CD Projekt Red’s new game, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, featuring and expanding on the deck building mini-game in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt has entered closed beta. I got an invite a few weeks ago. So, naturally, I went a take a look. Now while these days the term Beta has come to be a fancy way of saying server test, here it does actually mean a beta test. The game is still in development by CD Projekt Red, and only a few elements have been included in the closed beta, so far. The development team have confirmed that the game will be in Beta until next spring and will be gradually releasing new content.

Starting the game will launch straight into a tutorial which explains the basic elements and mechanics of the game. These are fairly unchanged from the original mini game. Cards represent units or spells. Unit cards will be placed on one of three row usually dictated by the unit type, Melee (Front Row), Ranged (Middle Row) and Siege (Back Row). The strength of each placed unit card across the player’s three rows adds up to their total score which is used to determine the winner at the end of each round.

Simple enough concept right? However, this is given a more strategic edge by the fact that cards are limited. Unlike many other card games, cards aren’t drawn every time a player starts their turn. Players start the game with ten cards. A further two will be drawn at the start of the second round and one in the third, if a third is reached. This is slightly different to the original game in which only certain faction abilities could lead to the drawing of extra cards after a round, but it does help keep the game feeling fresh in subsequent rounds and the strategy a little more fluid, as cards may come up in later rounds that may open up new tactics.

Also enhanced is the range of cards available and the range of abilities of the unit cards. For example there are now a number unit cards which can reduce the strength of enemy cards upon entering battle. This tactic is quite familiar to anyone who has played hearthstone or other similar card games and works more or less the same way. You place your unit on the field and then can select the enemy card you wish the effect to be applied to. There are also unit cards with the ability to limit the strength of cards across a whole row, although these generally come with a cost. For example the Philippa Eilhart card which limits the strength of your opponents cards across the row to one but will add the strength of her card to your opponents total. This may help or harm you depending on the situation it’s used in. There are also units which will transform or spawn other units in their place when removed from the battlefield. For example by best buddy Regis who will transform into vampire Regis when removed from the field.

As in the original mini game, there are still cards with abilities that can add to the strength of fellow units along with healer and medic cards that can return discarded units to the field. The range of spell cards has also been vastly expanded. The swallow and thunderbolt potions have been added as spell cards which work to increase unit strength. Weather cards which effect multiple rows have been added and there are now spell cards which will allow you to draw or swap cards. At the moment, the only modes available for play are online battles against a randomly drawn player opponent, friend battles or practice against and AI. AI practice doesn’t come with rewards, so there is currently no single player option. However, it is confirmed that a dedicated single player story mode is in development.

New cards are received from kegs which are attained by completing certain objectives, such as the tutorials, and can be exchanged for in game currency or real money in the shop. It has been announced that while all accounts will be reset after the Beta, prior to full release, any kegs bought for real money during the Beta will be applied to the player’s account on release. They likely won’t get the same cards back that they had in beta, as the cards received from kegs are random, but the total number of cards received will be the same, so buying cards in the beta will not result in a net loss.

 Overall, I’m very excited by the advancements in the game, so far. The game is becoming much more diverse than the original mini game with a whole host of new mechanics and tactics made available through the new cards and abilities. Yet it retains the charm and addiction of the original mini game. I’m very much looking forward to exploring the single player content, once it’s added to the Beta, and will certainly feedback when I do.