As I have been working my way through the grand epic that is The Witcher 3, I have spent an inordinate amount of time going through Novigrad, Velen, and Skellige looking to put together the most effective Gwent deck.
For those unaware, Gwent is the side-game within Witcher 3. It’s a card game/deck building game that reignited my need to indulge in Magic as previously posted.
It plays a relatively prominent role in Witcher 3, being the sole focus of some quests, providing an alternate means to get information/complete quests, and also a point of conversation. The cards are collected throughout your travels as rewards or as items purchased from traders.
The side-game was popular enough that an entire game is being devoted to Gwent. Somewhat similar to Hearthstone, the game is purely digital, and is currently in a closed beta stage to get some balance and gameplay issues sorted out.
I happened upon my own beta key by accident, just clicked a link from a Hearthstone commentator on Twitter and it signed me up. Getting that key was A LOT easier than waiting anxiously to get one for Hearthstone back when it was in beta.
The game is currently only on PC and Xbox (and planned to be on PS4). I play it on PC through the GOG Galaxy client, which I have warmed up to after finally using it some via Witcher 3.
Gwent requires two players, each of which has a minimum 25 card deck. There are “factions” of decks that represent factions from the lore. Each faction has its own special ability or quirk. Further, each deck uses a leader card from its faction that can result in yet another unique effect.
Decks are made up of bronze, silver, and gold cards, which also generally correspond to their power level. You are capped on the amount of gold and silver cards you can add to a deck. The cards represent units or spells that are played in the game.
The game itself is pretty straightforward. You can play units or spells — each unit is either melee, ranged, or siege. These three types make up the three rows on the battlefield, and are placed accordingly. Each unit also has a strength value. Add up all the strength values of the units remaining at the end of a round for a score. Beat the opponents score and you win the round. Win two rounds and you win the match. Pretty easy.
The row concept adds an interesting twist. While the rows do not have any inherent differences, some cards will only affect one row, or some effects targeting specific units within a row. Thus, it may pay to have a variety of unit types, or craft a strategy to exploit row buff cards.
Spells generally interact with the unit cards that are played. Some buff the strength of a unit, some deal damage, and some may make copies of units, etc. There are also a slightly more unique category of spells called weather cards, that impose a weather condition on a specific row (for example, torrential rain reduces the strength of all siege units to 1 until it dissipates).
The real strategy comes in with trying to keep a full hand, as there are not too many draw mechanisms, while also maintaining a strong enough board presence to win a round. Most of the units have comes-into-play abilities that buff or damage cards, or synergize with multiple copies of themselves.
The game also borrows from Hearthstone in avoiding any interaction during a player’s turn. In contrast with Magic’s instants and passing of priority, Gwent just gives the player full control during their turn. Further, there is no “attacking” or life totals to keep track of, just the total strength score of all units on your battlefield.
Building a Collection
Given that I have not had much time to really be able to grind just yet, it appears Gwent is also positioned to be generally free to play in the vein of Hearthstone.
Card packs are called kegs and contain random sets of cards. Further, you are able to pick the special card as one of three choices, thus you are not entirely stuck with whatever unique card was in the pack. This gives some player control in trying to pull cards that are new to their collection.
Kegs can be purchased with real money, or through the in-game currency of ore. Ore is collected from winning matches. One interesting mechanic that sets the game apart from Hearthstone (and which Hearthstone may benefit) is that an opponent can give a “good game” after a match and increase the reward. This of course incentives fair and fun play (hopefully).
Again borrowing from Hearthstone, Gwent has material known as scrap that can be used to craft cards. It is given as a reward but can also be collected from scrapping excess copies of cards. It appears to function almost exactly like dust in Hearthstone, and give the ability to get singles instead of cracking packs.
Does it all come together?
The basic premise of Gwent was enough to get me interested to play through multiple games. It’s hard to give full review when the game is currently in beta, but it’s obvious that the game has polish, and that it is borrowing a whole lot from the success of Hearthstone.
The keys going forward will be balance and access to cards. Currently, you can only play causal matches against the AI or ranked matches against human opponents. There are other modes, notably some kind of single-player, but they are not currently accessible. Having even a slightly robust single-player “campaign” would really heighten my interest, and may make it a little less intimidating to newer players.
Balance is always important in strategy games. If one deck is just simply better, it will dominate the metagame, and things will grow stale. Luckily, with digital TCGs, balance can be done in real time without the need of paper TCGs bans and restrictions. Gwent’s balance will only reveal itself when the full population can get a crack at it (although I have run into an overwhelming amount of Monsters faction decks, so perhaps they are currently the strongest at the time of this writing).
The only critical point will be card availability. If the best cards become difficult to obtain, the casual crowd may be pushed away. Hearthstone is wrestling with this problem, where the older cards are no longer obtainable via packs, and must be made from dust. I have no idea how Gwent plans to develop the card pool, but it will go a long way in determining the health of the player base.
Another point that I noticed was that Gwent could use a mobile app version. Starting back to Magic via MTGO has been nice, but I often find myself wanting to play on a tablet or phone, just like Hearthstone. Magic is quite a bit more complicated, so Gwent at least mechanically has the ability to transfer to mobile form.
Gwent has the potential to be a somewhat legitimate digital card game in the sea of new digital TCGs that have arisen to challenge Hearthstone. While I don’t think it will challenge Hearthstone, I think it may rise above the pack as it stands currently. Given its connection to the successful Witcher series, it has a good head start.
Have you played Gwent, either standalone or within Witcher 3? Do you think it will find success? Comment below!