The card game craze reminds me a lot of the MOBA craze, in that it completely sneaked up on me. Not that I was entirely oblivious to it, I’ve played a few rounds of Hearthstone and dabbled in a few other mobile versions here and there, but like many of the MOBA’s that are at the forefront of the eSports scene … none of them really capture my attention. I mean, technically you could called Overwatch a MOBA-lite, the general ideas and goals of each game play in a similar fashion … I’m getting off track. My point is, I haven’t had a card game that’s really pulled me in and had me play for more than a few rounds.

Enter Gwent, CD Project Red’s game within a game that’s about to be it’s own game … game. Gwent has a lot of fans floating around, and for seemingly good reason thanks to the Witcher’s appealing character designs and rich world storytelling. Every Witcher player I’ve come across has something to say about it, whether it’s the amount of hours spent completely ignoring the main campaign just to hunt down new cards, or buying physical expansion packs just so they can own a real deck or two even when they already own all the expansions digitally. Trust me when I say, the Gwent is real.

But how does it stack up on its own? Since I’m not anywhere near as big a Witcher fan as many of the people I’ve chatted to, I had an inkling of what to expect, but I was a little worried that it would devolve down into just another card game, another time waster that would force me to use real world money to expand my deck just to have a chance of winning.

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With all those concerns in mind, I got stuck into the first few training modules for this currently closed beta edition of the game. For records sake, my play test was on my Xbox One, since you can more often than not find me on there most evenings. Upon completing the basics, which still left me a tad confused as to the rules, I ran straight into the firing line and wound up losing my first four or five games against real world opponents.Ordinarily I’d be annoyed by this in a massive way. No one wants to lose, but especially when you’re just starting out and what to get a feel for it all. It can put a damp cloth over the experience rather quickly, something I unfortunately learnt with Heartstone.

But where as I would probably get all angry and flustered then quit out of frustration, which I did with Blizzard’s game, here I decided to dig a little deeper into the core mechanics instead. Why? Maybe it was the darker setting, or the rich and vibrant animations. Maybe it’s how relatively easy the game is to nut out once you’ve moved past that initial training phase. Or maybe, and most likely, it was because I knew I could win.

Gwent’s key selling point is the fact that, even with a modest amount of experience, you can still pull off a victory if the conditions fall ever so slightly in your favour. A winner is determined by a best of three round format, with your opening cards randomly selected. You’re given the opportunity to risk replacing up to three cards with another three from your deck before the opening round, otherwise you can run with what you have. The play field is then split into three separate sections for each player; Melee, Ranged and Siege. These areas determine where your chosen card is played on the field, with each card donating a certain combat value to your overall score.

It’s not entirely easy to summarise the game in a few paragraphs, it’s something that needs to be played to fully comprehend, but essentially you need to have the highest score each round to win based on the cards you play. Some cards can attack opposing cards, some can deal massive amounts of damage across the board or reduce a certain play areas effectiveness, some can also improve an entire row … there’s a lot of variables.

Thing is, I didn’t find it altogether confronting. The cards are well designed and easy to understand, and I quickly settled on a Monster deck as my main choice, with a handful of spell cards to deal damage. After a few rounds, I started to pick up certain habits or strategies, like timing when to play a certain card either offensively or defensively. It’s almost like playing poker, you have to read your opponent potential next move based on what they may or may not have, or bluff your way to victory by making them think you’re out of strong cards before screwing them over.

I also learnt that it’s just as good to let a round go by instead of playing all my cards in one hit. After the first round you’ll receive two more cards from your deck to fill your hand, then after the second round you’ll pick up one more card. It all comes down to chance, but how well you’ve built your deck plays a large part in determining what you might pick up. Deck building is entirely important to Gwent, since luck won’t always turn into victories if the cards you’re dealt don’t work together in a meaningful strategy.

It’s almost as much fun losing then it is winning sometimes, as you pick up valuable lessons from more seasoned players, learning new strategies depending on the deck you decide to play with. I’ve seen some really interesting strategies so far too, some I didn’t even think to consider. One player I went up against used a leader card from his deck which allowed him to spawn two cards exact copies of any card he chose. Normally after each round, the cards I removed from the field, unless of course you have a card that allows them to remain in some form. This particular player decided to then double all three of his cards in strength to comfortably win the round, before ‘locking’ them into position so that they’d remain on the field for the next. The cheeky sod then skipped his turn without playing anything else as round three began, knowing full well I had no chance of catching up.

To be honest, I didn’t expect Gwent to be this entertaining, and I guess it comes down to the fact that it really is easy to play. It’s also relatively fast, most games only last a few minutes at most, so the experience doesn’t dwindle no matter the win/loss ratio. True, it helps that it’s based on a world that has a lot of appeal, but I think the final selling point is the fact that it’s enjoyable no matter the outcome. I haven’t found myself frustrated, better still I’m left in awe with some of the strategies I’ve gone up against despite me having the same exact deck. That’s something I can honestly say most other card games fail to achieve, at least with me.

Bare in mind, this is still a closed beta, so a lot of the content can and will change over time as CD Project Red iron everything out. So far, though, I’ve got nothing at all to complain about and I’m greatly looking forward to the suggested story mode that will release in the not too distant future.

Have you played the Gwent closed beta, or just Gwent in general? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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