Hand of Fate: Ordeals - Game Preview
I've been pretty excited to play this title since it launched on Kickstarter a few weeks ago. Based on the video game of the same name, Hand of Fate: Ordeals is a deck-building, monster-slaying adventure for 1-4 players, with the option of playing co-operatively or competitively.
You each play an adventurer who, equipped with nothing more than a rusty axe and their wits, will explore the fantasy game world and face its many encounters. All with the hopes of improving your equipment and abilities in order to face the game's three bosses: the Jack, the Queen, and finally (yeah, you guessed it) the King.
Hand of Fate: Ordeals is a card game that knows it's a card game. The metaphor is present throughout the entire experience, from the bosses to the suits/families that each enemy falls under (Plague, Dust, Scales & Skulls) - each alluding to type of challenge you're up against, and the penalty you'll pay if you fail to defeat them. Combining this with the dark-ages fantasy setting, we end up with a pretty solid theme that permeates the entire experience.
The artwork in Hand of Fate: Ordeals is beautiful and immersive - something that's not usually a deck builder's strong suit (if you pardon the pun). You can tell a lot of love and consideration has gone into getting this right.
Hand of Fate: Ordeals is easily the most well-polished preview copy I've ever played. The board itself is well designed, and provides space for all of the shared components of the game, save the food & encounter tokens. The player boards have space for your food & shards, as well as a template for laying out your armor, weapon & accessories, which is super useful to you and the other players, who can all assess how prepared you are for combat.
Having the board's encounter cards and miniatures as a central focus, I felt drawn into a shared experience with the other players, and had fun watching them explore and battle when it wasn't my turn. It was a shared experience - far more interesting than a pool of cards to buy from (I'm looking at you, Dominion).
In many deck building games, including Hand of Fate: Ordeals, your surest chance of winning is by constructing a deck which allows you to play as many cards as possible during your turn, then cycle the most powerful of those cards back into your hand as soon as possible. For those of you who like this play style, you're going to want to buy up as many trickster cards as possible, as they're all designed to extend your turn and let you destroy some of the less useful cards (starter) in your deck.
The marketplace opens up many strategies for winning, and our group had fun trying out a few of them. I set out to collect as many warrior cards as I could, so when I entered combat, I could stack a bunch of them onto my weapon and increase my chances of defeating multiple enemies - this came in super handy when taking on the bosses who always bring along minions who you have to defeat before taking on their master!
Another player focused on constantly improving their equipment, which let them make more attacks, take advantage of magical side-effects, and reduce the penalties for failure, all while creeping up the victory point track as they changed weapons.
The marketplace has a huge variety of cards, which each have obvious at-a-glance advantages, as well as more detailed text with specific effects. We got into the habit of reading these aloud as they were added to the board so that players seated further away knew their options. This slowed play a little, but after a few rounds I'm sure you'd become more familiar with the cards. As with many deck-builders, more experienced players will have an advantage over newbies because of this familiarity with the details, but I think that the randomness in other aspects of Hand of Fate: Ordeals works hard to level the playing field.
The estimated play time is 30 minutes per player, so we were expecting our game to last about two hours, plus a bit of time to account for the fact that we were all new players and we'd have to consult the rules a bit. In our first game, we found that it's very easy to get stuck in a cycle of purchasing new cards, rather than attempting encounters, that by the time those two hours had passed, we'd all built up huge decks and hadn't even challenged the Jack (the boss enemy of the first level).
It would have been nice if the game limited purchasing in each level, to encouraging us to do a bit of everything throughout the game's three levels. I wouldn't say this was a fault on the game designer's part though - as experienced deck-builder players, it's just a behavioral pattern we fell into easily. The final two levels of the game took much less time, as we kind of gave up on buying cards and just focused on encounters, and I think we finally got into the spirit of the game.
We had immense fun playing Hand of Fate: Ordeals. It's a stand-out in its genre, with a solid theme and heaps of replayability. A lot of card games have leaned heavily on expansions for refinement and to prolong their playable life, but I think Hand of Fate: Ordeals nailed it first time. It's still on Kickstarter for another week, and I'd highly recommend you grab a copy.