How about a nice game of cards? I was drawn to Hand Of Fate, Defiant Development‘s latest Kickstarted opus, on the promise that it combined interesting deck-building card game mechanics with the ability to punch people like Batman does. I was not drawn to Hand Of Fate on any accidental similarity to Manos: The Hands of Fate, either the movie or the apparently lovely Android tie-in, as my lawyer advises me any overlap between the two properties is probably legally entirely incidental. Legally incidental. So don’t even think about going there, other lawyers. Legal Steve over there can beat all of you. Undisputed World Lawyering Federation heavyweight champion, right there. Don’t make us go habeas corpus on your asses.
Anyway: Hand Of Fate, which is in no way a secret training module for the ancient art of law-wrasslin’. It looks rad. What more reason do I normally need?
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, medium.)
(Game source: Bought it myself. No, I didn’t back this on Kickstarter.)
Hand Of Fate, then. Better grab my controller. Somehow, I sense it’ll be needed.
I hit the button, and the title screen fades out to reveal a card. A floating card? ‘Final Journey’, it reads. And as I take it in, a calm male voice starts talking.
The card slowly tips backward, then floats off into the distance. And as the camera follows suit, more and more cards start flying in from just beyond my back. The Maiden, The Shield, The Winding Trail. The two of Dust, the three of Dust, the Jack of Dust. And all the while, the voice keeps talking. “You have passed the first of the gates. And now you come to play the game of life, and death. Your stake is wagered… and I refuse none who come to my table.”
I think that’s what he says, at least. Man, I wish this game had subtitles.
The swirling cards fade, and I find myself at a table, opposite the mystery voice. And just for a moment, I am genuinely taken aback. Is that… is that me?
I mean, sure, he looks older than how I usually see myself. More wrinkled, too. I can’t see his hair colour under that hood, if he even has hair. And the lack of glowing eyes is probably the single biggest point of contention. But still… you have to admit, the resemblance is uncanny.
Not-Jarenth The Card Master tries, one last time, to send me off. Then, he waves his hand… and all his cards, every pile at once, lifts off the table, and starts swirling between us like a cardboard magic gyroscope.
And when I hit the button again… the cards fold in on themselves again. One neat stack, in the middle of the table.
“The game begins”, the Card Master speaks. “One lives, and one dies. Let us see what you are made of.”
Ho hum. Normally, I spend this opening section of the review talking about options and setups and whatnot. But it looks like Hand Of Fate is just launching into the first match. And you know what? I’m actually pretty down with that! Everything looks pretty alright at first glance, and the mystery floating cards setup was good enough to get me emotionally invested in this with nary an FOV slider in sight.
So yeah. Deal ’em up, cards-man! I have no idea what game we’re playing or how to operate anything, but let’s not pretend that matters. You are going down.
Seriously though, could you explain what we’re doing real quick?
“Here is the first member of my court. The Jack of Dust. Twelve in all must fall before you may challenge me.” Okay, that… I guess that spells out the long-term a little more clearly, so thanks for that. Apparently I want to challenge you, then? You know my motivations better than I do at this point. But how I do take on… this card guy? Do I just… grab it, and rip it up? Is that what we’re doing?
No: no, obviously, that’s not what we’re doing. Rather, what we’re doing instead is sorting cards. Master Card-Renth grabs his pile of cards, and — using fancy magic telekinetics — sorts them into colour-coded piles. A green pile, a yellow pile, a red pile, a brown pile. Three layers of cards open on the table; one becomes a red pile on my end of the table, one a white pile, and the third joins his side again as dark yellow.
Another wave of the hands, and five of the white cards from my side are laid out in a staircase pattern. The one closest to me flips open, and a golden figurine appears on it. And with that, it seems, the game is really afoot.
So. What is it I can actually do?… Card Master is relatively silent on the issue.
I decide to press the buttons that appear in the ribbon below the screen, from left to right. The Back button opens the inventory screen, which- hello.
My avatar looks nothing like the kind of guy I’d expect to sit down for a fancy life-determining game of cards. But hey, looks can be deceiving!
Anyway: the inventory screen tells me very little at this point. Apparently I am wearing Light Armor, and carrying an Axe. Into a card game, yes. I have 100 Health, 20 Food, 0 Gold, and I am an Adventurer. None of this makes any inherent sense to me. Let’s return to this later.
Back on the main screen, I try wiggling the analog stick a little. It turns out that I can select a few of the cards lying on the table. Two, in fact: the open one the figurine is currently standing on, and the closed one directly adjacent. Suppose I can’t go anywhere else just yet?…
I hit the A button. The figurine — my figurine — hops from its current card home to the new card. Which flies up and flips open, to reveal… ‘Mister Lionel’.
Sidling off to the side, the card makes room for accompanying flavour text. “Whilst enjoying your evening meal at the local tavern…” Here, I’ll let you read it for yourself.
“If you give me what I need, boy, I will conjure up your heart’s desire with this wizarding wand of my own creation!” Well, doesn’t that sound convincing. I flip the text to the third page, only to find a set of Choices Four.
What to do, what to do… I don’t have the gold to pay off Mister Lionel, I’m not prepared to ignore this mad goblin, and I like bread. But when I ask him what it is he needs…
“I need to help you! Here, have a shield!”
Card Master looks a little upset with this outcome. I guess he’d prefer me to go shield-less? But as far as I’m concerned, this was more or less an unmitigated success: I got a shield, I got rid of an accosting goblin, and I still have my bread! Guys: I really like bread.
Alright, second card! I take another step. And in doing so, eat one of my 20 Food. Travelling the cards, it seems, is hungry work.
This time, I encounter… an Elf maiden! Another kind and friendly encounter, much to the dealer’s chagrin. The maiden and her unicorn offer me health, gold, or food. And since my health seems to be full, and I don’t quite know what gold is good for…
The maiden card instructs the dealer to ‘draw 2 Food Gain Cards’. In response, the dealer flips open some of his blue cards, the pile closest to me. Every card that doesn’t hold Food is ignored outright, so that I eventually end up with two Food-boosting bonuses. Four food in total. Thanks, Mereth! You’re a pal.
On the third card, my travels take me through a Twisting Canyon. But what’s this? A glint in the depths reveals a weapon at the canyon’s bottom! Should I try to climb down and get it? Or ignore it outright, and not risk my health over shiny trinkets? Ha, as if.
Climbing down the canyon is a risky venture. In Hand Of Fate, this is represented by Chance Cards. Four cards are selected: for this particular gamble, three cards are Success, while one card is Failure. Then, the cards are shuffled, face-down, and I have to select one of them.
I breathe in, then out. I select… I’m feeling number three today, baby! And…
For my efforts, I receive an Axe. It deals 25 damage, somehow, and that makes it better than my current Rusty Axe. Do I want to equip this axe? Yes, game, I do believe I want that, thank you very much.
The last card in the lineup reveals a stairwell. Of course it would. Did I think the game would be over that soon, the Card Master sneers? I choose to descend down the stairs, and the current board of cards is swept clean — to make room for a new set of five.
I hope everything’ll keep coming up Jarenth on *this* board as well… But my gut tells me this second tutorial board will probably not be as ubiquitously friendly as the first.
I hate it when my gut is right.
Alright, time to fight monsters! The dealer draws a card, the Two of Dust, which apparently means Bandits. They try to threaten me into giving them all my gold! Except I don’t have any gold… and they, being ‘good muggers’, obviously don’t accept that Oldest Of Excuses. Looks like I’ll get to try out my new non-rusty Axe sooner than expected.
The screen fades to black as combat is prepared. And then, it fades back in… to a scenic, fully-rendered 3D river side. Wait, what?
Cards fly into the undergrowth. On my side, my Light Armor card resolves into me. My Axe and Shield fly in later, arming me for the battle ahead. On the other side, two bandits crawl up from the ground — no, literally — at the spot the Two Of Dust lands.
I guess I’m… I guess I’m actually fighting, then?
It becomes very clear, very quickly, that Hand Of Fate subscribes almost entirely to the Arkham Games school of combat. I run up to and around enemies with the left analog stick, roll with A, and swing my axe with X. Occasionally, the bandits try to attack back… but hitting Y when I see the clearly indicated An Attack Is Coming icon launches me into a counter. Or if that’s not my jam, I can ‘shield bash’ with B, temporarily stunning them. There’s even a combo length meter in the lower left. I keep waiting for a chance to throw batarangs.
Given that I have complete awareness of every attack and counter-attack ever, the two-versus-one combat isn’t quite as dangerous as it seems. In a single uninterrupted string of fourteen strikes, I kill both bandits. They flop over as they die, ragdolling into the lovingly detailed terrain just moments before it fades out of existence.
For my violent, murderous victory, I’m rewarded with three Gain cards! This seems to indicate all-purpose draws from the Good Things Happen To Me deck, that earlier provided me with bonus Food. This time, I get… more Food, even more Food, and a sword card. It deals less damage than my axe, and seems inferior all-around. Yay!
The card immediately after is more combat. Driving the point home, I take it.
And the card after that… is actually a shop. Oh. Had I gained or found any Gold at this point, I could use this gold to buy items and Food. I didn’t, so I can’t, but it’s still nice to window shop. Gaze at the Me That Could Have Been.
Finally, I reach the last card on the second board. Another staircase? No, my encounter now is none other than the Jack of Dust himself. The leader of the local bandits, stronger and tougher than any I’ve encountered before, taking down this imposing gentleman is apparently my goal for the day.
The Jack and his three bandit henchmen attack me in sun-scorched desert ruins. The Jack is genuinely stronger than most bandits: every now and again, his powered-up attacks cannot be countered, as indicated by a red icon instead of a green one. Of course, they can still be dodged… and very quickly, my infinite dodge rolls and stunning shield bashes prove too much for the sad bandit boss. He falls, and I take his burning card for myself.
The Card Master grudgingly congratulates me. ‘Good job beating number one out of twelve’. For my victory, he rewards me with magical tokens, which split apart to reveal new cards. New weapons, armors, and abilities… but also new encounters, dangers, and bosses. The Jack of Skulls is next, I take it. And it is loaded for bear.
The Jack of Skulls waits for me in the next deck of cards. Will I be able to bring this Jack down as well? There’s only two ways to find out; for me, to play this battle out, and for you, to move over to the next page. See you again when I’m victorious forever!