Hand of Fate is a surprisingly good game. That’s “surprising” not because I had low expectations, but because I thought the game looked very good and was surprised that it surpassed even that expectation. It manages to capture what it feels like to play a really good card game with a friend, while also bringing in the progression and depth of a decent tabletop game.

Also, while it’s still in Early Access, it is surprisingly well polished.

Hand of Fate is a digital card game at its roots. The game begins with an opening animation that merges seamlessly into you staring at a hooded opponent at the other side of a table. Lightning occasionally illuminates the pillars and stone behind him, and on the table is a flickering candle and a small assortment of oddities.

Your eyes stay on your opponent. He retains an air of mystery. The game gives no background on how you’ve gotten to where you are, or who this is who sits before you, but he warns you that you play a game of life and death, and with magic he deals you a set of cards.

The cards become your encounters, and the random nature of these cards gives Hand of Fate near endless replay value.

Matches in Hand of Fate are divided between different sets of cards your opponent keeps in a container, and you select which sets of cards you’ll play against for each match. Each match ends with a boss fight, and after each boss fight you earn the cards you overcame during the match.

The cards you gain play a strong role in the game. At the beginning of a match you’ll choose a deck of cards for items and locations you’ll encounter. Your opponent will then add to this deck a set of his own cards—particularly cards that determine the enemies you’ll face.

As you begin each match, you’ll engage in several layers of gameplay. The cards are laid out face-down like tiles on a map, and as you choose which direction your character moves across these cards their contents will be revealed. Some are merchants, others dungeons. Some are friendly characters, others enemies.

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Some of the cards you encounter are enemies, and they’ll send you into action combat sequences where you’ll control a character armed and protected by whatever gear you’ve come across during each match. The combat actually reminds me of The Witcher 2, where you’ll need to parry and roll to avoid enemy attacks, and where button mashing will get you quickly killed. If you were lucky enough to find a shield, it also brings in a twitch-based counterattack system where if you block at the right moment you’ll launch a flurry of strikes against your attacker.

There are a few variations of these encounters. Sometimes you’ll be dropped into a maze of traps you’ll need to find your way through. Sometimes you’ll encounter enemies who will steal your equipment and who you’ll need to kill within a set amount of time before they make off with your gear.

Other times you’ll run into events, and you’ll need to select from a handful of face-down cards that determine whether you succeed or fail miserably.

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Hand of Fate tells its story through both a well-voiced narrator (who doubles as your gamemaster and opponent) and through written text. The game is surprisingly immersive. It reminds of the Assassin’s Creed series, where you play a game within a game, and it creates a kind of Inception effect where the layer above the deepest comes to feel like a higher reality and the game within the game becomes the game you’re playing.

I highly recommend Hand of Fate. It’s a well-done game that balances between casual and hardcore, with good graphics, fun gameplay, and an immersive story.

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