I should begin by saying that Gwent is not a game you can freely download from any traditional marketplace. In fact, Gwent is a card game within the amazing Role Playing Game (RPG), The Witcher 3, undoubtedly this summer’s video game blockbuster.
Gwent is a unique style of card game. It doesn’t conform to the usual rules that govern trading card games, nor does it try to imitate any of the more popular card games available today. Instead, what we get is a game that leans heavily on chance, gambling, hand management, and bluffs. The game doesn’t have a typical combat system, yet does rely on Units’ Strength values to determine a victor. Confused yet? I was too, at first!
So how well does Gwent play, and should you buy The Witcher 3 just to play a card game? Read on to find out…
The first time you encounter Gwent is when you stumble into a bar, looking for a woman with raven-black hair. You notice a man trying to teach a couple of local knuckleheads a card game. He appears exasperated with their lack of understanding and gives up. You ask him if he has information on the woman you’re looking for. He says he may have some, if you will play a card game with him… and thus you’ll fall down the slippery slope towards no longer playing the main quest for the story, but playing to find as many Gwent opponents and cards as you can!
Let’s start by describing how the game works. The simple stuff first: in Gwent, a match is played as a ‘best of three rounds’, with 2 Gems representing your life. When a round is won, a gem is shattered for the loser of that round, signifying a loss. When a player loses both Gems, they lose the match. So the idea is to keep your shiny, sparkly things intact!
That’s the simple stuff out of the way — now it gets really interesting. The battlefield is split into 3 lanes for each player: Close Combat, Ranged Combat, and Siege. Close Combat Units are placed on the front line, Ranged Combat Units in the middle, and Siege Units at the rear of the battlefield. At the beginning of the game you’ll draw 10 cards from your deck and among these will be Units that can be played into the 3 lanes.
Most Units are assigned to particular factions and these factions are essentially your deck’s theme. The themes extend to characters you’ll encounter in the wider game, such as heroes, monsters, and other standard Unit types. Each faction also has a unique power for the game: Nilfgaardian Empire has “Wins any round ending in a draw”, the Northern Realms has “Grants an extra card upon winning a round”, the Scoia’tael have “Decides who takes the first turn” while the Monsters have “Keeps a random Unit Card out on the battlefield after each round”.
Many of the Units in the game have special effects. These range from increasing the Strength of allied cards, to drawing more cards from your deck. They have the ability to turn the round from a loss into a win if played at the right time. There are also special Units that are unaffected by any other card played in the game. Most of the special cards are characters you’ll either play as, or encounter, when playing the main story quest of the game. I often wondered what an opponent would think when they see me play myself as a card on the field?! (There is a card representing your character, Geralt!)
When you play a Unit (let’s say in this instance we’re playing a Ranged Combat Unit), it must be played into the middle of your three lanes, the Ranged Combat lane. It cannot be placed into the Siege or Close Combat lanes. Every Unit has a value and this value represents their Strength on the battlefield in their specific lane, which contributes to the lane’s overall Strength as well.
Overall Strength value is the key to winning a round in Gwent, but it’s not as simple as having the most powerful Units. You only have 10 cards to play over the entire course of the match. What you are doing is gambling how many Units you want to commit in one round when you play them.
If you only have a few Close Combat Units, but plenty of Siege Units, you may want to start drawing out your opponent’s stronger Close Combat Units early by playing the few that you have in round one. Taking a loss can be risky, but if you’re confident on winning the following two rounds, it’s a loss worth taking.
Both players have to pass in order for the calculations of all Units played to be tallied. If the total value of all Units you have played that round exceed the total of your opponent, you will win that round. How many Units you commit to do this is entirely up to you.
Each deck is aligned to a faction, and attached to these factions are Leader cards, one of which you will choose to go with the deck but will exist outside your deck to be used separately. Your Leader card has an ability that can either be triggered during the course of a match or will come into effect at the start of a match. Leaders cannot fight or be placed into the main play area. Their effects are only used once per game, but they can be completely game-changing.
In addition to Units and Leaders, there are some utility and Weather cards. My favorite utility card allows me to destroy one of my opponent’s strongest Unit(s) on the field. If they have two at the same value, it will destroy both! Nice.
Weather cards are a very interesting card type. When they come into play they will affect only one lane type (but for both players) and reduce the Strength of each Unit in that lane type to 1. This is obviously a massive blow if you’ve committed all of your stronger Close Combat Units, only to see them reduced in Strength. Thankfully there is a Clear Weather card that will remove all current Weather effects from play. You will want to carry at least one of these in your deck.
MODES AND FEATURES
Gwent, at it’s core, is just a card game that you’ll play to pass the time between bouts of killing monsters and completing quests. It isn’t like other card games that have their own quests, missions, or campaigns. It remains simple and unpolluted with lots of unnecessary features that could have weighed it down. Instead, it feels light and free to show off it’s character to the fullest.
Just keep in mind that in order to access the full range of Gwent cards and opponents, you will have to play the RPG as well. Many cards are hidden away in tavern owners’ shop inventories, or earned as rewards for special Gwent matches against others. You’ll have to have the patience to finish the game to unlock everything.
Unfortunately, there is no PvP (Player versus Player) mode, or online multiplayer. It’s just A.I. opponents at the moment, but there is one expansion that you can get which adds some new cards to play with. However, the surprise success of Gwent itself means that I’m sure we’ll see more card DLCs (downloadable content) in the future, and perhaps even online multiplayer eventually. The demand for the game in it’s own right outside of The Witcher 3 is going to lead to some interesting developments, I think!
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
There’s something funny about Gwent that I totally adore. You can edit your deck no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You could be knee-deep in monsters, or just roaming around on your horse, Roach. No matter where you are, you always carry your Gwent deck and collection and can start deckbuilding by popping open the menu and the world around you freezes. I guess once you’re hooked on Gwent you will need it with you all the time. Who knows where you might find someone willing to indulge you in a game or two!
As I have mentioned before, you will need to pick a Leader for your deck. This will determine the faction of your deck and the subsequent faction-allied Units you can use. There are only four to choose from and the faction chosen will lean heavily towards specific Unit types.
What I find to be useful is to have a strategy in mind when building your deck. The first cards you get aren’t very powerful, but win games consistently and you’ll earn more cards. There are also some quests that can earn you some seriously powerful, special cards, and don’t forget to look in taverns and speak to the owner to see what cards they might have for you to buy as well.
Just because you are given 10 cards at the start of a match, it doesn’t mean that you cannot utilize the rest of your deck. Perhaps some of the strongest cards in the game are those that can call other cards of the same name to the field, instantly, or bring back cards from the dead, or help you draw cards in some way. You’ll often find that if you lead with this early on in round one, your opponent will pass and give you the round to save their cards for the next one.
Other important tricks to remember are the effects of the Weather cards. If you lure the opponent into committing to a lane and then drop a Weather card on them to reduce the Strength of their Units, you’ll nail that round. Unless they have a Clear Weather card, though… and well, that’s just tough luck!
What is amazing about Gwent’s gameplay is that the developers have managed to not only design an excellent card game, but they’ve managed to create something totally unique, too. I find that achievement to be mind-blowing, especially when you consider just how many unoriginal card games are out there.
Gwent is a pricey card game at $59.99, but it does come with an excellent RPG attached. If sword fights, casting spells, controlling people’s minds, and harvesting shrubs are your thing, you’ll have an absolute blast with the rest of the game, too. Jokes aside, I really do think Gwent is an excellent distraction from slaying monsters and finding frying pans (seriously, there is a side-quest to find an old lady’s frying pan!). It is complicated enough to satisfy those who want a deep and strategic card game, yet simple enough for people who rarely play card games.
There is a lot of scope for Gwent to expand beyond the confines of a video game and into an actual card game. I’d love for there to be a physical, or even an extended digital version sometime in the near future (a collector’s edition of the game did actually come with some Gwent decks! I’d like to see a more complete physical product, though). The thrill of playing against someone who isn’t controlled by an A.I. would be amazing, too. Fingers crossed, eh?
For more screenshots, click here.
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