Backlog Slog – Hand of Fate

The backlog slog is always ongoing. It’s a slow process, but I won’t lie, it’s a fun one. Today’s entry comes from the depths of my embarrassingly large Steam library. A game that was purchased at some point, perhaps in a bundle, perhaps individually due to a really good sale, it’s a mystery. As I’m sure are most Steam libraries measuring in the hundreds. Regardless, it turned out to be one of the better mystery purchases.

Hand of Fate comes to us from Australian developer, Defiant Development and was released in 2015 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Australia is notoriously good at producing really good indie games and this is no exception, throwing something interesting to the mix of card games, RPG’s and RPG card games. It’s a strange hybrid and I’m still not entirely sure how to categorize it. Rogue-like elements, deck building, RPG elements… At first I thought, hey! This is pretty confusing. What if there’s too much here for the average player?

That was all of the first half hour before I realized, that’s not the case at all. Hand of Fate is very careful to introduce mechanics to you slowly and thoroughly. The premise of the game is you, a traveler, have wound up at the table of a mysterious Dealer. Said Dealer wants to play a card game with you. Deal you a hand, so to speak. Which will decide your fate. It all comes together, there’s really nothing incredibly in depth in regards to the main story, though there are little world building tidbits here and there.

And so, the Dealer deals your hand, which as previously described, is one of fate, and the game begins. Your cards will include equipment like swords and shields, monster encounters, story encounters, all the kinds of things you’d find in a dungeon crawler. Just in card form. The Dealer also has his own cards which come into play. Curses, things to make your life harder, bosses, unpleasantness with maybe a few interesting spanners in the works. The game also allows players to build their own decks once they have enough cards, putting in preferred pieces of gear and the like. Though I never used this, personally, allowing the game to build my deck as it saw fit.

This is a very specific choice on my part because I found the randomness and not knowing what cards I would land on as they are laid out in the table to form a ‘dungeon’ of sorts, was half the fun.

The player also has to contend with health and food levels, as each move consumes food, and once food is gone, health will be consumed instead. This creates the conundrum of, do you explore for better gear, or do you get to the goal as soon as possible? Do you risk taking an encounter, which will have RNG based outcomes, to get the reward? Is it worth it compared to the curse or loss of health/equipment/who knows what that might befall you?

The entire game bases a lot of its premise on risk and reward, and it becomes incredibly addicting. It also has combat elements in monster battles, though these are fairly straightforward and not incredibly in depth. Click one button to attack, another to block/parry/reflect arrows, etc. Though given combat isn’t the meat of the game, perhaps this is forgivable. I only found myself playing it in short bursts, given that I would usually end up frustrated with the RNG never seeming to be in my favor toward the latter parts of the game.

Which, I mean, yeah. It’s meant to get harder, the game seems to take joy in making your life difficult as you advance, but given you can have everything in your favor only for one bad RNG roll to ruin things just as you’re about to cross the finish line… Well. You can see why I preferred short bursts of play as opposed to anything longer.

But to the games credit, I did keep coming back. There are enough cards to spice up runs through which are randomized. It really does feel like I’m sitting down to play a tabletop game with a particularly cruel dungeon master with a set of loaded dice, but still offers me enough incentive that if I just keep at it and persist, I’ll eventually overcome the odds.

I haven’t played the sequel, which is currently released, but from what I understand it creates an even more in depth world and fixes some of the problems I’ve mentioned. But as far as the original Hand of Fate goes, it’s a brilliant little game that shows why us Aussies are leading the pack in indie development.

And they also get bonus points because I saw them at PAX Aus one year and their business cards were cute little versions of the cards in the game. Which was awesome.

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