can take several days if luck is not on your side. The encounters you face and the gear you might find are decided by you (at least in the story mode) where a little deck building can really help you on your way. However, some encounter cards are locked into your deck until you deal with them or beat a certain boss, so you can’t take all the bad ones out and have a happy dungeon. Oh, the dealer also adds in a few encounter cards and the monster cards, to spice things up a bit. While he is kind enough to add in shops to get more food or healing, he also adds in some of the nastier encounters and curses. Some cards also have tokens on them, which mean that if you beat them, you gain the token, which is a collection of cards related to that encounter. Helping the last surviving priest smith to find rare ore will lead to a new shiny set of armour and exchanging enough blood for gold with a vampire will unlock an encounter with more vampires.
“So how long is this game?”
The story mode of the game takes about five hours to finish, the dealer slowly adding to your card collection and explaining the various decks in play. The true challenge and draw to the game is its endless game mode, where you are pitted against a dealer who will potentially make the game more difficult after every level you manage to beat, the cumulative weight of curses and nasty encounters taking toll until one wrong choice, a single unlucky roll of the dice, sends you plummeting from a position of power to a pile of broken flesh and dashed dreams. Endless mode will keep you coming back for more, hoping for those good encounters with lucky drops, or a few blessings to lighting the millstone of curses around your neck.
Collecting cards gives a sense of progression, even to the roguelike endless mode, where you will die somewhere in the depths. Who doesn’t want to go to new places and get new gear to fight the hordes of enemies? This game goes back to that old place that games used to thrive, the imagination, giving you just enough visual information, making your brain do the rest. Your opponent, the dealer, is a cleverly animated and well voiced character, commenting on your misfortune, belittling your victories and providing scraps of insight into the nature of the game, his work at his craft and sometimes, how he came to be the dealer. You press on for these scraps of information, hoping to hear more or have him compliment your choices. For a character who tells us so little, shares so little, I couldn’t help but feel connected to him. He mumbles about cards being overpowered and needing to be reworked, almost sounding like the voice of the game’s designers leaking through. He mentions where the various boss creatures, his armies and pawns come from, and the desolate lands that you are in. He even takes time to joke about some cards, making for an engaging space to play the game, while you try to beat random number generation and battle the odds. Its deliciously exciting and I’ll be unlocking some more tokens now, thanks.