My Gwent awakening has taken place entirely within the last couple of months. In that time I went from never playing, to becoming mildly obsessed with the Witcher 3 minigame version, to playing and enjoying the beta of the standalone game. It's been a lot to digest. The closed beta for Gwent: The Witcher Card Game went live last week, and I've been playing a bit, losing a lot and generally trying to get my head around the ways it works differently from the minigame I know and now love.
Big picture, it's the same game - three turns, two players, best two out of three wins. Games have the same general flow, where the first round is a bunch of brinksmanship and feinting, figuring out whether you can goad the other player into exhausting their resources so you can clean up in rounds two and three. But in the smaller details, a lot has changed. A number of the tweaks seem small at a first glance but taken together, they can fundamentally shift how a game of Gwent goes. Here are the biggest changes I've found:
Cards can basically take and deal damage. There are now a bunch of new and different ways to lower a card's attack strength, which governs how much it contributes to a player's overall attack power. However, attack strength also functions sort of like hit points, because if you can reduce a card's power to zero, it's cleared from the board. Lots of cards now have the ability to "attack" enemy cards and lower their power, which makes units feel more like active elements of the game.
Everyone gets new cards after a round. You draw two at the end of the first round and one more at the end of the second. It might seem like a small change, but it actually makes it much more possible to pull out a comeback after a bad first round.
There are way more special action cards. In the The Witcher 3 minigame version, there were only a few special ability cards, and only a few of those (decoy, scorch and so on) were all that useful. The standalone game has a ton more special ability cards, to the point that I'm still feeling overwhelmed by options.
Spy cards...? I don't have any spy cards in my deck and have yet to run into any in matches, which either means they have been removed or they're much less common. I saw some discussion over the winter indicating that spy cards were still in the game but had been changed, but I haven't run into any in the beta. Which is probably for the best, given how powerful they were in the minigame.
The card economy is more complicated. Gold cards are still your most powerful cards, and are still immune to a lot of special action cards that affect other cards. That includes most of the buffs given by other unit cards in your deck. There are also now bronze and silver-tier cards, and you can only have a certain number of each type in a given deck.
You don't have to traverse a virtual kingdom to get more cards. This may shock you, but unlike in The Witcher 3, the standalone version of Gwent does not feature a massive, 3D virtual kingdom for you to explore while searching for new cards. You get cards from opening "kegs" that give you five new cards apiece. (You can win kegs in the game, but naturally, they're also available for purchase.) This method of card acquisition is perhaps not as fun as riding around on Roach and challenging random inkeeps to Gwent, but it's certainly more time effective.
In their Gwent FAQ, CD Projekt Red says the game, which will be free-to-play and will feature a singleplayer story campaign, will leave beta when they're darn good and ready. I haven't played nearly enough to grok the strengths and weaknesses of the various deck types, nor do I have a good sense of which cards are most useful. I only know I want more cards! Which means I have to win. Which means I have to get better cards. Which is gonna take some work, based on some of the decks I've gone up against recently.
I'm sure I'm not the only one in the beta, so if you're playing, how do you like it? Which decks have you been having success with? And the Kayran in the room: Based on the beta, do you see Gwent as a worthy contender to Hearthstone?