“I win, but it’s a hol­low vic­tory”



I’ve been keep­ing tabs on Gwent by watch­ing Gwent Masters—a year-long se­ries of tour­na­ments to de­ter­mine who’s the best in the world at turn-based fan­tasy card war­fare. It’s a bit in­tim­i­dat­ing. I was pretty good at The Witcher 3’ s ver­sion of Gwent. It was a sim­ple game in which you tried to earn the most points by play­ing spy cards un­til your op­po­nent couldn’t win. That, it seems, was con­sid­ered un­sport­ing for com­pet­i­tive play, and so in the stand­alone Gwent, spies were nerfed. Then, ev­ery card was re­made and the rules were changed. Now, pro play­ers do ab­surd things I don’t un­der­stand—con­struct­ing elab­o­rate decks for a small ad­van­tage.

While I’ll never be at that level, watch­ing pros has armed me with a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of how to play this ver­sion. It’s cru­cial to know when to pass, for in­stance. In a best-of-three, how many cards you have left is cru­cial. Even a lost round can be ad­van­ta­geous if it means your op­po­nent has fewer cards.

I fig­ure it’s time to put this knowl­edge into prac­tice, and fa­mil­iar­ize my­self with this ver­sion of the game ahead of Throne­breaker, the stand­alone sin­gle­player cam­paign due out late-Oc­to­ber. Un­for­tu­nately, the decks I’ve seen re­quire cards I don’t own. For­tu­nately, I find an op­tion to play sin­gle­player chal­lenges us­ing pre­built decks. This feels like a good way to learn the ba­sics.

Heart of the cards

Chal­lenges re­veal the gulf be­tween watch­ing and do­ing. In my first at­tempt, I win the first round against the AI, but some­how go down by two cards. This is the ex­act thing I was try­ing to avoid. Against a com­pe­tent op­po­nent, I’d be at a huge dis­ad­van­tage. Luck­ily for me, the AI is not a com­pe­tent op­po­nent. By fig­ur­ing out some ba­sic com­bos, I’ve built a sig­nif­i­cant point lead by the time I run out of cards.

The AI has two re­main­ing cards, but both are dead—de­signed for spe­cific sit­u­a­tions that aren’t ap­pli­ca­ble to the cur­rent board. I win, but it’s a hol­low vic­tory. I have learnt noth­ing. But even a hol­low vic­tory is en­joy­able when you don’t know what you’re do­ing. Bring on the singe­player cam­paign.

I’ve def­i­nitely got this. (I think.)

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