Take a chance on this roleplaying gem.
Hand of Fate was one of those games with an interesting concept which sat languishing in my pile of shame regardless. After playing Hand of Fate 2, however, I realised that I’ve been missing out by not getting into the series sooner.
The Hand of Fate formula is a kitschy mix of D&D storytelling and board game mechanics with a roguelike combat RPG. HoF2 is split into mini campaigns, an hour apiece. In one you’ll try to recover stolen relics, one is an arduous journey across a snow storm-battered landscape, whilst another sees you infiltrating the Thieves Guild to thwart a rumoured assassination attempt.
Fleshing out these campaigns are encounter cards, one of which is activated with every turn as you explore the board. Massively diverse in content and scope, they can further your progress to a campaign’s goal, let you gain (or lose) resources and equipment, or fight a battle. Unique conditions and encounters make each campaign satisfyingly varied, but you can also choose a certain amount of the cards in play. This lets you strategise, selecting suitable equipment and encounters to help offset a campaign’s conditions whilst shaping the way it plays.
Resources are key to a successful HoF2 campaign. Food diminishes with each turn but is vital for healing and staying alive. Gold lets you bolster your inventory with better equipment and pay your way through tricky scenarios. Maintaining a supply of both requires careful planning of the cards you choose for each campaign, the decisions you make and a healthy dose of luck.
You see, as with D&D and other classic roleplaying games, the outcome of many actions in HoF2 is at the mercy of a dice roll, a drawn card, or even the swing of a pendulum. Not being a gambling man, having so much left to chance was an instant red flag for me. I needn’t have worried. Everything is delicately balanced to feel like you have just enough control. Play carefully and you can account for failures and setbacks, or choose to go all-in whilst being fully aware of the risk/reward factors at hand.
Not everything is left to chance, either. Furthering the player’s influence over a campaign’s outcome are the many battle sequences. This is where multiple genres truly converge, with the now-ubiquitous Batman Arkham brawling and parrying making an appearance. These lively, well-rendered scenes are a breath of fresh air from the more leisurely dice rolling and text-based encounters.
You’ll face a diverse array of opponents, from thieving goblins and Norse-like warriors to riflemen and the scaly ‘corrupted’, once-human monsters which need their hard outer layer bashing off before plunging a weapon into their vulnerable, diseased tissue. One of several companions can also join the fray, offering special abilities like magical shields and stun attacks.
With a generous health pool and all enemies telegraphing their attacks, however, combat is quite easy, perhaps too much so. Battles only become challenging when certain conditions are in play, like defeating all enemies within a time limit. This lack of difficulty is comforting but it lowers the stakes somewhat. In a game of risk and excruciating decisions, the battles are unfittingly safe.
HoF2 is best played in short bursts, a campaign at a time. Too much at once and its formula could wear thin. I also wouldn’t eagerly 100% or replay the game. Campaigns are creatively designed enough to differentiate themselves from each other, but not to encourage multiple playthroughs without getting repetitive.
It’s not so much the campaign stories which are gripping, a collection of solid but unremarkable fantasy tales; rather, it’s the way in which the stories are told. The Dealer is your reluctant host, an enigmatic wretch who is all too keen to rattle off his two-penneth on a situation, or lament unsympathetically when luck is not on your side. His gravelly wit imbues the game with much-needed character.
The Dealer can only do so much in bringing to life a string of fantasy tropes, however. Whilst the writing perfectly facilitates its classic roleplaying systems, it failed to ever sell me on HoF2’s world. Don’t expect anything like The Witcher’s epic quests or Game of Thrones’ political intrigue here.
Yet HoF2 is engaging nonetheless. Elements of surprise and unpredictability within encounters create just enough dramatic tension. On the whole its pace makes for a relaxing ride, however – and I mean that in a good way.
All that’s asked of you is the acceptance that not everything will go your way. Make peace with that fact, put your faith in The Dealer and pull up a chair: Hand of Fate 2 is a card worth drawing.