Anyone who has played The Witcher 3 will be familiar with Gwent. For those you haven’t, Gwent is a deck-building mini-game that you can play within The Witcher 3. This game is so fleshed out that you find yourself dragging Geralt around to every inn and card seller you can find in order to build up a kickass deck of Gwent cards.
My love of this mini-game made me dream of the day when I could play Gwent as a standalone game and challenge friends and strangers. For a few people who bought the Blood and Wine expansion for The Witcher 3, that dream became a reality… in part. With the expansion for the main game you also received a physical copy of Gwent. However this was limited to 2 factions only and because of the limited number of people who had them you couldn’t really play competitively. They are a beautiful collectors items though and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get it.
Years later, salvation has arrived. CD Projekt Red are developing Gwent for PC, Xbox One and PS4. Right now they are still accepting registrations to the closed beta and soon there will be an open beta for everyone to get involved in. Once released, Gwent will be a free to play online game.
In the closed beta there is access to casual multiplayer, ranked matches (once you reach level 10) and you can also challenge your friends. The first time you enter the game there is a brief tutorial to get you started. For those familiar with Gwent this won’t be anything new. But it helps to familiarise yourself with the layout which is slightly different due to the change in interface. Soon you will start coming across new cards and abilities that you haven’t seen before. Happily, if an opponent plays a new card you can highlight it on the battlefield and the description of its ability will appear on the right hand side of the UI.
Similar to many deck-building games, Gwent operates in a free-to-play model with the ability to purchase random cards in the form of “barrels”. These barrels contain 4 common cards and one special card which you can select from a set of 3 cards. This allows you to target the faction you want to collect somewhat however there’s no guarantee that out of 5 cards the faction you care about is represented at all.
The game provides another way to specialise your deck. You can craft and mill cards. In the collection screen you can view all the possible cards for each faction as well as neutral ‘special’ cards. You can choose to ‘mill’ cards you don’t want to keep and this will get you a certain amount of scraps depending on the value of the card. The more valuable the card the more scraps you will receive, however the amount of scraps is often only a 5th or less the amount of scraps you would need to craft the same card so be careful not to mill the wrong card by accident. The game does notify you if you are about to mill a card which is currently being used in a deck so you have the chance to back out.
I am getting the impression that crafting is the key to getting a strong deck unless you can afford to spend a lot of money on buying cards. I found myself milling my whole starter deck of Northern Realm cards in order to craft 1 gold Scoia’tael card. Zoltan Chivay better be worth it!
Once you have built the deck you want you can test it out against an AI. This is essential in order to find out the best way to use certain card abilities that aren’t explicitly described in the card details. I have found that the AI often beats me but you shouldn’t let it get you down. You’d never learn how to best manipulate your deck if the AI just rolled over and showed its tummy.
Now to the actual gameplay. You win a game of Gwent by defeating your opponent in a best of 3 rounds. This means you have to have a strategy from the offset. You can’t just keep playing cards until you have more points, you need to make sure you have enough cards to make it through 1 or even 2 more rounds. You need to remember to keep an eye on how many cards are left in your opponents hand as well.
Many cards can trigger each others abilities. If you have built your deck correctly you should have a good number of these chains you can set up to maximise your points score. You also need to react to the types of abilities your opponents faction has. For example, the Skellige deck has a lot of cards which have a resurrect ability so you don’t want to be removing them from the battlefield because they’ll just come right back.
For each round it is important to know when you are beat. Make sure you understand exactly how many points your cards can deliver to the battlefield. And monitor carefully how many points you are either ahead or behind your opponent. I often measure how many cards it would take me to win the round. If this amount would leave me with considerably less cards in my hand than my opponent then it is often worth abandoning the round in order to be stronger in the next. Don’t view this as an act of desperation either. I have won many games in which I lost the first round but came back to win the next 2.
While Gwent is a competitive game, there’s no need to get riled up. There is no text or voice chat and the only way to communicate with you opponent if through a wheel of reactions which include ‘praise’, ‘thanks’, ‘critique’, ‘swagger’, ‘rage’ and ‘menace’. These reactions are all delivered in Geralt’s gravelly voice so you can forgive your opponent if they ‘rage’ at you. If it does get on your nerves though you can mute your opponents and move on with your day.
I am playing the PC version currently which runs off the GOG Galaxy client and you need to login to or register for a GOG account to use it. This is free and no hassle whatsoever. CD Projekt Red have also announced that cross-play and cross-buy is available for PC and Xbox One. This means you can transfer progress and cards across platforms, however I don’t think this includes playing against opponents or friends on different platforms yet.
Due to the popluarity of the Witcher franchise, I am not anticipating this to be a flash in the pan gimmick. As well as having the complexity of skill sought by seasoned players of deckbuilding games, fans of the Witcher don’t need any push to spend more time in this universe. Familiar characters are not forgotten and the artwork stands up to the quality you are used to from CD Projekt Red. The gold cards even animated when you zoom in on them. My favourite feature is the sounds build into the game. Each time you play a card it talks (or grunts) which brings you right back into Geralt’s stinky, road-worn shoes.
Go sign up now and challenge me, I dares you!