hand of fate 2
“No matter how hard the game is to explain, Hand Of Fate 2 is somehow never confusing to play”
I’ve found myself vaguely dreading the notion of someone asking me what game I’ve got on the go at the moment. “Playing anything good?” Here’s where I’d smile, because I’m playing something very good. “Yes, actually, Hand Of Fate 2!” About here is where I’d begin to realise the ramifications of what I’ve said, and my smile would drop. “Oh yeah, what d’you do in that, then?” It’s at this point that I’d totally lose confidence, because Defiant Development’s second crack at this series is among the most bafflingly convoluted gaming inventions of recent years. Explaining it is a nightmare.
I mean on the most basic level, you could call it a deck-building game. After all, it’s played across a table with an AI character who deals you cards, rewards you with more cards, and asks you to play again with better combinations of cards. But then again, those cards actually represent a dungeon-crawling RPG – some represent locations and encounters, others weapons, or enemy types, or companion characters. But, when you think about it, isn’t this a text adventure at heart? After all, actually playing that RPG is a matter of reading miniaturised stories of fantasy adventure – fighting goblins, looting treasure, taking down evil empires – with twists and turns based on your responses to those situations.
But reaching those card-contained stories scattered on the tabletop? Well that most often comes down to survival game resource management. Have you got enough food to make it to the next town? Do you risk spending your scarce coin on a shiny new weapon when your HP’s so low? But wait, your HP’s only that low because this is also an Arkham- like brawler, occasionally transforming you, your items, and your enemies into muscly little 3D models, and asking you to smash out combos and counters to get through it all. And when you’ve died or finished a campaign? Well then it takes on the form of a roguelike, offering you new ways to play, or special objectives, even as you fundamentally do the same things again. I’m exhausted just thinking about how Defiant pitched this thing in the first place. Practical magic The mad genius at work here is that, no matter how hard it is to explain, Hand Of Fate 2 is somehow never confusing to play. After a short tutorial campaign, you’re immediately thrown into the giddy labyrinth of the game proper, and you’ll have a handle on it immediately. It’s a knotty little thing, performing the time travel trick of truly excellent design by somehow making a bitesize structure into an unbelievable timesink. It looks beautiful, too. It’s very easy to imagine another studio adopting a much more minimal aesthetic and achieving similar results, but Hand Of Fate 2 is frequently gorgeous. The tabletop itself is appealingly tactile, from the wood-cut map you choose campaigns from, to the chunky golden miniature that represents your character. Its battlegrounds are pleasingly varied, and often lit like fantasy novel covers. Best of all, there’s a real childlike magic to seeing a simple card you’ve picked up suddenly transformed into 3D items.
The maxim that ‘less is more’ simply doesn’t apply to Hand Of Fate 2. It’s a generic gumbo, ideas tossed into the pot from any number of disparate sources, each one making the rest more excellent as a result. There is simply nothing else like it. You should play Hand Of Fate 2, too. Maybe just avoid any conversations about it. ■