The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was not only the best game of 2015, and possibly one of the best games of all time, but it also had a mini-game contained within it that was up there with Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad or Liar’s Dice in Red Dead Redemption in terms of surprising depth and sheer enjoyability.

The small pub diversion of Gwent turned out to be as much of a time sink as the colossally huge Witcher game itself, and CD Projekt Red seemed to know it, because here is Gwent, repurposed, polished, and coming to console and PC, vying for a small chunk of that Hearthstone crowd, and it looks like it’s got the same monetisation plan in mind.

Micro-transactions are still something of a dirty word, and they’re absent from the closed beta, but CD Projekt Red have been open about their plans to make the game free to play, while also insisting that players will still be able to enjoy the game to its full extent without having to spend a penny. Whether that will extend to future content and modes, or will leave free to play players out of the loop remains to be seen.
deckbuilder_1-11Bearing in mind that Gwent is still in the closed beta stage, there’s a lot to like here. Gwent is a basic trading card game with an interesting twist. The aim isn’t to reduce an opponent to zero health (or life points, depending on your previous TCG’s of choice) but rather to win 2 out of 3 rounds. Each round carries forward your deck, meaning the cards you’ve used stay used. Essentially, you win a round when your opponent skips a turn when you’re stronger than them, or when you both run out of cards in your hand, and you’re the stronger player.

However, this adds an element of strategy that might not be immediately apparent. It’s easy to win the first round if you’re ready to throw everything at your opponent, but you can bet you’ll struggle to scrape a win in round 2 or 3. Gwent is about more than sheer power, it’s about using just enough strength to win, so you’re set up strong for the next round.

The battlefield is divided into three rows, melee, ranged, and siege, with the units in different rows generally having different focuses or abilities. While the most basic judge of a card’s usefulness is the big number on it - indicating its strength, the cumulative number of which will be what wins each round - there’s much more to the game than that. Different cards have different abilities, and some cards may be weak, but will boost others, hurt enemies, or draw more to the field for you. There are also cards that transform between rounds, like a Shapeshifter in round one staying on the field as a Bear in round two.

There’s a lot to consider, and add leaders, spell cards, gold cards, deck types, and even Witchers to the mix, and there’s a lot to contend with. Luckily, Gwent has a great tutorial that takes you through the basics of everything, including deck building and unlocking new cards. While you certainly won’t leave with expert level skills, you’re taught just enough to give you an idea of how things work, and an appreciation of how deep Gwent can be, fuelling your desire to learn more.

While the array of ways to play the game can be baffling at first, there’s something special to the formula of Gwent that appeals to both the tactician and the gamer within me. While I’m eager to play more matches to win, rank up, and get better cards, I’m also excited to continue to test the games’ systems, and play against more opponents to see the array of strategies and counters available.

battlescreen_2-11Being a closed beta, Gwent is light on features and options. You can play against real players, practice against AI, or revisit the tutorial. There’s also the ability to build decks and buy new cards with your earned currency, but little else to be up to. CD Projekt Red have been cagey about the addition of new game modes, promising that there is more to come (and perhaps an expansion into a single player campaign a la Hearthstone) but they’ve left details thin on the ground. It seems natural that Gwent will expand with new content, card sets, modes, and themes, but the staying power in the game will be found through the way that these are monetised, and also through watching the long tail meta of the game progress.

Likely the point of the beta is for the developer to see if Gwent is balanced, fair, and if the concept has legs, and it would be interesting to see if the data gathered reflected what they were hoping to find. In its current form, Gwent fills the TCG gap currently present on Xbox One and PS4 - subpar Yu-Gi-Oh! And Magic the Gathering games notwithstanding. The closed beta shows a deep and engaging card game with a nice coat of polish, engaging sound effects and card designs, and more importantly, a levelling up and reward mechanic which seems to keep fresh cards coming quickly.

Gwent’s true value, however, will be revealed in its long tail content and Meta-game. If fresh content and cards come at a good pace, and the game remains as balanced as it seems right now, there’s something truly special here waiting to treat the avid collectors and the shrewd tacticians alike.