As I leave the depths of the dark cave, weary from my battles with the undead, I feel a sense of relief. Maybe I'll draw a card to replenish my supplies or possibly come upon a merchant and purchase a blessing. Instead, I find myself stumbling on an ambush card. Still feeling the wounds from my previous battles, I am no match for the group of bandits I now face. I am quickly disposed of. I look up from the table of cards to see a hooded fellow. Who is this man? I ask myself. He is the one who controls it all, the overseer of this twisted card game. He is the dealer. He is the dungeon master.
Hand of Fate is a virtual collectible card game that requires the player to build a card deck to face off against the shady dealer that sits in front of you. This is only one part of this unique game, however. The rules are pretty simple: at the start of the game there are a set number of cards face-down on the table. Your piece will move to each card. The cards you have in your equipment deck are mixed in with encounter cards that put you in scenarios that require choices. The objective of each game is to move your way through the dungeon of cards level by level until you eventually reach the boss for that game.
The journey, not the destination, is what makes Hand of Fate such an enjoyable game to play. Each card you land on presents offers random choices or battles. For example, the Mister Lionel scenario is about a goblin disguised as a human who approaches you in a tavern. You are given a choice: give him gold or food (both items are required to move to other cards) or ignore him. You will be awarded with different items based on your decisions at the end of the current game. Each card you land on throws in another short story that will shape the adventure.
Every move and decision you make is commented on by the dealer. He never misses the opportunity to criticize your actions and remind you that he will win. I loved the interactions with the dealer and found his sly remarks to be interesting, especially when you prove him wrong.
The RPG elements of the game is featured through inventory management. Progress through the game you'll earn armor and weapon cards, each with a set of comparable stats. Gear may also have a Blessing, buffs that provide an extra boost in combat or on the table.
When you aren't navigating through the cards on the table or tweaking the deck, the game has you act out the scenarios you create through real-time battles. If you get an ambush card, a specific number of monster cards are drawn and represent the enemies that show up in the encounter. The combat system takes ques from games such as Shadow of Mordor and the Arkham series but in a drastically watered down way.
Hand of Fate's combat is very underwhelming to say the least. The X button attacks, Y counters (use when a marker appears above their head), and A evades. That's about as deep as the combat gets. There are cards that add abilities, like a ground slam, but the majority of encounters are extremely easy and spamming the X button is enough to ensure success.
The only time I ran into difficulties in combat was running out of food or health. Fighting continuous battles would sometimes get the better of me. These were rare occasions however. The difficulty of combat is primarily dependent on the amount of enemies in an encounter instead of their unique strengths. Even facing fifteen enemies at a time isn't too hard with evasion and spamming basic attacks. In light of the game's highly engaging tabletop portion, the bare-bones combat is a huge letdown.
An Endless mode is unlock after winning seven games. Endless, as the name states, is an endless battle of will between you and the dealer. There is no end to the game or deck of cards. You must keep going from level to level trying your best to stay alive for as long as possible. This mode is incredibly fun towards the end game because you'll have a good grasp on how the system works by then.
Framerate was a major issue in the game and reared its ugly head during combat. Just about every fight had annoying frame stutters. Other animations, such as the dealer shuffling the cards, also cause the game to stutter. For some, Hand of Fate also suffers from repetitiveness. Doing the same thing only with different cards sometimes got a bit boring for me. I found the most enjoyment in playing for one to two hours increments, but I always came back to progress further and unlock better cards.
Hand of Fate is an unique game that blurs the line between an action RPG and a tabletop collectible card game. The technical issues and bland combat system sometimes holds it back, but the fun tabletop portion, satisfying RPG elements, and captivating card dealer outshines these flaws to make Hand of Fate an enjoyable experience.
Writer for Darkstation since 2014. I've been playing games my whole life and starting writing about them in 2010. Outside of gaming I enjoy anime and watching my Philadelphia Eagles let me down every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @jsparis09