Prepare for addiction.
Here's a confession: I never finished The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I played two hours of the game, did nothing but pick weeds because I was too distracted by all of the dots on my mini-map, and I think I completed one or two sidequests. I stopped playing when I reached the first village as I was called away to another review—or ten—and then I never went back to it because I was afraid I would go back to herb gathering once more.
And then I heard there was this mini-game called Gwent that was keeping people from doing anything else in the game as well, and I just knew that was dangerous too. So no, I never played one round of Gwent from The Witcher 3 before I checked out Gwent: The Witcher Card Game at E3. But now I want to start up The Witcher 3 again, just so I can collect Gwent cards and do nothing but play that mini-game.
Gwent is one of those delightful games that is easy to learn but difficult to master. The object of the game is to win two out of three rounds by scoring more points than your opponent. Points are counted up by the cards placed on the table. Each player chooses a type of deck—Monsters, Sco'iatel, Northern Realms, etc.—and then they draw a set number of cards. Each can redraw three cards from the stack in case there are too many of the same or have the chance to draw one of the better cards in your deck. These cards must last you for the entire game, all three rounds, so make sure you're happy with your entire hand before beginning.
The cards are placed in melee, ranged, and war machine rows, depending on the card. This is important, because weather cards will affect specific rows. For example, if the opponent has a few archers in the ranged row, you can place a Fog weather card, which will reduce all of those cards' points to one apiece. Each player also has a leader card that can turn the tables in the battle, but the leader can only be used once. In addition to the leader, various Hero cards can be played, such as Geralt, Ciri, and Saskia, all of which have unique abilities and far higher points than your average card. Choose wisely, though, because your opponent may place a card that will destroy your highest card, sending your hero to the graveyard.
A round is over when each player passes. You'll pass if you realize you can't win this round, you're sure your opponent can't win the round, or your strategy calls for you to throw a round so you can trounce your opponent in the next one. I played two games in my hands-on session, and it was the second game where I finally grasped how to strategically pass.
I won the first round, and I was half-positive I could have won the second round. However, to win the second round, I'd have to play the rest of my cards, and if he was able to play a trump card and win, he'd automatically win the third round because I had nothing to play. After he played his trump cards in the third round, I smacked down my Hero cards and a few weather cards, which annihilated his entire force. He actually stood up, looked across his monitor, and said, "Well shit. Good play!"
We asked if we could play one more game, but the developers said it was time to shut it down. I haven't stopped thinking about playing the game since.
In addition to playing the actual game of Gwent against others, there is a single-player campaign that allows players to pick up new cards for their decks. The campaign, as we saw it, is a top-down exploration adventure where battles are carried out via Gwent. By winning these battles, you will win new cards for your deck. The art style is cel-shaded, which looks rather amazing for the world of The Witcher, and I was absolutely delighted to literally hear the return of the original voice cast. Seriously, Geralt would never be Geralt without the voice of Doug Cockle.
CD Projekt RED does not have a release date yet, but the current plan is to release Gwent: The Witcher Card Game in 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Since I have that long to wait, I'm going to have to boot up The Witcher 3 again just to get my Gwent fix. I will have to.