It is not often that a game comes out of nowhere and surprises me in a good way. The first game completely slipped under my radar so much that I had no idea a sequel was even being worked but now two years later and a short release delay, we have Hand of Fate 2. I really was not sure what to expect and on the surface it certainly did not look like the type of game I would normally go for but it did not take long to grab my attention.

Now I have to be honest in that I was not expecting much when I first saw the trailer for Hand of Fate 2 as it featured a few things I am not really into as a gamer, the main one being anything to do with card deck building. But this is definitely a case of never judging a book by its cover and within ten minutes I was completely hooked by the opening to the game.

At it’s heart, Hand of Fate 2 is a hybrid game of RPG elements and card deck building mechanics but my favourite aspect which surprised me having not played the original was the ‘choose your own adventure’ element. Growing up I loved this style of story telling in books where at the end of a chapter you would have to make a decision of what would happen next and then turn to the corresponding page where that decision would play out. As a gamer this really evolved into the Telltale games where player choices literally forge the story experience you play so to find this element in this game was a welcome and happy surprise for me.

The aim is to defeat ‘The Dealer’ who has returned from the events of the last game with revenge on his mind. Inside his tent, he offers the player challenges in the form of adventures. Each adventure or challenge has its own narrative but the twist comes via the cards, where the player gets to select from their decks cards which shape that story. For example each challenge requires the player to select a number of each type of card in order to complete the deck for the challenge made up of Equipment Cards and Encounter Cards. Equipment cards can be weapons or armour that once turned over allows the player to equip them to aid them during the story. Encounters create situations the player will need to resolve during the adventure such as encountering bandits or meeting a merchant to rescuing someone in distress. A new feature adds the ability to add a companion card who can aid you during the adventure either by granting you health during battle or perhaps a shield to an ally who can help fight enemies.

What I came to really appreciate was the randomness of the cards, which are turned over each time the player moves to a new card on the table. Having to fight with a basic weapon until I finally found a decent weapon from an Equipment card was life saving after having to complete two fighting scenarios before hand but the next challenge saw me finding the weapon card almost straight away. The encounters as well change depending on how the cards are drawn by the dealer for that adventure so as you make your way around the table different moments activate which means depending on your deck, which new cards are added each time you successfully complete an adventure, each time you play that adventure it can always play out differently despite the narrative of the adventure saying the same.

That narrative comes in the form of text boxes on screen, and though it would have been nice to have had it narrated by the dealer, I found myself most often just reading the text outloud myself, becoming the narrator and storyteller of my own adventures which I have to admit I got a real kick out of doing. Now like all card games, there is an added element of risk and chance not just in how and what cards are dealt by in the mini games of chance such as dice rolls to determine the success of an encounter or a game of ‘four card monty’ where the player will have to blindly pick a card after being shown their face value. Now these can either feature nice things or a failure card, which can impact on the player by damaging their health or worse for that adventure. I came to really enjoy the fighting encounters as well as the game would suddenly switch to combat which to me feels very much like the old Fable games but clearly inspired by the fighting in the Arkham series. Despite it being rather basic with of strike, defend and riposte making up the fighting, it was a nice switch to just looking at a table with cards on it. Combining all these mechanics together creates a truly intriguing way of experiencing an adventure game and I really came to enjoy it even though I did feel that the Dealer was being a bit of a git at times.

Which brings me to the only real gripe I have which is the element of luck that makes up a big factor to each adventure. Take the dice rolling which requires the player to make a certain score with the roll of the dice to successfully win that encounter. The early adventures I found that I won these fairly easily but as soon as the adventures became more complicated I found myself failing to hit the score and thus failing that encounter. The four card monty mini game also felt a little unfair at times with up to three fail cards making the probability of getting the good card rather slim. The luck aspect of the chance element does make the game very challenging and rewarding at the same time but failing can be harsh and resulting in the failing of that adventure and having to restart it completely which a new hand of cards being dealt so it would be different to what you just played through. It can be frustrating to spend up to say 40 minutes on one adventure only for each game of chance to go against you and so you fail, almost like when in FIFA you are completely unable to score a goal but your opponent could shoot from the half way line and score each time if the game decided they could.

With so many big hitter blockbuster titles out there right now, this was a welcome surprise and one I could easily find myself returning too especially to stream. It has a basic simplicity in the presentation but maximum experience potential of a rather old school approach which merges so many different mechanics together from player choice shaping the story to rpg elements and table top gaming like Dungeons and Dragons all coming together to forge a sublime title that really grabs hold of you. Hand of Fate 2, despite the Dealer being such a git to me at times, totally caught my interest and at the end of this gaming year of 2017 quickly became one of my favourite surprise games of the year.

Perhaps it was my fate that this game landed in my path, or perhaps it was simply my destiny to meet such a worthy opponent in the Dealer to test my luck. Either way Hand of Fate 2 is certainly worth your attention if you are a fan of the first game but also if you just want to experience a very different but fun way of experiencing an adventure game.