Preview | Gwent®: The Witcher Card Game (Closed Beta Ver. 0.8.16)

Gwent®: The Witcher Card Game

Preview | Gwent Closed Beta Version 0.8.16 (22 November 2016)

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On May 19th 2015 CD Projekt Red released the hugely anticipated The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. For many, this game was everything they wanted from the franchise. And CD Projekt Red received praise from pretty much every corner of the industry. For me, personally, the game was a work of art and in my opinion was as near perfect as it could have been. I even played it on console, breaking my vow to the Old Gods to never use that tainted and most foul magic box. Over 300 hours of gameplay later, one of my most cherished experiences came from the mini-game Gwent. This mini-game saw Geralt scouring a different kind of monster den for opponents, and you mostly found these opponents in dens of inequity (Brothels, Taverns, and other such reputable establishments). And why would opponents frequent such establishments… well because it is a game of cards, obviously. Since I was a child I knew, a priori, that cards about magical monsters and hardened ruffians were destined to be strange bedfellows; much like Puppey and Eternal Envy in Team Secret. It seems Geralt was no stranger to this universal truth, either.

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Due to the absolutely huge popularity of this mini-game, CD Projekt Red decided to develop it as a standalone game. It shares many features with games like Magic The Gathering and the significantly more popular Hearthstone, but retains an individuality that is very… well… both peculiar and unique to CD Projekt Red (and its Witcher universe in general). We will discuss more about the gameplay later in this article, but let’s just talk where we’re at presently. Gwent is being developed by CD Projekt Red as a standalone free to play title carried by GoG.com on PC (this is how I play it). At this time no official release date has been set and optional micro transactions (similar as to that found in Hearthstone) have been confirmed for the title. The game is currently in Closed Beta testing (Ver. 0.8.16) and plans are set to release across multiple platforms; PC, Xbox One, and Playstation®4 have all been confirmed so far. Gwent’s tagline is that, “You are the Wildcard”, and that is as truthfully as I’ve been misled in a long long time. Let me explain.

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Gwent is a deck-building game where two opponents face off against each other wielding unique decks they’ve crafted from across four unique factions: Skellige, Monsters, Northern Realms, or the Scoia’tael. A fifth faction, Nilfgaard, is set to appear as well sometime in the future. Each faction or race plays in unique and distinct ways, opting for different strategies on the field of play in order to win. Within each faction there is a multitude of unique game breaking cards or play styles to choose from, so playing across all the factions is required to really figure out where your personal flair is best situated. In addition, as in Hearthstone, there is a neutral faction that all the other factions have access to. This provides an added layer of potential strategy, complexity, or pure brokenness to your deck building experience. Once you select the Monster faction, you’ll get to choose your leader (each leader has a unique once per match playable ability/card). For Monsters you start with Eredin available to you. In case you didn’t know, Eredin also goes by his alias Sparrowhawk, he is the King of the Wild Hunt, and is generally famous for his use of terror, carnage and decapitations. Besides long walks on the beach, Eredin has a soft spot for ending worlds. Swell guy, this one. His special ability is to play himself on the field of battle. Like I said, swell guy and just really humble.

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You’ve now chosen a faction (if you picked Monsters, you’ll burn in Hell, mark my words) and a leader, but now you want to pick some actual cards. What do you need to know? Well there are a few class types available to you. You get the melee, ranged, siege, and all classes within each faction. As the all class suggests, this totally balanced class is essentially whichever of the other classes you want it to be and you select this as you play the card. The reason for this being advantageous will become apparent later. In addition, there are various unit types as well. You get basic units that have power ratings. For instance you can play an ornate melee Knight that has 8 strength, or a radiating Trebuchet of hate that is only worth 3 strength instead. Why would you play the Trebuchet, you ask? Well, because units in Gwent are Batpanda levels of crazy. That is to say, most of them are equipped with modifiers. The Trebuchet, for example, deals 2 damage to two separate enemy units of your choice when you play it. Layers, upon layers, within layers, unraveled by a Spork… and we’re not even done yet. You also get Hero units, and special units/cards that do crazy things on the battlefield (like spawning in some pesky snow that reduces all melee units’ strength to 1). Now a final consideration is the rarity of each card, of which there are three; Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Obviously the shinier the card, the more amazing and awesome are the modifiers it possesses or its relative strength on the field of play. For instance, Gold cards are immune to most modifiers. So the Trebuchet we mentioned earlier? When it is played, it can’t reduce an enemy’s Gold card unit’s strength by 2. Luckily each deck you build has a minimum of 25 cards to a maximum of 40 cards, of which there are restrictions; only 6 silver cards and 4 gold cards per deck.

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@SargonDotA2’s first ever Gwent beta game!

So now you’ve built a deck. If at this point you no longer have any clue how this game works, you’re not alone. This is also, interestingly, why the game is pretty huge among fans. The sheer layers upon layers of complexity are truly remarkable and make for extensive tweaking of your decks. And we’re STILL not done, because now you’ve loaded into a game and there seems to be a complicated field of battle AND three rounds? What? No wonder you have to be drunk to play this game. To explain the concept simply, think about a medieval battlefield. Or just remember that scene from Gladiator. Generally melee units in the front, ranged safely behind them, and then siege units at the very back peppering the enemy from even greater safety. Thus in Gwent there are three lanes on each side into which appropriate units are moved. And special effects, like doubling the strength of your units or playing weather effects to reduce strength, are usually done within a specific lane, over lanes of the same type, and rarely these can be across your entire side or the entire field of play. And so you bring your drawing of 10 (from your deck of 25 to 40) cards to bear upon your enemy over three rounds, and with your leader you’ll start Round 1 with 11 cards. At the end of Round 1, both players will draw an additional two cards and at the end of Round 2 both players draw a single card each. This all opens up even more strategy as intentionally losing a round is actually a strategic option in Gwent that can win you the entire match if done correctly. Win by losing? Layers. Sporks. And aliens. The ultimate goal in Gwent is to have more strength than your enemy at the end of 2 out of 3 possible rounds. However you do that, is entirely up to you. You are the Wildcard.

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We can’t go through all of the craziness that is Gwent’s mechanics in one article, but hopefully this has brought some of the gameplay mechanics across well enough that you get the gist of just how different Gwent is. And, in my opinion, how special it is. Some of the other things to talk about in Gwent are things like micro transactions, where players can purchase card kegs (essentially card packs) to get more unique cards to use in decks. While decks can be earned with in game currency (which so far is fairly earned for the time put in), the option to buy them with real money seems fair to me. Two card kegs costs $2.99 and is the cheapest option in the shop, while 60 card kegs will set you back $69.99. In each of your card kegs you’ll pick up five cards, where at least one will be rare, epic, or legendary (another rarity type that plays at the backend of the game). Gwent has an interesting system though where upon opening a keg you’ll get four cards instantly, but your rare/epic/legendary cards will be an option of one card from three cards (see images below for clarity). This can make the entire process of opening kegs very worthwhile, as you can then ignore a faction you’re totally uninterested in (you’re uninterested in Monsters).

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All in all Gwent is a really great take on the classic trading card game, with considerable improvements to classic gameplay mechanics that ultimately add many layers of enjoyable (and equally frustrating) complexity. It also adds a significant amount of changes and content from the Gwent we know from The Witcher 3 released back in 2015; it’s very clear CD Projekt Red are working around the clock on this title. It’s going to be a while before we see if this is going to be the card game that finally stands up to Hearthstone. It certainly has my vote, as I’ve already switched over completely. Drowners are scarier/better than Murlocks, anyway! Don’t agree? Let me know in the comments! You can keep up to date with all things Gwent in the following places:


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About @SargonDotA2

Chris "@SargonDotA2" House started writing about competitive local esports in 2016, focused primarily on DotA2 since he played competitively around that time as well. Since then we keep him locked up, churning out DotA2 articles as often as we can make him do it. @SargonDotA2 is sometimes referred to as the Batpanda...