A game I suddenly and unexpectedly have been pouring a lot of time into this year has been GWENT: The Witcher Card Game. I’ve always been a fan of card games, frequenting my local Trading Card Game clubs in Norwich when I was younger, and especially being a fan of Yu-Gi-Oh! to this day. As time has gone on, I have played the games in person less and less, but still, have continued to enjoy collecting the cards and experiencing the genre in other forms, such as within video games. Over previous years I have put considerable hours into games such as Hearthstone and Slay the Spire, to name two examples.
So, when after building my new PC it was suggested to me by a couple of friends that I downloaded the free-to-play card game GWENT, I thought I’d give it a shot. For the unaware, GWENT is a 1-on-1 competitive card game that originates within the confines of the well-known RPG series The Witcher, from Polish developer CD Projekt Red. As you journey around these games as Geralt, you get the opportunity to challenge various characters to a match of GWENT; through doing this, you gradually build up your card collection, and it effectively serves as a fleshed-out and long-lasting minigame to break up your adventuring. The games are best-of-three, as you target gathering a cumulatively larger total value of Unit cards on your side of the field than your opponent, done by not just playing your own Units but by using their abilities and your special cards to disrupt the opponent.
My experience with The Witcher prior to playing GWENT was quite limited relative to others (and still is, to a lesser degree) as prior to GWENT I had played around 10 hours of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PS4, and that was about it. I definitely enjoyed my time with it and could see why it got such praise for the sprawling world and compelling quest designs, but I also had issues with the fiddly and overly intricate menus on console. That latter criticism was part of why I found myself continually distracted away from fully falling into it the way I did for, say, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Indeed, GWENT in the context of The Witcher 3 is a good example of my complaints. The generally busy interface design for it was quite daunting to me personally, and got in the way of the tutorial to the point where I felt I was not getting to grips with the rules. Sadly, I subsequently found myself avoiding the option to play GWENT in conversation options. I kept telling myself I would come back to it later, learn the rules more thoroughly – later… I preferred the main third-person adventuring to the GWENT element, and was not eager to stop doing the former in order to go back to the barrier of entry I met with GWENT. Call me frivolous, but that is how I felt at the time.
So, a dedicated game for GWENT was an opportunity to put all that aside and start fresh. Within GWENT: The Witcher Card Game, there are a few aspects that were immediately more welcoming. For starters, the RPG side is gone, allowing the experience to focus just on maximising the card game. In addition, the game itself is streamlined to have less moving parts and smarter restrictions, and becomes much more efficient to partake in (though not necessarily easier!) as a result. Perhaps most crucial was the new tutorial; in a way unlike the one in The Witcher 3, it walks you through several games that one-by-one introduce new mechanics, so that by the end of it, you feel ready to take on the scary world of real people (gasp!) – it reminded me a lot of the incredible tutorial for Hearthstone, which similarly took just a few well-constructed matches to show the player why this is a card game to dive into.
After this, and discovering there was a whole deck type revolving around Archers and Elves (very much to my tastes!), I was starting to feel much more in tune with GWENT. Now, tens upon tens of hours later, I am confident saying that I love this game. I’ve accidentally played my way from the lowest rank to to Pro rank in the recent Season of the Bear with my Archers Unite deck (I am attempting to say that in the most humble way I can), and now, if anything, I am sad I did not get into GWENT sooner, as over the years I have missed out on a bunch of content. Ah well, better late than never, right?
Having played so much GWENT, it felt right to write up something about the game, not only on the above path I took to get into it, but also the reasons why it has resonated with me so much. Therefore, here are the 6 main reasons why I have fallen so hard for GWENT, and perhaps even the reasons why you should too!
1. Irresistible Art Style
Not to start in a shallow way, but upon opening up GWENT: The Witcher Card Game for the first time, one of the things that immediately struck me was how gorgeous it is. The visual presentation sticks close to the style of The Witcher (I know, shock), with that down-to-Earth fantasy aesthetic; magic, mystery, and more permeate this world, but without losing a down-and-dirty wariness of how unappealing much of it still is, whether that be the bloody battles, horrific motivations for power, or the constant threat of being mauled by some awful monster. That vibe of beauty shining through the dirt is one I find really appealing, and it is presented in stunning style in the card art, which takes advantage of the digital game format to remove description text from cards and make it visible only when you require it; this leaves more space on the card for the artwork, with only the numerical values of the card or any applied statuses overlaying the image. It reminds me of how Pokémon has found success in their awesome full art cards they have leaned into more and more over the years.
To top it all off, every GWENT card has a Premium version where the art is animated, complete with sound effects. These are much rarer and more expensive to craft, but are extremely desirable to give that bit of pizzazz to your deck. Outside of the cards themselves (which, by the way, I would totally buy actual physical versions of), the surrounding game has the same visual tone, with the dynamic, angled game boards unique to each faction adding extra personality to each match, and an animated 3D character model in-game representing you. It does have an ever-so-slightly more bright colour palette than The Witcher 3 to discern the more light-hearted nature of it being a card game – this is continued into the UI, with user-friendly large text making everything very concise; it is a contrast to the aforementioned convoluted inventories of The Witcher 3. Overall, the visuals are part of why GWENT has not yet lost its grip on me. As a test of this, I booted up Hearthstone again for the first time in years, and found that the much more cartoonish presentation within it paled in comparison for me personally. Now, I shall emphasise that I used to put in lots of hours to Hearthstone, but revisiting it showed me it was not just that I needed a card game to play; GWENT specifically was scratching that itch where other games might not, and the art style was one of the key reasons for it. All those Elven Archer cards help with that!
2. Easy to Learn, Hard to Master
Always great to be able to use that phrase, so often connected to Nintendo games. Seriously, though, it really applies here, and links back to the tutorial I brought up before. On the face of it, two players with decks of 25 cards simply attempting to get the highest total score on their side of the board seems a straightforward premise, but the level of strategy that CD Projekt Red have worked into it is astounding and utterly captivating. There are currently 6 factions, each with their own set of possible playstyles, as well as neutral cards that can be put into any deck to add your own personal twist. So, the deck building side has that sense of personality, where just one card change can turn your deck from an inconsistent challenger into a constant powerhouse. Then in the games themselves, how you play your cards and in which order is key; over-committing or being too passive can both be game-losing, and learning game-by-game how best to react to certain scenarios is a self-improvement process I thoroughly enjoy.
The pass system, where you can choose to end your participation in the round and leave it up to the opposing player, is an ingrained aspect of this. You can choose to do this on any turn where you have not done an action yet; perhaps the opponent has gone into a significant lead and you would like to preserve your cards for the next round, when you both start to 0 again. Or maybe you are ahead but know if you pass, the opponent has to use a lot of their strongest cards up in order to win the round. It opens up these subtle strategies based on player skill and a vision for the upcoming turns and rounds, much like a game of chess. Every game, every agonising mistake or misplay – it all teaches you a bit more about how to play better, forming an upwards skill curve for the player that encourages you onto the next game.
3. Give Me the Goodies
Of course, to build your world-beating decks you need cards. It’s gonna be tough to win with just those starter decks, right? As with lots of card games, half of the appeal is building your collection, and GWENT is no different, allowing you to earn Kegs containing 5 cards each, with the final card being a choice of 3 and usually the rarest of the Keg. The game is actually surprisingly generous with the rate at which you earn them, especially early on, which is largely due to the Contracts. These are a smorgasbord of challenges that give you rewards – for example, one might ask you to use a certain type of card effect a particular amount of times. However, even as I have worked through a lot of them, there are plenty still popping up and giving me currency later on in the game, so beyond pulling in new players with shiny rewards it does have a longevity to it too. Opening packs is, as usual, very satisfying stuff, and early-game I actually encourage building up your amount of Kegs and then having the fun of opening a whole bunch. You could do this with friends and discover which rare cards you pull; for one such case of this, see the below video of some of my friends and I opening 64 packs over Discord chat!
The other currencies in this game are: Ore, for buying Kegs; Reward Points, for unlocking rewards in the Reward Book (see Reason 4); Scraps, for building specific cards you are after; and Meteorite Dust, which is combined with Scraps for building Premium Cards. The latter two give you an opportunity to create the individual cards you are after in a way similar to the likes of Hearthstone, again. I do need to mention the monetisation side of things too. As a free-to-play game, I have no issue with purchases for Kegs, combo packs and more being available – I rarely actually put money into these sorts of microtransactions, but such was my enjoyment of GWENT that I did early on, purchasing the Scoia’tael pack, the Starter pack, and the Premium version of the Journey (see Reason 5). Even so, they were all moderately priced, and together set me back around £20 all in all. I have few plans to spend more on the game, certainly not on raw packs or currency. Those are the areas where the purchases would start to add up if you frequented them. Though I am not here to tell you how to spend your money, I underline that there is a lot of reward just for putting time into the game – as with my following Reason…
4. Points Make Prizes
One standout feature of GWENT that I have not seen executed in quite the same way elsewhere is the Reward Book. Within this, there are sprawling trees of unlocks based around factions, their characters, and the current game Season, which can be progressed through via the Reward Points you earn from Contracts. Sometimes this is one Reward Point for 50 Ore (100 is needed for one pack), or 5 for a more expansive unlock such as a character skin. They supply a real sense of progression for your unlocks outside of just getting more and more packs, giving you extra reason to push forward and play just one more game before bed! The extra targets the Reward Book opens up for the player are keenly felt, and if you are really into one faction – such as I am with Scoia’tael – then you can focus your efforts on completing that tree first.
CD Projekt Red add more and more entries into the Reward Book over time, such as the temporary Seasonal trees that unlock new cardbacks and player icons. You can shortcut this and buy some of those unlocks with real money, but it is great to see them organically available in the Reward Book too. Combine this with the aforementioned Contracts, the Daily Log-In bonuses, and the Battle Pass-esque system of the Journeys, and there is a lot to push you on.
5. Going On A Journey
Alright, I keep bringing it up, so let’s explain the Journey more. To put it simply, it is the GWENT version of the Battle Pass trend that struck the mainstream in Fortnite and has now seemingly been adopted by every other game that can find an excuse to. So, if you are playing GWENT for free, you get the standard version of this, which gives you some moderate rewards (Reward Points, Player Icons, and the like) for earning Crowns. You get Crowns for winning rounds in games or completing Journey-specific challenges, with 3 new of the latter being added to the Standard and Premium routes each week. The challenges are a fast-track way to raise through the levels, as you earn 20 for each, with 24 Crowns putting you up one level in the 100-part Journey.
Pay for the Premium edition on top of this, though, and you get a second set of unlocks that run alongside, with some very nice results such as character skins for the featured character of that Journey (currently Yennefer!), Premium Cards, new cardbacks, and plenty more. For under 10 pounds, if you are planning to put a lot of time into GWENT then this supplies a lot of in-game value, and I am very glad I purchased it. Unlike a lot of other Battle Pass systems, such as the one in Apex Legends, I was drawn to a lot of the rewards here; I find myself excited to unlock more items from this compelling world, partly due to the brilliant art direction I mentioned earlier. The Journey just adds to the amount of player reward I feel when in GWENT, and after the time I have put in, it seems inconceivable I would not have purchased the Premium version of the Pass at some point. It has a lot of baked-in value for those investing the hours.
6. Ways To Play
Up to now, I’ve mentioned frequently how I have focused on decks in the Scoia’tael faction, but there of course situations where it calls for me to play with other decks, whether it be for completing specific challenges or just as a refreshing break. In this way, GWENT has a lot of opportunity to break things up, with each faction having those very different approaches that make you, the player, adapt to different methods of play. Take the Northern Realms deck I am putting together based around Mage and Shield cards, allowing me to play cards of another type of character I generally gravitate to in card games – magicians, and the various spells and skills they have at their disposal. The other factions are distinct, too; the self-consuming and enemy-bleeding monsters, the double-crossing Nilfgaard, the hardy Units of seafaring Skellige, and the complex combos of latest introduction Syndicate. Each has their own rhythm that is markedly different to the others, and learning how to play against each of them is as important as playing with each of them.
After playing so much in Season of the Bear, I started to feel, for the first time, a bit burnt out, but deciding to build that Mage-Shield deck definitely helped me mix up my play for a bit. Furthermore, they just started Season of the Elf, and I have gotta get those rewards, haha; the unlockable tagline for getting to Pro rank in this season is “Sharpshooter” and I so need that under my username. On that topic, Pro Rank requires you to play with multiple deck factions to make your way to the sharp end, so that is another motivation to branch out. If you are still struggling for inspiration, then the regularly-changed side modes that experiment with different match modifiers are a way to force yourself to play in a new way. These can be quite ridiculous, such as cards being played twice or your entire deck duplicating into a larger deck! Whilst playing mostly with one faction is fine, I do feel the need to open myself up to getting better with other factions too, and that is one of my main remaining goals in GWENT!
There you go, that is why I love GWENT; if you have not played it, and are a fan of The Witcher, card games, or are just generally intrigued, I recommend giving it a shot! It is free-to-play, so money-wise you won’t lose anything playing for a bit. Either way, thanks for reading! You can see more of my list-based articles here, if you would like some similar style of article to read. I hope you have an amazing day!