4 of the Best 2017: GWENT

If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, you’ll have noticed there were fewer posts in 2017 than any previous year. Mostly, that’s because I didn’t have time to play games. I graduated, changed jobs, moved house, and dealt with other life events too boring to narrate here. I haven’t played enough to do a proper top five list, but over the next few days I want to celebrate four of the best games I did play.

Gwent, of course, is cheating. I’ve written about how much I love it here and on Rock, Paper, Shotgun already. I’m not tired of praising it, though, and that’s a testament to just how spectacular it is.

Gwent shows the crowded field of online card games still has room to grow, provided new games are inventive, and provided they’re willing to eschew the basic resource-gathering/spending structure which so many games have inherited from Magic: The Gathering. Where the rhythm of Hearthstone, and Duelyst, Elder Scrolls: Legends is one increasing power curves, Gwent’s about making bids.

I described Gwent as a bidding game already in my impressions writeup, but at the time I was thinking of the bids involved in winning the game. You invest some of your ten-card hand to win a round with the expectation of a particular result. I wasn’t yet familiar enough with the game to see all the other ways you can bid in Gwent. Namely, you can set yourself up for success in the following round by making bids in a round you intend to lose. That might mean playing cards that let you search your deck for necessary pieces of a plan, or sending units like the Queensguard to your graveyard to get more of them on the board the following round. The classic example is making one unit very powerful if you intend to keep them on the board using another card.

I haven’t played Gwent’s latest, quite divisive, update. I share the concerns of the community that Gwent’s losing some of its unique flavour: first weather could be placed anywhere, then most cards, then all cards. Where once only a few cards did direct damage to units on the board now it’s a feature of the majority. CD Projekt Red are, however, very good at explaining their rationale and they’re apparently listening to criticism. It would be folly to predict how the game will play at the end of 2018, or whether I’ll like it, but this year it’s given me immense joy and some very difficult problems.