CD Projekt Red unleashed a smash hit on the gaming world in 2015 with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt; its gigantic world providing hundreds of hours of entertainment to many an adventure seeking player. However, with all of that grand questing came a mini-game that some players enjoyed more than the game itself, a small tavern card game called Gwent. This game was so popular fans begged the developer to make it its own game, and at E3 2016 CDPR announced that it was happy to oblige. Do not think this is simply a rehash of the same in-game experience as its own release however, as Gwent will potentially absorb just as many hours from its players as Wild Hunt.

The object of Gwent for those who avoided it is to build a stronger army than the opponent using a deck of cards containing soldiers, spells, and more. The game takes place through three rounds, but the same 10 cards drawn in the beginning must be used for the entire game. There’s no beginning of turn draw, no discard at the end of a turn: the first hand could be the only cards you see for the entire game.

CD Projekt Red

The board is split into three rows: Close Combat, Ranged Weapon, and Siege, and the units drawn from the player’s deck each have a row and numeric value assigned to them. After each round the numeric values of the cards are totaled with any bonuses that may be live factored in, one player is declared the winner, and the board clears in anticipation of round two. This strange approach takes the focus away from the cards being played and applies it to the player holding the cards. A successful Gwent player will have a poker face as strong as the army he’s trying to build, as deception is key to victory.

The standalone Gwent experience expands greatly on the mini-game, with each card retooled for a more competitive game. Themed decks from Witcher 3 return with the same strategies they employed before, like how Northern Realms cards are heavy on Siege while the Monsters are more likely to contain Close Combat rules. However, the abilities imbued on each card are enhanced to support this new and fuller experience. For example, the Muster ability previously allowed some units to stay on the battlefield between rounds, but other cards on the field may enhance or hamper that ability before scores can be tallied.

To the non-Witcher fan this may seem like hullabaloo --- as if it's strange for a legion of fans to get excited over a revamping of a Witcher 3 side mission --- but CD Projekt Red is going the extra mile to ensure that Gwent is of equal quality. Between card matches are fully realized stories from the Witcher universe starring many of the original characters and voice cast members, including Geralt of Rivia and his voice actor Doug Cockle. The player’s band of heroes will travel through many different worlds while exploring, finding new cards for Gwent decks and experiencing brand new stories. The developer is quick to clarify that this is not a continuation of The Witcher 3, as the game’s primary narrative designer Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz explained, "You can expect to meet characters from the games and the books, but Gwent is an expansion of the lore and not a direct continuation of Wild Hunt.”

CD Projekt Red

How challenging is it to bring a small subsection of a massive game to life with full Witcher storylines? Tomaszkiewicz answered, “This is a totally different style of narrative than we would do for The Witcher, because it’s not just from the perspective of one character like Geralt. It’s more from the broad perspective of a leader building and managing an army. Also, opponents can prepare for you the player: before in the Witcher you could just run up to an enemy and attack, but in this case we have to justify each battle because it’s two armies. Why are you fighting a group of monsters in this card game? We have to answer those questions, and it’s certainly a challenge but it’s an exciting one.”

In my trial match of Gwent, the first one I’ve admittedly ever played, I did not know about the three round format and watched as I used all of my cards in the first round and lost to my opponent in round three. I can only hope that the lack of explanation of the core rules of the game was only for this demo and its assumption that everyone trying it is familiar with Gwent, as I believe a lot of players will be lost to Gwent if the game doesn’t take the time to cultivate new talent by teaching them how to play.

Witcher 3 fans will clearly be happy that Gwent is coming via its own release, as the new storylines and hundreds of cards will keep the Witcher faithful playing for a while. Non-Witcher and non-card game players might have a rough entry point if the game doesn’t do a better job of explaining itself, but with a simple tutorial mode that issue is gone forever. Gwent will certainly be one to watch for when it debuts later this year.

Gwent will be available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC later on in 2016.