GWENT : THE WITCHER CARD GAME
Slay your cards right
You might think yourself a Gwent pro. You toured The Witcher3’ s lands, rinsing barmen of precious playing cards. You happily gambled a king’s ransom on the luck of the draw (and a sneaky save file five minutes earlier). Maybe you even ramped up the minigame’s difficulty to see your deck take the strain of aggressive AI. Well, it was for nothing: Your first few hours in the standalone game will be spent red-faced and dumbstruck.
This is not your father’s Gwent. In its original form, the biggest hand basically won the day, forcing an overreliance on spies who drew extra units from your larger deck. These cards still exist, largely as part of the shady Nilfgaard faction, but they exist in a vast ecosystem of mechanics that make it hard to spam cheap tricks. There are monsters who feast on the dead, berserkers who find strength in pain, and armies of men that endlessly swell as reinforcements storm the battlefield.
Gwent is heaving with ideas, then; almost too many to deal with. When cards require an extensive on-screen glossary to explain the description already printed on them, you know you’re a little beyond Uno. Even with dictionary definitions to hand, it’s often hard to visualize what those powers mean for the flow of battle without wading in, throwing them down, and making horrible mistakes. Newcomers may bounce off Gwent like a blade off a Quen shield (an analogy it would take several glossary entries to fully explain).
Which would be a shame, as that initial din disguises an elegant game of brinkmanship. You both have ten cards to place on the board and contribute to overall army power. The highest power at the end of a round wins. But! Because it’s a best of three, you need to win round one without exhausting your hand. Sometimes it’s a race to the lead so your rival burns their deck playing catch-up; other times it’s a bloody slog where you play everything and pray to the gods for one killer card at the start of round two.
Basics are explained in clear tutorials, pleasingly hosted by Geralt and Ciri. The inclusion of Witcher3’ s voice actors extends its blockbuster sheen to Gwent and has us excited for the paid story expansions coming with the final game. At the moment, this is the free-to-play multiplayer core, but one that doesn’t ambush your wallet like a Novigrad thug. Factions have enough cards to build your decks in new directions, with optional challenges to unlock high-powered leaders, and a steady flow of ore, needed to buy card kegs.
Spend time learning the moving parts, and you’ll discover one of the most varied card games around (and definitely the best on Xbox One). At the very least, the chaos of its infancy guarantees you meet new strategies in every match; the community has yet to boil the game down to unbeatable decks. Hell, even our favored deck of 26 cards tells a different tale every game: One match we overwhelm with cloned units, another they pat each other on the back with endless buffs. If we’re really lucky, we get to rain down comets and watch the other dude squirm. For now, no one is a Gwent pro, and it’s a thrilling proposition. n
“We get to rain down comets and watch the other dude squirm”
Each pack of cards tells a different story every time.