Hand of Fate is amazing.
It seems I need to write more to fill my contractual obligation to the magazine, so here goes. Hand of Fate is a game that seems to have achieved the impossible task of successfully blending the genres of Roguelike, Deck Building, RPG, and Action Combat. Typically, I tire quickly of digital deck building games as the physical experience of rifling through cards constitutes so much of the satisfaction for me. There's something to be said for tangible media, but I'm also one of those weirdos who still buys literature that's been scribbled onto dead trees, so call me old-fashioned. The reason I mention all of this, though is Hand of Fate has done what I always felt was missing from other card-based video games, which is mash in other non-physical systems.
You see, when playing Hand of Fate, you sit across from the Dealer, who doubles as the DM/ GM you would have in a tabletop RPG experience. In addition to shuffling and flipping cards, he also narrates your adventures. Even this small addition helps to make an adventure in HoF feels like a much more personal experience. Anyone who has played Bastion will know the feeling of immersion that accompanies the narration of seemingly mundane events and how much it can improve enjoyment.
The adventures themselves play out similar to a traditional Roguelike, as there's certainly no guarantee you'll survive the experience, and death is failure. The twist, though, is the adventure is arranged as a series of adjoined cards that are kept face-down until the player navigates over them. Even though the player has chosen many of the cards that can be used within the dungeon, there's no guarantee which order they'll appear, or where the adventure-specific dealer cards will fall. Each step consumes food, and if not enough is found or purchased when available, it can dictate a shorter, more direct route through an adventure, rather than a longer and potentially more rewarding one that may help to better equip the player for the inevitable boss battle that marks the adventure's victory condition.
The dungeon cards themselves range from simple chance-based interactions, to challenge-based events, to actual combat. Here's where I struggled with Hand of Fate at first. The combat takes place in an actual 3D battle area, which is a great idea, but it's not actually very fun. It feels similar to the combat in Assassin's Creed, where mastering the ability to dodge or block (assuming you've found a shield in your adventures) can render most battles a breeze. What I realized after a few hours with the game, though, is that the battles are intentionally easy. You see, the enemies you face in a battle are determined by randomly drawn cards which dictate their type and number, and barring poor equipment or getting blocked against a wall, should be simple. Rather than being some grand event, the battles are meant to be a more interesting version of a dice roll, where the odds are in your favour, though skill and chance have equal influence on the result. By that definition, I think this system is brilliantly integrated, and adds a refreshing break in the pace of adventures.
My only two complaints about Hand of Fate are that there's no co-op to enjoy with a friend, and that there's no physical card version of it for me to play at home like a cooler version of your grandfather playing Solitaire at the kitchen table. Beyond that, the adventure progressed to brutally challenging over the course of the game, in spite of my best deck-rigging attempts, the mechanic by which new cards are unlocked through the completion of the events in old cards encourages you to try every new card you receive. Most importantly, no part of the game, despite the reliance on chance, has left me feeling like I wasn't in control of the experience. Whether you're sitting down for a quick coffee break adventure, or an all-night binge, Hand of Fate delivers in spades.