Fans of The Witcher III will instantly recognise the name Gwent, the strategic (and hilariously imbalanced) card game that you play against various NPCs in the game. If you have not played The Witcher series, Gwent is a digital card game (much like Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra) that is available on PC and iOS, and was recently made available on Android devices. It is made by CD Projekt Red, one of the nicest development studios around.
In Gwent, players take turns placing cards in two separate rows – melee and ranged. All cards have a numerical power value, and at the end of a round (after both players have exhausted their hands or passed), the player with the highest power total wins. Many cards do things when they enter play, such as damaging an opponent’s card or creating some kind of persistent weather effect that affects an entire row for a few turns, keeping things spicy and exciting. Players will play over three rounds, and the winner is the player who won the most rounds.
I’m a big fan of card games, having played Magic the Gathering competitively and spending way too many hours on Hearthstone, Shadowverse, Legends of Runeterra etc. With that said, I can affirm without a doubt that Gwent is the best card game to play digitally. Here are three reasons why.
1. There is (almost) No Praying to RNGesus
If you’ve played a lot of Hearthstone, you’ll know the frustrating feeling of having your Boom Bots or Magic Missiles hit the wrong target, or the opponent drawing a lucky Reno at the last moment to turn the match around. While randomness is a vital element of card games, but too much randomness can make you feel like your actual play skill doesn’t matter much.
Gwent eliminates a lot of randomness, making good timing and good situational assessment key to winning. Luck of the draw is highly mitigated by the mulligan system and having a deck of only 20 cards. There are also ‘tutor’ cards that let you search your deck for a specific card to help mitigate this even further. 99% of the special abilities in the game are targetted, so there isn’t some coin flip to see if you hit the right target.
This skill factor is further compounded by the 3-round gameplay nature of Gwent. You see, instead of drawing a card every turn like most traditional card games, in Gwent you will draw a starting hand of 10 cards and only draw three cards at the start of each new round. This means there is an incentive to try to make it to round 3 with more cards than your opponent. For example, let’s say you have 60 points on board but your opponent only has 52. You could pass the round, and force your opponent to play more cards to catch up to you in points. This will mean that he would be playing rounds 2 and 3 with less cards than you! There’s just so much depth to the gameplay than just playing cards that do stuff, and you’ll never feel like you lost because your opponent ‘lucked out’.
2. It is Free-to-Play Friendly
A lot of games nowadays are purportedly ‘free-to-play’, but most of them are anything but if. In my experience, I am guilty of spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on ‘free-to-play’ games.
Gwent, you may be happy to know, is a true free-to-play game that rewards you for playing. First-off, let’s talk about the balance. There are six playable factions in the game – Monsters, Skellige, Northern Realms, Nilfgaard, Syndicate, and Scoia’tael. Each of these factions have a unique playstyle – Nilfgaard plays like a true control deck that attempts to stop the opponent from executing his plans, while Monsters eat their allies to build gigantic monstrosities that will dominate the battlefield. The wonderful news is that all the factions are balanced and perfectly viable, so you can just pick one and dedicate all your resources to building the best deck for that faction. Of course there is always some kind of meta – such as Syndicate Hidden Cache being a little too strong recently, but you’ll never feel that a high-tier deck is unbeatable.
This is because inherently, the cards have a balancing mechanic built into them. There are two kinds of cards in the game – Bronze-bordered and Gold-bordered. Bronze cards are slightly weaker than gold cards, but you may only include a single copy of a gold card in your deck. Based on the faction and special power you chose, each deck has a certain number of ‘provisions’, which dictates the power-level of cards you can include in your deck. A powerful Gold-bordered unit would take about 11-13 provisions, while a lowly bronze soldier would take about 4-5. You also have a minimum of 25 cards you’ll need to make a deck legal. This means, given the provision limit, everyone’s decks would be a nice mix of gold and bronze cards! You’ll never feel like an opponent’s deck is unbeatable, only that you lost because he was a better player.
As a cherry on top, when you first start playing Gwent, you’ll begin with a collection of cards that will allow you to build decks for every single faction. Given the low power-disparity between cards with the same borders and the provision requirements, you can make it to the highest tier of plays with just those starter cards if you’re skilled enough.
Finally, CD Projeckt Red recently made a Journey system that gives you cosmetic rewards and cards just for playing the game, which makes things even better for an already free-to-play friendly game.
3. It’s a Beautiful Game
Confession time – I have never played a single Witcher game. Yet, the art and lore of Gwent made me incredibly invested in The Witcher’s world and characters. I found myself fascinated with Geralt’s adventures and the many foes and NPCs he encountered. Each card is lovingly crafted with full voice lines and animations, and really brings out the flavor of The Witcher’s expansive world.
The graphics are amazing as well. Weather effects, card boosts, your leader’s animations are all beautiful and spectacular to behold. The game really makes you feel like each of your actions are impactful and powerful. And all this being playable on a mobile phone to boot!