Hand of Fate 2 is a strange beast. It takes tabletop gaming mechanics and combines it with digital gameplay. The easiest way to imagine it is if Dungeons and Dragons, a collectible card game, and the combat sections of Batman: Arkham Asylum were all combined into one.
The story of the game is quite mysterious. You find yourself, for whatever reason, taking a very long carriage ride with a mysterious figure known only as the Dealer. Inside his carriage, the Dealer challenges you to his mystical game in order to relive the events that brought you to him, as well as test your fortitude. It's an intriguing concept as far as stories go, I admit. However, it's so far removed from the actual events that it is really more of a macguffin and serves only as a framing device. It works surprisingly well, though, perhaps better than is should. Much of this is due to the Dealer himself.
Let's discuss our intriguing host. He's masterfully voiced by Anthony Skordi and feels like a real person with real opinions (for example, he doesn't trust the Church but has a soft spot for Mages and poor children). As you play, you slowly learn more about him and some of his motives peak through, albeit in small chunks. In a way, the game shines because of him. I'm not sure the various mechanics would work quite as well, if he wasn't so superbly cast with a phenomenal performance. The relationship you build with him is also fairly intriguing. He isn't your adversary (although he will indeed often mock you), but he certainly isn't your ally. He serves as the Dungeon Master and does a wonderful job while remaining somewhat menacing and also slightly sympathetic. I especially enjoyed his running commentary to the world outside the carriage that related directly to the game. For example, I was dealt one card where I could flag down a passing coach and pay for a ride to a card much further away on the game board. The Dealer then said, "You'll notice I don't stop and pick up every hitchhiker who wants a ride aboard my carriage. Let that be a lesson to you." Truly great stuff.
The game does everything it can to immerse you into it's Dungeons and Dragons-type fantasy world, and often succeeds quite well. Some things are less immersive than others, though. One one of your first major choices in the game is to choose your gender and customize your character. It's unfortunate that the customization choices are so narrow with very little variety. Some of the choices for the female avatar are fairly strange as well. For example, all of the possible hairstyles contain elements of a faux-mohawk which is quite perplexing. While none of this actively removes you from the immersion of the game world, it doesn't help much either.
You will be presented with roughly 30 levels, which the game refers to as "challenges." Each challenge will lay out a certain number of cards in different patterns on the table that your game piece will move around on, serving like a modular board game. Each card serves as a round, which the game calls "encounters." You move your game piece from card to card along orthogonal paths. Each time you move to a new card, the encounter begins. Encounter types vary wildly. In one you may have to make moral choices, while in another you may have to roll dice. If you complete an encounter successfully, the card representing that encounter is placed into your deck. This is extremely important, as your deck needs to be quite robust if you want to stand a chance of winning each challenge.
Before each challenge, you pick from a certain number of cards to help fill out the game board, as will the Dealer. The board will be populated from a mix of your own cards as well as the Dealer's but not all the cards will be used. In this way, you need to maximize the amount of positive cards you play while minimizing the likelihood of getting a particularly nasty one. But not all of the cards you win will be particularly helpful. As the game continues, you will end up having more and more fluff cards, and even some bad cards you will be forced to choose between.
It's here where things start to get both wonderful and infuriating. The core elements of the game revolve around luck. You can try to stack the deck in your favor, but it is indeed possible to be dealt a crippling hand of cards and there might be absolutely nothing you can do about it. Plus, many of the cards contain further levels of luck and randomness. You will be rolling dice, spinning wheels, picking from a series of four cards, and other luck-based minigames to decide the fate of many of the encounter cards.
Each challenge contains unique cards that cannot be earned or modified, though. For example, in one challenge you are scouring the board looking for relics and in another you are recruiting knights to help defend a town. You will never add a relic or knight card to your deck, even if you pass the encounters. This gives each challenge a unique flavor and it is much appreciated.
Many of the encounters require combat situations. This is where the game becomes a third-person combat simulator using a battle system very reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series. However, your move set is limited, you don't learn new skills, and your combat style is entirely dictated by the weapons and armor cards you obtain. You can swing your weapon, dodge, parry, shield bash, and deliver finishing moves. That's about it. The combat is straightforward but competent enough to be fun. It can also be quite challenging in later levels. While the fighting system is similar to the Batman games, it also retains its own flair and DND vibes, such as having combat modifiers and damage number on the screen. It isn't flashy or amazing, but works well enough and can be fun if you managed to find the correct weapons cards. If you were unfortunate enough to not discover the correct weapon card before the encounter, though, you may have a much harder time, which can be quite irritating.
My overall opinion on the game is rather complicated. I find it very enjoyable, full of mythos, hard choices, and great world building. However, so much of it revolves around luck that it can feel unfair and downright nasty. You can play the odds as much as you like, but there is often nothing you can do at all if you are dealt four nasty cards in a row that wipe you out. Making the correct decisions on encounter cards is always satisfying, but it is equally as unsatisfying when you are presented a no-win scenario simply due to bad luck.
Hand of Fate 2 also contains some light elements of resource management. Other than your deck of cards, you will have to manage your food, health, gold, and often a quest-specific resource (such as fame, infamy, or blessings). This leads to some interesting choices. If you run out of food, you will slowly lose health each time your game piece moves around the table. If you're lucky enough to reveal a card that contains a shop or a trader, you might be able to buy or barter for more food before you run out of health. But you might be out of gold. In one particularly rough patch I was mugged when I fell into a trap card when I chose to help a crying child. I was going to die in a few more turns due to starvation. So, I went to the trader and sold my great sword for gold and used that gold to buy rations from the pie seller (which, by the way, is always tremendously overpriced). But because I no longer had my best weapon, I was a sitting duck in the next combat encounter. It can be an amazing experience when you overcome these situations, but it can be just as irritating when you fail due to the same circumstances. Again, much of it comes down to random chance, and that doesn't necessarily sit very well with me.
Hand of Fate 2 has a perfect home on the Nintendo Switch, as it is the perfect game to play between classes or just before going to sleep. The portability the Switch offers for a game like this is phenomenal and I could not see myself playing on any other system. However, I've never felt both so frustrated and so satisfied by a game before. I simultaneously want to keep playing it and also to never touch it again. As a result, I have no idea how to rate this. I guess I will rate it right down the middle, with a few bonus points for the truly amazing voice talent.