Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Genre: Collectible Card Game
Rating: T for Teen
When The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt released in 2015, it was met with massive critical praise along with commercial success. People fell in love with the well-written characters, and developer CD Projekt Red proved that they can hang with the best when it comes to open world RPG game design. But one of the more surprising aspects of the game is Gwent, a digital collectible card game that serves as an optional side activity. In this minigame, you are pitted against an AI opponent in a 1v1 match, and over the course of The Witcher 3 you can acquire more cards for your collection and build a better deck. People enjoyed this activity so much that demand grew for a standalone version.
So CD Projekt Red delivered just that with Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. Announced at E3 2016 and sent into beta the following year, Gwent received its official release. In the process, the game has evolved considerably since its original incarnation. How does it stack up now?
Language: The title of one of the cards contains the word f***ing.
Violence: Some of the images on the cards depict blood and violent actions, such as murder or physical intimidation.
Magic: Some of the actions performed by the cards represent magic spells.
Nudity: The images of some cards feature scantily clad women, although no private parts are depicted.
All matches take place in a 1v1 format. Players start by drawing ten cards from their deck into their hand, and then take turns playing a single card onto their respective sides of the battlefield. Most of the cards are Units—representing a soldier/animal/monster/etc.—with a Power value in the top left corner, and the combined power of all the Unit cards on your side of the battlefield is your score. Many of these Units also have an ability that activates when certain conditions are met; Special cards, meanwhile, don’t have a Power value of their own, but their effects—such as dealing massive damage to an enemy Unit (reducing its Power value) or allowing you to draw additional cards from your deck—can turn the tide of battle in an instant. If you choose not to play a card on a given turn, or if you run out of cards in your hand, you pass, and can no longer play any cards that round. The round ends when both players have passed, and the player with the higher score wins the round. The first player to win two rounds wins the match. If a round ends in a tie, both players receive credit as if they had won the round outright; therefore, if player A wins round one, and round two ends in a tie, player A then is the overall victor.
Every deck you construct is built around a specific faction, representing groups in the Witcher series: Northern Realms, Nilfgaard, Scoia’tael, Skellige, and Monsters. Each faction has four leaders, and each leader has their own unique ability that can be used in gameplay; you choose one of the leaders for your deck. A deck may only contain cards from its leader’s faction or from the set of Neutral cards. The game also assigns a recruit cost number to each card, and then places a limit on the total recruit cost that a deck may contain, thus keeping all decks balanced. While many of the cards reference characters and lore from the Witcher series, you don’t actually need to know anything about the other Witcher games in order to enjoy and succeed in Gwent.
One of the things I appreciate about Gwent is that you can employ different strategies within the same faction depending on which leader you choose and which cards you put into your deck. For example, in making a Nilfgaard deck, you can select Morvran Voorhis—whose ability is to reveal cards from your opponent’s deck—as your leader, and then load your deck with cards containing abilities that activate when other cards are revealed; alternatively, you can fill your deck with cards that perform helpful actions when they are deployed onto the battlefield, and then use leader Emhyr var Emeris to pull one of your cards back into your hand and deploy it again, thus allowing you to activate that card’s ability twice. With all five factions designed to accommodate multiple strategies, there’s a ton of depth and plenty of ways to experiment with deckbuilding. It is important to note that, like many collectible card games, Gwent’s rules and its cards are subject to change as time goes on, and while it is unlikely that CD Projekt Red will make sweeping changes to the core game mechanics, they have already made a few tweaks to the game since the full version released in October 2018.
Four game modes are available in Gwent: Practice, Casual Match, Ranked Match, and Arena. Practice pits you against an AI opponent, and is a good place to test out your decks, particularly when you are still getting the hang of gameplay. In Casual and Ranked matches, you play against real people; playing Ranked not only earns you the typical bragging rights that come with rankings, but also some rewards that are only accessible by performing well in this game mode. In Arena, each player constructs a deck that can be made of cards from any faction, and which does not have the recruit cost limit placed on your regular decks. You then face off against opponents until you either lose three times or win nine times. The farther you get in the arena, the higher your rewards at the end.
Gwent utilizes three different types of in-game currency in its economy: Ore, Scraps, and Meteorite Powder. Ore is used to purchase Card Kegs, each of which contains five random cards that are added to your collection to be used for deckbuilding. Accessing the Arena also requires you to pay Ore, and the entry cost is higher than what you would pay for a single Card Keg, but if you make it far into the competition, the value of your spoils will greatly exceed what you paid to get in. Scraps allow you to craft specific cards for your collection, and are accrued not only when you play matches, but also when you “mill” the unnecessary duplicates you may acquire when you open a Card Keg. Every card in the game—even those from the paid expansion Thronebreaker—can be crafted, although the higher value cards cost more scraps. Meteorite Powder is used purely for aesthetics; with it you can transmute basic cards into premium cards—which have an animation and play sound effects—as well as buy skins, avatars, and game boards.
As a free-to-play game, Gwent makes money through microtransactions, specifically for Card Kegs and Meteorite Powder. Naturally, paying real money is the fastest way to acquire cards. Thankfully, the game is generous in how many resources you earn through regular play. Finishing individual matches provides you with at least a few resources, even if you lose, but more significant than that are Reward Points. These are earned for a wide variety of actions: playing lots of matches, spending resources, meeting certain conditions during gameplay, and so forth. The Reward Points can then be spent in the Reward Book, which contains large quantities of resources, new leaders for your decks, and background information on the Witcher universe. The game hands out a lot of Reward Points when you first start playing; as such, completing parts of the Reward Book serves as the best way for new players to obtain what they need to build a good deck without paying money.
If you played the beta, you’re in luck: CD Projekt Red rewards you with the full scrap value of all the cards you earned during the beta, allowing you to quickly construct an excellent deck in the full version. I received so many scraps that I was able to craft every card from one of the factions, as well as a number of Neutral cards. For those who do not have that luxury, it is important to identify a faction and strategy you want to focus on, and identify which high-value cards you need to craft in order to improve your deck before you start spending Scraps. As mentioned above, Gwent isn’t stingy about handing out resources to new players, but there are a lot of cards to choose from, and the highest end cards do cost plenty of Scraps to craft. The game allows you to peruse the entire collection of cards from the outset, so use that tool in your decision-making.
While I love most of what I’ve experienced with Gwent, I do have a few minor criticisms. First, while cross-play is available between console and PC (Xbox/PlayStation cross-play is not at the time of this writing), it only applies to random matchmaking; you cannot invite friends on other platforms to join a match or a party. Second, when playing a Nilfgaard card that lets you play the top card of your opponent’s deck, you aren’t able to check the details of the opponent’s card before you play it; you can only view the artwork on the top of the card and the power level if it is a unit. I figure that this is a simple oversight, seeing as that in any other circumstance you can always view a card before you play it no matter how you gained access to that card. Nonetheless, if you aren’t already familiar with the card you’ve taken from your opponent’s deck, you might not be able to use it to its full potential. More significant than either of those issues, though, is the lack of either a Replay mode or Spectator mode; these features go a long way in helping players improve their play and share their experiences with friends. Competitors like Hearthstone and Artifact have Gwent beat in this regard.
Gwent has quickly become one of my go-to games, thanks to its strategic depth and replayability. Even with the rewards I received due to my participation in the beta and through the dozens of hours I have already logged, there are well over a hundred cards I have yet to unlock. I’m eager to play more, build new decks, and test out strategies. CD Projekt Red have impressed once again; not only acdre they capable of crafting world-class RPGs, but they have also shown that they can create an entertaining and addictive card game.
The Bottom Line
Gwent is an excellent card game that is simple to understand, yet still takes time and thought to master. Its depth and replayability will keep you engaged for countless hours.