“It seemed like there were two kinds of (Witcher 3) players- those who played the Witcher 3 and maybe a little bit of Gwent, and those who just played Gwent.” – Jamie Bury, Lead Animator of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (extract from a GameCloud interview in May 2016)
First, we had Senet (3000 BC). Then, the Royal Game of Ur (2600 BC). Then, Chess (700 AD). Now, Gwent (2017). Some may argue that an online card game is slightly less significant than these examples of early strategic board games. Others fall into Jamie Bury’s latter category. And it is those Gwent enthusiasts that pushed CD Projekt RED to bring the card game out of the world of The Witcher 3, and into the hands of gamers, as a standalone title.
For The Witcher 3 uninitiated among you, Gwent is a two player tabletop collectable card game (TCG) that sees players use 25-40 card customised decks of Gwent cards to defeat their opponent in a best of three match. In The Witcher 3, collecting all the Gwent cards was an optional quest that intertwined with the main story; they could be bought from local merchants, found, or won through matches. Playing Gwent was never mandatory, nor would winning a match ever benefit the player outside of earning double the gold they had wagered on the outcome. But the simplicity of the rules, depth of mechanics, and range of different cards to collect and attempt to find synergy between, made it addictive (and accounts for Bury’s analysis of The Witcher 3 players). Sitting down in a tavern for a game of Gwent, often while being on an unrelated time-sensitive mission, seemed natural. Necessary, even. Just forget about the logistics of printing and distributing Gwent cards in the 13th century.
Gwent is currently in beta (version 0.8.72.23 at the time of publication) but has all the hallmarks of being a successful online competitive trading card game. Like Hearthstone and the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, Gwent is backed by solidly established IP and many gamers already have experience with the mechanics through The Witcher 3. So, there is a pre-established player base and development team ready to invest in the game.
Importantly, however, you do not NEED to be an experienced Gwent player (it doesn’t hurt, though there have been modifications to gameplay compared to The Witcher 3 version) nor do you need any knowledge of the Witcher story arcs in order to engage with the card game. You do not even need to have any prior experience with competitive card games. This last point can be attributed to the simple game mechanics (which do not preclude a complex competitive metagame), succinct tutorial, and the immediately accessible 25-card pre-constructed decks for each of the 5 in-game factions.
With knowledge from the tutorial and access to the pre-constructed decks, players can jump into a game of Gwent straight away. Each of the factions has a leader card that dictates which types of cards can be included in the deck. This means that every deck has a distinctly different playstyle and feel. I’d recommend starting with the Northern Realms deck (headed by Foltest). The strategy is quite clear, and it is decent in a mirror match (which will be the majority of your matches at lower levels).
The pre-constructed decks also give you a basis upon which to make your customised decks when you acquire new cards and begin to recognise card synergy and how different cards interact. Currently, the only way to acquire new cards is to earn them as rewards, craft them using scraps, or by opening kegs (Gwent’s form of booster packs, which can be bought using the in-game currency called ore, or with real-world money through micro-transactions).
Rewards, scraps, and Ore can be earned by levelling up or winning a certain number of rounds. This process feels grindy! It takes a considerable amount of time to accrue enough Ore to purchase a Keg, and forget about earning enough scraps to craft the cards you really want. For experienced TCG players who are unwilling to invest real-world money into the game, the fact that you can view all the cards in the collection tab and thus see all the cards required to build a formidable deck (but be unable to acquire them), will be incredibly frustrating. This system is not unusual for online TCGs, but it would be nice if CD Projekt RED had broken the mould in some way. Players CAN choose from one of three rare cards in each booster pack instead of being force fed a random rare card, but it’s not enough of a departure from the formula. There is also no trading function at this stage, but I suspect there will be.
For competitive players, there is a ranked system once you reach level ten (which isn’t a particularly lengthy process), and CD Projekt RED recently wrapped up a professionally streamed and prize-pooled tournament for the top tier players. The community has also been circulating tier lists for competitive decks, and a meta has already emerged. It is quite fluid, though, as CD Projekt RED are constantly balancing the game by nerfing and buffing cards. These are all very good signs for the future of the competitive scene and the development of Gwent as an eSport.
Gwent is an engaging game that looks good, is accessible for beginners (but also has a high ceiling thanks to the deck building element), is backed by an established development team, and already has an established online community. Whether you’re an experienced TCG player, a traditional Gwent fan, or even a regular old “traveller who took an arrow to the knee” who wants to have an online TCG to call their own, it really is worth saddling your horse (modern day equivalent: turning on your PC) and jumping into the Gwent closed beta (soon to be open beta).