Take your basic board game formula, add a sprinkle of deck building elements, mix in some real-time combat options, add a layer of tabletop RPG into the mix, and you'll get Hand of Fate; a game that provides one of the best digital experiences of a card game that I've ever played.
From the moment you sit down across the witty yet devious card dealer, you're presented with a board of 12 Boss cards and 4 Upgrade cards. Progression through the story is done by defeating each boss, one by one. However, with each victory the game constantly gets tougher. This is because you're constantly unlocking new cards to add to your deck, whether they're positive equipment cards, or negative monster encounter cards or ambushes. Each subsequent adventure allows your deck to grow by a few cards, which means your adventure will be longer and most definitely tougher.
The interface is simple, but because of how the game works mechanically, it doesn't need to be any more elaborate. Once the deck is shuffled together, the card dealer lays out a few cards on the table upside down that act as the game's map. Your little pawn can then move one space at a time, uncovering each new card and acting on it. Each step also takes up your character's food supply, and once you run out of food, you'll start losing health. Because of this, managing your food as well as how many times it'll take move across a board is something you'll need to be aware of.
You're never quite going in blind as you also build the encounter deck yourself. Still, though, coming across an ambush can catch you by surprise if your health is low. A lot of these encounters play out on luck. For instance, you can come across a card that has you spot a weapon in a canyon. You can choose to attempt to climb down and retrieve it, or move on. However, if you do decide to climb down, you then have to draw a Success card out of four cards that are shuffled together. Draw a Failure card and get a penalty to your health. It's a great risk and reward system since you're never sure what kind of weapon is down there. But again, since you're pre-building your own deck ahead of time, you can kind of get an idea of what might be down there.
So far, all of which I've explained takes place on the table, entirely with your card deck. Where the game shifts perspectives is when you enter battle. Enemy encounters are done in real time, and your character gets transported to one of many different and beautiful, yet small environments. Once there, your character will fight for his survival against a bunch of enemies. Once in battle, the game takes the Arkham approach to combat. You're constantly on the offensive, building up a big combo meter, and occasionally hitting the Counter button to dodge out of the way and retaliate with a heavy strike. Your combat proficiency will somewhat change depending on the equipment you have one. For instance, if you don't currently have a shield equipped, you won't be able to counter; you'll still be able to dodge out of the way.
Combat is very fast paced, but it never really evolves beyond your first encounter. Sure, there are multiple variables like Artifacts or Spell Effects on various weapons that allow you to augment your character or perform some sweet offensive moves; but, the majority of fighting is still done by mashing a single button and watching for the counter icon. This also translates to enemies since you'll be largely dispatching each and every one of them the same way — whether they be bandits, skeletons, rats or lizardmen. Sure, they get harder as the game progresses, and they'll get added skills like being able to throw projectiles, but it never really changes up the way you'll be dispatching them.
Even though the combat isn't as polished as the rest of the experience, it actually makes up a smaller percentage of the overall game. Hand of Fate is more about the card game than the fighting game, and that's perfectly fine, because the card portion is so fantastically done.
The real star here, though, is the card dealer. He has a personality of his own. He'll berate and make fun of you if you take too long to make a decision. He'll comment on revealing the same card in multiple adventures, claiming you're predictable and that all you want is that singular bonus from it. The way he weaves the story with each overturned card is always so interesting, providing exposition about nearly everything, even if it's just a simple Shop. The great thing about him is that you're never quite sure whether he's helping you or messing with you. Often he'll commend you on your feat or your choice in story, but other times he'll deliberately pick cards that are more negative, and laughs about it straight to your face.
Your hero's story isn't all about glory and justice either. There will be cards that will allow you to choose how to go about them. Will you help catch the thieves that stole a poor bystander's gold, or will you let them bribe you with equipment, most likely stolen, in exchange for letting them leave? There are no game ending decisions like this. You're able to shape your character's adventure how you like. There are, however, cases where decisions like these can have future ramifications.
Once you progress through the first quarter of the game, you'll get access to Endless Mode. This basically gets rid of the singular adventure format, and instead has you constantly delving deeper and deeper as you try and manage your food supply, gold and most of all, health. It's a great addition to the game once you unlock most of the cards as your endless quests can be extremely challenging.
I played the game on the PS4 and it looks absolutely fantastic. From the tabletop to the various environments you'll be clashing swords in, it all looks great. The only issue I've seen was the game often stumbled on trying to load scenes in smoothly. For instance, when my character and enemies are being loaded into the environment, the game freezes for just a second and then continues. Likewise for when the card dealer shuffles all of his cards back at the end of an adventure. They're slight graphical glitches that don't break the game in any way, though I hope it's something that can be ironed out with a patch or two.
Hand of Fate came out at a pretty great time for me, as it combines my current obsession of board games and card games (and even more specifically, deck builders) and my love of video games. It presents it as one of the best digital board game like experiences I've ever had the pleasure to play. While its combat can be quite shallow, the card game mechanics are top notch, and have me wishing for a physical version to make its way to my tabletop one day.