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Snapshot: Card Hunter


This is a Snapshot, a quick, un-scored review of a game we think you should know about.

You encounter a free-to-play browser game. You decide to play it. Roll a D6 to see if it's any good...

A six!

Wow, that's really lucky. Roll again to see if forced microtransactions or time limits will prevent you from enjoying it for a long session...

Another six?! You're unstoppable. Okay, roll one last time to see if you're crazy...

Three in a row? The odds are incredibly unlikely, but you've stumbled across Card Hunter, a free-to-play, browser-based, deck-building strategy game that will devour every last second of your free time if you let it.

Gallery: Card Hunter (PAX Prime 2012) | 9 Photos

Artistically presented as a card-based Dungeons & Dragons, Card Hunter has you playing as a friend of Gary, an up-and-coming Game Master who's learning the ropes of how to lead adventurers through the Card Hunter universe (there's a lot of rules for him to learn!). The antagonist in this meta-story is Melvin, Gary's older brother who knows everything about Card Hunter, a fact he loves to point out whenever he gets the chance. Card Hunter is overflowing with geek culture and fantasy references. Even Gary's name is likely an homage to D&D creator Gary Gygax.

To progress through Card Hunter you'll level up three adventurers via mighty card combat, building a deck and receiving new cards that are tied to the randomly-generated loot you'll receive at the end of each level. You'll equip each adventurer with loot, which have select cards attached to the clothing or trinket. Upgrading boots may give more movement cards, where mage trinkets could focus on fire or shock magic. Adding another trinket may add a long-term buff card to the deck, which will enhance a specific magic type. Of course, if you specialize in a certain magic, you'll want the proper buff card for it.

Each level is usually wrapped inside an "adventure," which typically has three or four rounds to it. As your adventurers gain experience, they'll be able to attach more loot to their bodies, allowing for more cards. After many hours, you'll start to get the sense for customizing your adventurer's decks and the seemingly haphazard nature of the cards will start to fade away.

Snapshot Card Hunter
Browser games are often criticized for failing to compete with "real games" on consoles and PC, but Card Hunter hits the mark. The presentation is clean and charming, and the free-to-play design isn't intrusive at all. In fact, I've played so much that I'm starting to feel guilty that I haven't given developer Blue Manchu some money.

To be clear, you don't have to pay. As of this writing, real money can purchase "Treasure Hunt" adventures, costumes and treasure chests. The costumes are purely cosmetic, while the Treasure Hunt adventures will provide an epic quality item if you complete them, though you can still get random epics through normal play. Rather than gating content behind microtransactions, Card Hunter is clearly striving to provide a free experience that you'll want to support.

Card Hunter currently has an expansive single-player campaign, where you'll level up your heroes and help Gary on his quest to become a better GM than his brother. There's also competitive multiplayer. The multiplayer has a rank system and pits Card Hunters in a 1v1 match on a random board using their adventurers using a customizable loadout (there are pre-made loadouts as well). Blue Manchu also plans to add "a co-operative mode and other group play modes" in the future.

Since Card Hunter is free, there's no point kvetching about whether it's worth the money, but there are certainly some elements that could use improvement. The loot becomes unruly down the road, as your inventory starts to fill with trash. A setting to automatically sell cards below a specific level would definitely be welcome. Also, levels are rather compact. Hopefully we'll see larger or multi-tiered playing fields down the road.

Those are minor complaints though, and Card Hunter is still stacked to change the way we think about free-to-play browser games. Blue Manchu could have easily avoided the negative energy that surrounds the free-to-play model by charging a few bucks, but they took a risk and it paid off. An adventure can be completed in 15 minutes, but the quest for loot makes it easy to play for hours. There's also no time limit, so if you're suddenly distracted, just switch back to Card Hunter's browser tab whenever you're ready.

You could even open a Card Hunter tab right now, if you wanted, but you might want to clear your calendar first.

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