"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate." Donald J. Trump, Twitter
I'm a loser. A sore loser. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
One year ago, I stumbled upon the GoFundMe campaign for a prototype of Deck of Wonders, the deck construction game that's on Kickstarter right now. Designer Dennis Furia sent half of the proceeds back then to pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong. His game draws inspiration from Hearthstone, and a professional player of that game was banned by Blizzard Entertainment for speaking out during the protests. As someone who enjoys playing Hearthstone myself, I was frustrated by this as well. And I was curious for this solo game, made by someone who clearly had his heart at the right place. So I donated and followed the development.
Dennis was kind enough to send us a preview copy when his game went live on Kickstarter, and it has some unique and cool features. First of all, you play with just one deck of cards. All cards are double-edged: the top half shows your minion or spell, the bottom half the (stronger) variant that the villain uses. Second, there may be just three bosses included, but they come with their own deck of cards and play very differently. Third, you play a campaign, unlocking new cards and rules with certain achievements. At the end of the campaign you'll have a large pool of cards for deck construction and some very strong bosses. So even when you're 60 plays in, there will still be enough replayability - some will argue that's where the game actually starts. Lastly, a session only takes 3-10 minutes. You can play this in your lunch break or sneak in a few sessions when you should be going to bed.
You've stolen the fabled Deck of Wonders from Fate herself. Now she wants it back, and some villains would like to get their hands on it as well. Prepare to defend it with your life.
Every turn after drawing your starting hand, you draw one card and then you can play minions or spells by paying their costs (in other cards). Your minions enter the play area exhausted, but you'll ready them for your next turn. Some will let you draw other cards or have other beneficial effects. Ready minions can attack either enemy minions or the villain. Then the villain draws. It plays its minions in ready state and resolves any card text or spells it draws. It ends the round by hitting with the minions it has in play. Focusing on your minions first, but if they are not able to destroy the highest level one collectively, they'll hit you instead. As you decide the order in which the villain activates its minions, there's some room for tactical decisions. Also, your minions will retaliate, they'll go down fighting. You win by bringing the villain down to zero health, lose when you die yourself. There's some charming flavour text, and the illustrations are different than the mainstream. I'm not a fan, but I think it's the right choice.
The game comes with recommended decks for every villain, so you can start without doing any deck construction. These decks are stacked against you, though. You'll have no easy wins. It may take a few sessions to figure out what the dangers are with every villain, and how to be prepared. But even then, you're at the mercy of the draw of the cards. And I'd like to say it's a game where you can lose when you're unlucky, but only win when you're playing smart - but alas. I had completely random wins as well, just because of how the cards came out.
I did not enjoy my plays at all.
It is just me, though. All previews you'll find are very positive. And fortunately the Kickstarter campaign is successful, as I think the best crowdfunding campaigns are for independent designers with cool ideas.
I like everything about this game in theory. It's similar enough to Hearthstone, with some nice twists. It could replace it, if only it were fun to play. I still think the game may be at its best when you construct your own deck. But I played over twenty times now and I really don't want to try anymore. It's weird. I don't get disheartened so much with Marvel Champions or even Arkham Horror: the Card Game. But when playing Deck of Wonders, it just doesn't feel fair. I think I play rather well. But I get so frustrated.
I don't handle those twists of fate too well. I am a sore loser.