Title: Hand of Fate
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
Platform: PC (Steam)
Rating: NR (Not Rated … yet)
Release Date: July 7, 2014 (Still in Beta)
This year, PAX East had many, many indie games on display. I watched the videos for almost all of them and listened to Jerry Holkins talk my ear off about them. The one that came to both of our attention was a particular card-driven game with a unique RPG twist called Hand of Fate by Defiant Development. The game and its concept were so impressive that it was part of the Megabooth.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of getting it at half-off on Steam for the PC. I have played it, and I am not disappointed. In fact, I want to KEEP playing it for some time to come.
The game and story are somewhat simplistic – you are the Player, having come to try your hand at the Game. Our Narrator and Dealer is a mysterious, cloaked man who can not only shuffle the cards impressively, but he can make them float in mid-air. He has sculpted these cards carefully over the years, each near and dear to his heart. They represent the objects, events and individuals of the World, each waiting to be found, each waiting to be conquered. As you play, you will win these cards and wield them to overcome more of his challenges until you win the Game. You are telling a story through cards, entertaining yourself through your very own Hubris.
The sound, graphics and art are all very nicely done. The cards themselves look ancient, with simple symbols and names. You feel compelled to own all of them, since they are wonderful tools being used to tell the larger story going on in whatever world Hand of Fate takes place in. That’s also the beauty of the game – there is no concrete setting, no defining back story. Instead, this entire game could take place in just about any fantasy setting, and be about any human mortal anywhere. You control a pawn – a nondescript person who you know nothing about. That pawn can succeed a hundred times and then die, but you will pick up with a new pawn, possessing the same cards. It makes you wonder who you really are, and who the Dealer really is.
Are you playing with the destiny of mortals? Maybe.
There are two modes – Story Mode, and Endless Mode. Story mode takes you through the cards revealed in the Dealer’s cabinet, earning you strange rewards as you go. Endless mode is just that – no pauses, no breaks. Your pawn goes as far as you can take him, until he dies. Endless mode is more about testing decks and seeing how long you can play the game successfully. Story mode is more about the fantastic Game, and your progress in beating every carefully laid test of the Dealer.
You build your Decks at the start of every Game. One deck is your Equipment/Treasure deck. It will be the deck you draw from when you are dealt an Equipment reward card from the Dealer. It includes weapons, armor and artifacts. You must carefully chose what to put in this deck, because too many different cards means you have less chance of getting a card you want. You must always meet the minimum amount of cards before you can play. You may inspect cards you have already used to find out more about them, as well.
The second deck is the Encounter Deck. The Dealer uses cards from this deck to build the Game Board for your pawn to move around on. Each card represents a special event. It may be a tomb. Or a tower. Or an ambush. Of course, when you beat an encounter completely for the first time, you get a token (see more about tokens later) from the Dealer. He will offer them, and sometimes you can just avoid the encounter all together (but lose the chance of earning the token that Game). Again, you can chose the cards for this round, but you must always choose a minimum. I find that balancing a little new with a little old is a winning combo.
Once you have your decks, you move on to the Game. The Dealer shuffles all the decks, includign yours, and then deals the cards to make the first Board. Your pawn is placed at the start, with 100 Life, 10 Food, no Gold and his starting Equipment (a weapon and light armor). You click on a card to move the pawn onto it, and the card is flipped to reveal the encounter. You might have to make a decision, but most encounters include fighting monsters to complete. Once you conquer the card, it is considered done and your pawn consumes one Food.
This is important – with each move, the pawn will eat one Food. If he runs out of Food, he will take damage until he dies. This can weaken you in fights. If you are already weakened and you take your last damage from starvation, you die. You must always keep an eye on you Food count, and try to make it go up. This means you cannot always avoid every encounter, since rewards from completing encounters often include Food (and Gold needed to buy Food). It’s a tricky way of making you decide carefully on whether to take the option to avoid an encounter or not. Food may also affect whether you spend more time wandering around a large board and not head to the next level or to the boss monster.
You also heal after every move. It’s a measly five points at first, until you get better gear and win Dealer items. I would not suggest relying on that as your only healing method. There will be countless merchants and priests on the road selling Food, Health and Equipment for Gold. Sell extra items you don’t want to get a few Gold. Again, you’ll want to dive into encounters to get Gold, since you use Gold later on to save your pawn’s life.
Combat encounters are a little trickier. The Dealer draws from his decks a number of monster cards. He reveals them – each card has a Suit and a Number. The Suit often defines what kind of monster you are fighting. The Number is how many the card summons into a group to fight. So drawing a two of clubs and a four of clubs would result in six bandits (one group of two, one group of four). The action zooms into the world, where the cards are placed showing their spawning points, and your pawn dons all the gear one piece at a time so you can see what you have to work with.
You can use a controller, or the keyboard and mouse. If you go the keyboard/mouse combo, you push the WASD keys to move, the Q button to dodge/counter, and the 2 key to activate any artifacts you may have. The fighting portion is a little tricky, and gets more difficult with more monsters and things happening. At first, you are merely smashing/chopping/slicing bad guys to death. Then you can dodge/block attacks with shields. And then the enemies have ranged weapons that require using a combo of dodging and using a shield, while fighting. Shortly after that, the Dealer adds in traps and other things that can hurt or slow you down. Of course, you might have equipment that does massive damage or slows the enemies down, as well. Every concept and puzzles is built upon in Story mode, allowing you to learn slowly while keeping things interesting. The Dealer has a lot of tricks up his cloak sleeves.
Every fight and successful encounter has two possible rewards. The first is the basic rewards from the Dealer’s own deck. He will draw a number of reward cards equal to what you deserve for victory, and reveal them one at a time. You can win Gold, Health, Food and a draw from your Equipment/Treasure deck. Every draw from your deck means your pawn gets better at fighting/winning encounters, if you built your deck right.
The other reward is a token. Tokens are great, since they give you access to more cards. This is the ONLY way to win more cards. You are always guaranteed to get two tokens for beating a boss card the first time. You can win more tokens by being more daring during the Game, taking on challenges the Dealer presents. He will offer the tokens before each decision, to entice you to accept his challenge. It’s a fun way to reveal more cards and get more cards to use. Sometimes, though, the cost for a token is too much at this stage, and you’ll just have to wait until later to try for it.
The game’s mechanics are simple but enjoyable. The graphics are dark and brooding, which feels right since you are sitting at a table playing a Game with Fate. Flickering candles, tokens in bowls, cards that move themselves, a box, aging decks, even a cabinet where the Dealer holds his special boss and reward cards. All these things add to the mood and atmosphere of the Hand of Fate. The music is nice, but can get repetitive. It is a beta, so I expect changes to come, possibly more bosses and stories. I’d settle for new music and more special effects, as well. Although those are not game-killers by any sense.
If you enjoy weird role-playing games that don’t focus on constant grinding and tons of dialogue, you’ll like this game. It also lacks any world depth and character stories – but that is the point of this game. You are moving a mortal around the world, doing random adventures to try and beat evil boss figures. The pawns die often, but your keep your cards. I felt bad for the pawns, but I was relieved I don’t get attached to them since they have no depth, no names. All that matters is the cards and how you – the Player – choose to use them. The pawns are inconsequential, as are the faceless bad guys you slaughter on the way to defeating major evils.
The Dealer does offer narrative as you play, including scolding lessons and words of wisdom. Is he Fate, or a God? Who knows. He runs the Game, and you’d do well to heed his words if you want to win. Or don’t, and lose.
Again this game is in beta, available for $25 on Steam. It was on sale when I got it, and most likely, it will be on sale again. If you want something different, I highly suggest trying it. It is a light, fun game with a lot of atmosphere and re-playability. I get mesmerized watching the cloaked fellow move the cards in intricate, deliberate patterns while listening to his soothing voice and eerie music. It belies a complex, difficult challenge that only makes me want to play it over and over again.
Come try your Hand, Player. Let’s see what you are made of.
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug. He has played every generation of video game console (including the Magnavox Odyssey)