I'll come out and say it - I'm a sucker for a good card game. I was super into Magic the Gathering and spend hours hunting down new card games to play. Hand of Fate came out of nowhere for me, being a free Xbox One game for gold in February, and was I happy as soon as I started playing.
Hand of Fate is a hybrid deck-building card game and 3rd person reactive combat (like the combat found in the Batman Arkham series). Better still, Hand of Fate is a roguelite, where just like a deck of cards, depending on the shuffle, you can play a completely different game.
You play as another 'nameless protagonist', in a card game against 'The Dealer', who I mean really looks a lot like Death. In each round, 'The Dealer' pits you against one of his leaders, whom you must find via traversing dungeons. On the bottom floor, the boss waits for you, in classic DnD style. Win, and you'll progress to fighting another boss. Keep on winning and you'll eventually challenge the dealer himself.
Gameplay is separated into three distinct phases - building your encounter deck, exploring the dungeon, and combats. During the deck-building phase, you prepare your two decks for the dungeon, choosing what encounters you face and what equipment you can find. Choosing the right weapons and encounters is based entirely around your play style, do you pick card you know you can rely on to have a consistent effect or do you choose a card where you have a chance for a huge success or a huge failure? This system lets you choose how you play the game and has a good amount of depth to it.
The next phase of the game is dungeon exploration. Remember all of the encounter cards that you chose for your deck? Well those cards are dealt out as tiles, which your character moves between on each turn. When you land on a new card, it is flipped over and the encounter is played out. Each time you play the layout is different so some cards that are fantastic early are terrible in the end game. You also have a food meter during this phase of the game, each time you move that meter reducing by 1. Once it reaches 0 your health will continue to go down until you die. This phase is what you will see the most of, the narrative unfolding from each card, presenting you with choices and chance. Speaking of the narrative, this game has some of the richest world-building that I have encountered in a game that doesn't flat out explain the world to you. It masterfully crafts the environment and the feeling, you fill in the blanks.
The last phase of the game is the combat. When you face an encounter that has you fight enemies, the game changes to a third-person perspective putting you in full control of your character. From there, combat flows in an action-reaction system that was perfected by the Batman Arkham series. Attack, wait for a counter attack and keep your combo going. What the game does do nicely though is the inclusion of relics, special items that have a limited use, and weapon abilities. These allow you to get yourself out of tight situations or you can just use them to decimate the enemy. The combat is a bit stickier than I would have liked, but otherwise does well considering everything that the game does.
The Best Parts
What the game does best, by far, is the story that it tells. Narrated (with snark) by the Dealer, the story is enhanced greatly by the commentary that grows the world. Just like Bastion, the Dealer fits into the game perfectly and makes the game much better than it would be without him. Beyond the dealer's commentary, the cards themselves flesh out a rich fantasy world that has it's own rules and will catch you by surprise. While the deck-building and combat are good, there are made into a cohesive game through the story world, without which it would be a much worse game.
Recommendation: Play It.
Hand of Fate is available on Steam for $24.99 or on the Xbox One and PS4
A game designer, producer, production designer, writer and editor, Jason has dipped his toes into many creative fields, perhaps too many. He lives in Toronto, writing, making games and thinking about dogs. Follows Jason on Twitter at @jwestonwong.