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Michael Bitton: Build Your Own Adventure with Hand of Fate

Previews By Michael Bitton on September 10, 2014

Build Your Own Adventure with Hand of Fate

I saw and played a ton of games at this year’s PAX Prime, but the only title that really dug its hooks into me at the show was a completely unexpected gem I found in the indie area called Hand of Fate. In development by Australian studio Defiant Development, Hand of Fate is best described as a tabletop card game come to life mixed in with roguelike elements.


In Hand of Fate, you sit down across a table from a mysterious card dealer who deals out a number of cards (face down) on the table that represent the ‘level’ you’re on. You move a figurine piece from card to card to progress through the level and eventually defeat the level’s boss. Each card you land on represents an encounter that can be drawn from a special encounter deck. Since the cards are laid out face down, you don’t know what awaits you on each move, and moves cost you Food, a finite resource. Run out of food and you take damage with every move.  Initially, the levels are linear so you’re moving along a straight path towards the end of the level, but as you play through the game, you’ll be allowed more freedom in how you progress through a level, so food becomes a much more critical resource.

Encounters can run the gamut from finding a shop to buy things, to an ambush, to getting lost in a desert, or even finding a trap laden dungeon to explore. Often these events will offer you choices in a sort of choose-your-own adventure fashion.

You find yourself lost in a desert in a sandstorm: Do you wait out the storm or run for the hills? Typically, whatever choice you make will result in having to play through a type of card shell game. The dealer will deal out four cards, each representing various levels of success or failure ranging from Huge Failure to Huge Success. The cards will shuffle around and your goal is to try and pick a success card. The makeup of these cards is based on how easy (or difficult) the event is. Sometimes you’ll make attempts that are almost impossible to fail (ex. 3 Success cards, 1 Fail) and sometimes the odds are really stacked against you (3 Failures, 1 Success). If you succeed, you’ll draw from a “Gain” deck. Fail, and you’ll draw from a “Pain” deck. The amount of cards drawn depends on the level of success or failure and you can gain anything from max health, to new equipment, to additional food, and more. You can also lose all of these things if you fail.

All of the things you can find in a level from encounters to equipment are based on two separate Equipment and Encounter decks that you build out before the level based on the cards you have available. There are only so many cards you can fit into both of these decks at a time and you’ll quickly unlock more cards (succeeding in certain events and beating levels unlocks new cards) than you can stuff in your deck and this is where the deck building in Hand of Fate comes into play.

You get to decide what events you can potentially encounter in each level and if there are particular pieces of equipment you’ll want a chance to find, well, you better include those, too. Equipment found in shops, earned through Gain cards or other event rewards can only be pulled from the deck of Equipment you assembled before entering the level.  Each level will also feature Challenge cards that are added to the deck by the dealer himself or specific events that can’t be removed from your Encounter deck, but the rest of the level’s makeup is largely up to you.  This, of course, gives the game a ton of replayability, as your options for repeating previous levels only gets more varied as you progress There’s even an endless mode available once you get far enough into the story content.

Speaking of story content, the entire game is narrated by the aforementioned dealer and he’s got an incredible variety of lines. The dealer will respond to your successes and failures and describe every encounter. He’s written with a lot of personality and it really feels like you’re sitting there with the guy.  He’s a seemingly neutral character, but he will poke fun at your misfortune at times. 

There’s a sort of permadeath in Hand of Fate, as well. The only persistence you’ll find is your progression through the story and the cards you’ve unlocked to build out each level. If you die in a level, you’ll have to restart fresh from the beginning of the level. As you move through the content, the levels get longer and you’ll have better runs than others so it can be frustrating to successfully navigate most of a level only to die and start over, but that’s also part of the appeal.  If you’ve played a ton of FTL, it should instantly click for you.

I did mention earlier that Hand of Fate is a card game come to life – so you definitely aren’t spending your entire time simply picking through encounter choices and reading dialogue. Encounters can also result in entering fully 3D levels consisting of combat events, traps, shops, or more.

Combat in Hand of Fate is pretty simple for the most part. It sort of plays like the Batman Arkham games, where you press the attack button and a direction to bounce from foe to foe.  Dodging, blocking, countering, or interrupting enemies is really the name of the game, so proper timing is key in successfully navigating a combat encounter while taking the least amount of damage. Remember, whatever damage you incur persists throughout the level, so making it through a dungeon or combat event by the skin of your teeth early on in a level is very likely to hamper your chances of success unless you come across a healer.

While Hand of Fate’s combat doesn’t demand a whole lot of mechanical skill from you, the game does layer on more RPG complexity to combat as you progress. You’ll encounter new enemies that require taking a different approach to combat, special combat rules in a particular level, and more.  It’s nuanced enough to be interesting, but it’s more of a component of the overall experience than an addictive feature all on its own.

Hand of Fate is currently in Early Access on Steam, but don’t let that fool you, the experience is quite substantial. There are some bugs, but this isn’t a bare bones Early Access experience by any means. However, one important thing to note is that Defiant Development recommends playing the game with a controller, and after trying to play the game with my mouse and keyboard, it’s easy to see why. I’m not sure if it has to do with the game just not being optimized for mouse and keyboard just yet or if controllers are going to remain the go-to input method for this title, but from personal experience, it definitely feels better playing the game with a controller in hand, so do keep that in mind if you’re looking into picking this one up.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined as the site''s Community Manager.