Feature Article

Hand of Fate Early Access Review

Adventure is in the cards.

GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

Every step of your journey is determined by the flip of a card in Hand of Fate, a sweet blend of card game and action role-playing game that deals out nerdy pleasures aplenty to match its unpredictable punishment. Not knowing whether your next move will reveal an ambush of skeleton warriors or a secret dungeon filled with loot to aid you in your journey is all part of the fun. Deck building, risk-vs.-reward strategizing, and twitch reflexes collide in this engrossing fantasy game of chance. Hand of Fate is deeply rooted at the intersection of tabletop gaming tradition and Diablo-esque click-brawler action, giving it serious potential to blossom into a major genre itch-scratcher with a little more time under the knife.

Tabletop RPGs--card-based or otherwise--often come with a dizzying set of rules that take time and patience to wrap your brain around. In its current tutorial-less state, Hand of Fate throws you right into the meat of the gameplay without any real guidance, but like any good fantasy card game, its rule system packs necessary depth without being so complex that you can't get a feel for it after a few rounds. Right now, learning as you go poses only a minor speed bump that fades into familiarity once you have a couple of matches behind you.

Hopefully, grammar errors will be repaired in future updates.

You're seated in a dimly lit room across from a mysterious cloaked opponent--who's one part card dealer, one part dungeon master--and each randomly generated adventure you dive into unfolds on the tabletop space between you. Matches begin with the dealer placing cards facedown in different dungeon-like configurations. Every turn you move a small figurine one space across the layouts, stopping to turn over each card you land on and deal with whatever surprise encounters await.

Your overarching mission in every game is to sniff out and defeat the dungeon's boss. Getting to each boss alive with enough strength to survive the encounter is a challenge on its own. Adding another neat wrinkle to the mix, every step you take consumes food, which is a precious resource. Food restores your health a little each move when you have it, but running out causes damage. Ill planning or unfortunate mishaps can lead you to starvation before you even get to the boss. This makes managing your food, and the gold needed to buy it, an important balancing act as you push your way into the unknown.

Unexpected twists and intense battles you stumble into along the way make the journey all the more interesting. The encounters you face run a wide gamut, ranging from traps and combat scenarios to item shops and quests. Most are accompanied by a snippet of narrative and a choice for you to consider. You might be asked to help a stranger in need or decide whether to pursue a treasure-hunting opportunity, for example. Your chances of success in many choice-based encounters rely on picking wisely in three-card-monte-style shuffles. Succeeding can earn you helpful reward cards, though failure forces you to draw pain cards that have negative effects or throw you into combat. The latter is where the game takes a very different turn from its tabletop roots.

Ain't nobody gonna break my stride, except for the Money Bags card.

Engaging in combat drops you into third-person action RPG arena battles against human and monstrous foes alike. Running around these tight but slickly designed map areas, you control a burly warrior who dishes out a clobbering as you click to attack, block, and dodge. It's a great change of pace--both visually and gameplay-wise--that also gives more life to the gameworld you're exploring through the card-based narratives. As far as the fighting goes, it's pretty straightforward stuff. You trade blows, dodge magic and missiles, dish out counterattacks, and flit around the mob trying to take your foes down without getting caught in the melee.

These twitch-heavy brawls are messy, chaotic fun that lasts just long enough to whet your whistle and switch up the tabletop vibe, but they're also one area where Hands of Fate's beta status pokes through at the seams. Combat mechanics are sloppy in spots, and the rigid camera angle offers a sometimes cramped view of the action. If you're not packing more powerful gear when you run into battle, it's also easy to get steamrolled by bosses and larger mobs of enemies. Therefore, the weapons, armor, and buff cards you amass and equip on a given run play a big role in how well you fare when it comes to caving skulls in, and it's the main way to bolster your hero's capabilities as you push toward each boss encounter.

Today is a good day to die.

Modular, ever-evolving gameplay goes a long way to keeping you in the game. Completing quests, defeating bosses, and surviving obstacles unlocks new equipment and encounter cards with every run. You can build out your deck, tweaking the experience each time by selecting the potential range of gear and risky-but-rewarding encounters in any given match. This encourages replay naturally and takes the sting out of getting clobbered in mid-run. I died a lot in my quest to best the realm's boss baddies, and often in horrible ways, but the possibility of a different outcome and my ability to influence it by throwing new cards into the mix spurred me onward.

For the tabletop RGP set, Hand of Fate's appeal is undeniable. This beta is finely tuned to make you want to sit down and test your wits over and over again, even if the game lacks a few finishing touches. Tremendous replay value and skillful execution trump the weaker aspects, and I'm confident that this will be one to watch as it pushes closer to completion.

What's There?

A deep and accessible card-based tabletop game/action RPG hybrid with high replayability.

What's To Come?

The introduction and tutorial are missing in this current beta, though those elements, along with a final boss and updated audio, are planned to be added in for launch. Additional cards and expansions are likely too.

What Does it Cost?

$24.99, available via the Steam store.

When Will it Be Finished?

No specific date yet announced.

What's the Verdict?

Hand of Fate packs all the engagement of a tabletop RPG, but injects some excitement into the mix with action-centric combat sequences and unpredictable encounters. What's here is a blast, even if the game is still missing a few important ingredients.

Written By

Freelance game journalist for lots of publications, professional nerd, and author of Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Fre

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Discussion

22 comments
Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Even at this time of writing, i.e. version 1.2 (Early Access), the game still has some game-breaking bugs (e.g. the still-bugged Wheel of the Gods encounter).

Wait on this, I would say.

Naylord
Naylord

Looks good but I never buy early access games. Look forward to the full release!

Renoo27
Renoo27

Sounds like my kinda game! Looking forward to the full release. 

GGCrew_basic
GGCrew_basic

I see the poor font choice (where "d" looks like "b", so it looks like "Draw 2 Monster Carbs") in the first picture, but I don't see the grammar errors that should "be repaired in future updates."


My first thought was mixed tenses (present tense "cheers" in first half of sentence, and past tense "lead" in second half), but "cheers" and "are" are the verbs that matter, and both are present tense.  You can change both words to "cheered" and "were" to make the sentence past tense.


"The crowd cheers your name as you are lead to your final arena."


Would someone help explain this to me?

edgewalker16
edgewalker16

I could do without the 3rd person arena.  It's almost equivalent to adding multi-player to game that doesn't really need it.  Give me the core tabletop game experience with RPG elements, knock the price down a few bucks, and we're good.

blangenakker
blangenakker

Hey look, an Australian game that doesn't suck.

DigitalDame
DigitalDame moderator moderatorstaff

A review/preview about a CCG that doesn't use MTG as a reference? Shocked.

blueinheaven
blueinheaven

I hate to be pedantic but this isn't a review. Hands-on gameplay with loads of stuff missing and no score is a playable 'preview'. I have to say I'm astonished people are actually paying money to beta test games. There's no cure for stupid I suppose.

zrex2metagor
zrex2metagor

@blueinheaven and yet because people pay money it can/could go towards encouraging the dev to improve on the game, add more features etc? Ofc, there might very well be cases where people just use this practice as a cash grabbing opportuninty, but theres a bad to every good. Its not your money so I dont really get where you get off calling others stupid, so if people wanna pay, let them pay, dont really think its your call or mine to call them stupid. That said, I'm not the type to pay for early access/betas, I prefer spending my hard earned cash on completed games, so I do get your point, just dont support your view on calling others stupid for something that isnt affecting you or which can potentially help improve the game

RossRichard
RossRichard

@blueinheaven Do what I do, don't buy early access games. That is your decision. No need to call the people who choose to do so stupid. Just makes you look like a cockbag.

Freedomination
Freedomination

@blueinheaven You can review pretty much anything. It's a review of the early access, not the final game. So it gets reviewed compared to other early acces games instead of final games. Not really that hard to understand.


I stay away from buying early access as well, so both of us probably read this more as a preview. But it's written for people who might actually buy it in this state

wadedmcginnis
wadedmcginnis

@blueinheaven Perspective is an interesting thing. One is your paying to beta test. The other, you are paying to play a game early. In this case, Hand of Fate is worth playing early :)

blueinheaven
blueinheaven

@RossRichard @blueinheaven Well it is kind of stupid. Publishers started releasing games in a mess when they discovered they could patch them later via the internet and everybody complained about buggy games on release. Now people are paying for betas. What sort of message does that send out?  Obviously I don't have to buy them but I'm entitled to give my opinion on it that's what this comment section is for.


I don't know what a cockbag is so can't comment on whether looking like one is a good thing or a bad thing.

Goron24
Goron24

@Freedomination @blueinheaven A review of early access is actually very helpful in my opinion. I mean if you buy a product blindly you could potentially get burned. Gamespot is saying in its current state is it worth purchasing. 


I am a big believer in if you are giving people access to play it in exchange for money it damn well better be able to be reviewed.

blueinheaven
blueinheaven

@wadedmcginnis @blueinheaven It's still a very dodgy practice. Not my call obviously if it's worth people's money to play a beta but it's open to abuse in a million ways. No reflection on the game being discussed here I haven't played it I just find the whole early access thing really weird.

B0NES96
B0NES96

@blueinheaven @wadedmcginnis So first you call the people who pay for early access stupid and then you say it's not your call to judge whether it's worth people's money. Who's the stupid one, I wonder?

kezz12345678
kezz12345678

@B0NES96 @blueinheaven @wadedmcginnis You are obviously.  But I have 140IQ and a career...I suppose that makes me a genius around here. 

Lets see, one one side you have company reducing costs because you replace the need for hiring many beta testers.   Wait...you also give them money to do it.   So you gain: playtime on an unfinished product with no right to complain.  You lose, money and time. 

They get: Money and less spendings and lose...????

in any business, you are getting the royal shaft in any paid pre-release.   Get a job, there is such a thing as fun work. Go study or even work for charities...at the end, you get rewarded in all these cases, not in your pre-release. 

 

blueinheaven
blueinheaven

@B0NES96 @blueinheaven @wadedmcginnis The fact it's not up to me how they spend their money is completely irrelevant to the fact I consider it a stupid thing to do.


You asked me who's the stupid one. Read your own comment as many times as it takes for you to figure it out.