The deckbuilder gets another twist in this dark fantasy adventure
Since Donald X. Vaccarino invented the deckbuilder with Dominion, the genre’s become rather hard to avoid. Not that anyone should be trying to avoid it – it's a versatile and satisfying core mechanic that makes for great game escalation and tactical variation.
It also slots well into other genres. Wizards of the Coast hybridised it with area control to pleasing effect for Tyrants of the Underdark, while last year Andrew Parks smartly bolted it onto dungeon-crawling and team skirmishing with Dungeon Alliance. Now we have the rather gloomily-titled Hand of Fate: Ordeals, a handsome-looking video game adaptation that combines deckbuilding with exploration-based adventure.
Each player chooses one of four characters, who have been magically sucked into a deadly metagame and stripped of all their memories, skills and equipment. They must explore and compete in a randomised, three-tiered mini-world to build their strength back up and defeat a trio of bosses: a Jack, a Queen and a fearsome King. The hero with the most fame at the end triumphs – unless you’re playing the co-op (or solo) variation, in which case a mini ‘campaign’ is included for your group to attempt.
Australian designer Michael ‘Barantas’ McIntyre combines these elements deftly, with encounter cards arranged facedown for miniatures to land on and turn to reveal events, both good and bad. This makes the game reminiscent of Tristan Hall’s Gloom of Kilforth albeit on a smaller scale, and with the encounters reset for each of the three boss levels.
The deckbuilding feeds into this through cards which provide food, which is the fuel for moving around the board, but also help in combat situations where you need to keep pushing on against numerous or powerful foes. Some cards provide 'effort', which is spent to pick up new, more powerful cards, while others still provide equipment, which goes straight onto a player-board tableau rather than into your discard pile, for extra, stacked-up benefits.
One of the most pleasing elements is the combat. Here, attack cards and cards from your deck are bound to a weapon (at the cost of some effort) and their accumulated points spent to fell foes. The danger being, you have to draw a certain number of cards blind, adding a frisson of risk to each scrap.
It’s all rather neat, but Hand of Fate does have its flaws. While the co-operative mode gives each character unique abilities, these are limited and utterly absent from the competitive base game, denying the characters any sense of individuality beyond the art on their boards and the shape of their minis. The main game also swiftly turns samey, with the same encounters coming up during repeated plays. Co-op mode should mitigate this somewhat, but the rulebook includes only one measly three-scenario adventure, with further campaigns rather cynically held back for expansions.
Still, we have no complaints about how it all looks. Thanks to artist Jessie Gillespie (who provided the illustrations for the video game original) and the ubiquitous Ian O’Toole, the game has a magnificent table presence, with a vast, wood-and-burgundy central board, woodcut-style art on the cards and a wealth of sturdy tokens. If nothing else, Hand of Fate could lay claim to being the best-looking deckbuilder yet.
PLAY IT? – YES
Though it lacks properly implemented variable player powers and is stingy with its campaign mode, there’s a lot to like here. Not least its impressive appearance, and the slick way it enables you to empower your questing characters through deckbuilding.
Designer: Michael ‘Barantas’ McIntyre
Artist: Ian O’Toole, Jessie Gillespie
Time: 90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.