The task of describing Defiant Development’s Hand of Fate is not an easy one. It’s a… card game? An action adventure title? You sort of choose-your-own adventure, but also there is a dungeon master? Really, it’s all of these, plus a dash of the ever-popular, always brutal, roguelike, and fun to boot. Hand of Fate starts you out in a dark room, hunched over a table opposite a robed figure with a knack for card tricks. He offers to play “the game” with you and so begins your perilous descent into a world of fate, where you live or die by the luck of the draw. And also, somewhat, by how good you are at swinging an axe.
The bare bones gameplay of Hand of Fate can be broken down into phases. You travel the floors of the dungeon - made up as they are of cards, that you traverse one at a time, flipping each over as you do so to reveal a new event. You then act out the event in one of a few ways: you fight monsters, you make a choice based on the scenario on the card, or you shop for items, health, food, or blessings. Many of these outcomes can be found on a single card, played out as a longer encounter. And finally, you take your reward, if you were so lucky or so skilled as to merit one.
"Many of these outcomes can be found on a single card, played out as a longer encounter. And finally, you take your reward, if you were so lucky or so skilled as to merit one."
Encounter cards, as the various cards you travel across are referred to, range from one-off events, to quests in which you must hunt down other cards elsewhere in the dungeon. You land on the encounter, you flip it over, and the dealer tells you a little bit about what is going on. Maybe you’ve revealed the Maiden and she is offering you a list of gifts to choose from. Or you’ve revealed something more tricky, like a deep canyon, at the bottom of which is a weapon. To decide whether or not you reach the canyon floor and reclaim the weapon unharmed, the dealer reveals to you four cards with various degrees of success ranging from Huge Failure to Huge Success. He flips these cards over, shuffles them about, and if you can keep your eye on the prize, you pull the card you want and leave with your weapon, or at least your health. Otherwise, you’re likely in for a bit of nastiness.
Intended to be one such nasty outcome is the combat, where-in you are forced to step into the world and fight groups of enemies, careful not to drop below zero health, lest you meet the ultimate decider: perma-death. While combat in Hand of Fate is sort of clunky and far too easy for such a decidedly brutal game of chance, I found myself enjoying what fights I chose to participate in. Equipment in Hand of Fate forgoes the usual “+1 Strength” benefits for more precise boons. For instance, without a shield the entire counter system is nixed. Other benefits include area of effect attacks activated with the shoulder buttons, gaining gold per hit, and increases to the player’s movement speed, to name a few. My favorites, however, were the items that increased the amount of food you gained, or doubled the result of any healing you receive, such is the nature of food and health that you need both to avoid a timely end.
"While combat in Hand of Fate is sort of clunky and far too easy for such a decidedly brutal game of chance, I found myself enjoying what fights I chose to participate in."
There are shops in the dungeons that will let you buy and sell items, as well as food and even health, creating a constant ebb and flow between your primary resources: health, food, and gold. WIthout food, you take damage with every step you take in the dungeon. Without gold you can’t afford food, health, or equipment. And without health, you are destined to re-shuffle your entire dungeon and start all over again.
Certain encounters, if completed successfully, will earn you a token. Tokens are claimed at the end of play, be it when you have completed the dungeon, or when you inevitably succumb to the trials of adventuring. Each token will net you one to five cards, specific to the encounter you earned them from. This makes encounters with tokens even more crucial when building your deck, as they are essential to filling out your collection. Deck building being, hands down, my favorite part of Hand of Fate - and to be fair, any card game.
"I loved progressing through the dungeons and finding new cards to over-analyze while I stroked my beard and puffed my pipe."
While the dealer has his own cards that he shuffles in in order to keep everything balanced and provide each dungeon with a very loose narrative, it is up to the player to construct a deck before each play session. This consists of choosing Encounter cards and Equipment cards. Being able to choose not only the events of each dungeon, but the prospective rewards, means that you can put the odds in your favor. I spent my time weeding out any overly dangerous Encounters and filling up my Equipment deck with the best weapons, armor, and artefacts (what are essentially spells in the game) I had. Each dungeon gets progressively more difficult, with the dealer adding more and more punishing cards as you get closer to the end of the game, but being able to control the deck is a nice touch that makes the whole game feel like less of a random number generator holding a cleaver.
I enjoyed my time with Hand of Fate, despite a few gripes concerning the game’s cumbersome combat (seriously, have we really come to the need to slow-mo every attack?) I loved progressing through the dungeons and finding new cards to over-analyze while I stroked my beard and puffed my pipe. With tons of cards and an “Endless” mode for those who complete or tire of the campaign, there is a near infinite amount of replayability here, as well. The game also does a fine job of combining the ease-of-access of a video game with the pleasant, tactile, vibes of tabletop gaming. For a first outing, I’d say that Hand of Fate was a success and I am excited to see where Defiant Development takes it.
Review by: Jeff Ellis | Reviewed on: Playstation 4