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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.
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.
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.
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.

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Nathan Meunier

Freelance game journalist for lots of publications, professional nerd, and author of Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide to Video Game Journalism.

Hand of Fate

Hand of Fate

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