A mysterious dealer sits in a rickety wagon, casting your fate across the table in an ominous game of cards. He offers cryptic insight into the game itself while dictating your destiny as if it were preordained.
This is the basic premise of Hand Of Fate, Defiant Development’s brawler cum tabletop RPG. The dealer presents your hero's journey as a cosmic sequence of chance; familiar fantasy tropes, dice rolls, branching decisions, and random encounters litter your quest through series of increasingly fiendish levels. An ornate map in the corner of wagon contains 22 challenges, each of which forms a level of multi-tiered card mazes to traverse.
In the tutorial stages, you move your token across the board, each card you land on triggering an encounter. Some are simply story text, others result in a decision or a dice roll. Most encounters throw you into combat, where the game shifts perspectives to Arkham-style combo fighting. Later on, you can customise your starting deck before heading into a challenge. Learning which encounter cards net the best loot opportunities is key in building your deck. Completing challenges and gaining tokens opens up new cards and new ways to play. Roguelike elements mean no two games are the same.
The mix of text-based narrative and third person combat is an interesting twist on the tabletop format that fosters increased investment in decision making. Knowing that you could be one dice throw away from a punishing dust-up makes for some tense encounters. Challenges are one shot only deals, so when you die it’s all the way back to the beginning for the nameless protagonist.
Adding to the complexity are challenge-specific goals that must be fulfilled before reaching the final card, and these objectives add a strategic element to navigating the cards. One challenge might require collecting blessings before confronting your target, while others will enforce cruel handicaps to your health and resources. These mechanics are varied and often force you into moral quandaries or prompt a hasty forfeit to retool your deck and try again.
The challenges themselves are a new addition to the sequel, adding structure and a worthwhile sense of narrative variation to the overall experience. The ability to craft your own starting deck means replaying challenges doesn't have to be a complete rehash.
Also new are companions, fellow adventurers that you can add to your deck and call upon during a challenge. They assist in combat with special abilities, but they also help out with encounters and mini-games on the board - which takes them out of action for a few turns. Chiming in with campfire conversations and story-specific encounter cards, the companions are an engaging and useful feature.
With so many ways to play the dealer’s mysterious game, it’s a shame that the core combat gets a bit stale so quickly. Initially sluggish but satisfying, the fighting shows all of its cards (sorry) relatively early. While never tedious, the repetitive nature of the random battles are hard to ignore. This isn't helped by the frequent need to restart challenges, throwing you into identikit skirmishes. The weapon-specific abilities and companion skills shake things up a bit, but overall this is the standard combo-parry-riposte system we are all familiar with by now.
Despite the occasional sting of repetition, though, Hand Of Fate 2 keeps you playing by sheer virtue of character. The sound design is a particular highlight, with a subtle score on par with the quieter moments in Supergiant Games’ Pyre. The sinister musings of the dealer are always good value and hint at a deeper, more grandiose lore outside of your humble trek across the game board.
Your fate is decided by a scattering of cards across a table; dice rolls mean death or fortune and your next step could warp you to an insurmountable brawl. Hand Of Fate’s mix of strategic planning, random chance, and meaty combat is both rewarding and addictive. Fighting lacks complexity and doesn't quite stand up to the eventual repetition, but this game within a game is still well worth your time overall.