I need some serious help.
When I started playing Witcher 3, I cleared my gaming decks. I knew that it would be massive and all encompassing, so lots of indies got finished, several AAA games were purchased and shelved, and quite a bit of DLC was ignored. All in all, my current total playtime with Geralt is 11 days, and since I took a break after the main game, that’s not including any of the DLC.
What I’ve not taken a break on? Gwent.
During those 11 days in game, I successfully collected everything, defeated every opponent, won the title at the Passiflora, purchased every loose card from vendors, and found myself on quite a few side quests where I spent more time at the inn dropping Nilfgaard spies than actually hunting for monsters. I found it to be the perfect addition to such a deep game, and when I played, it was fun to think of my armor-covered, bearded monster hunter anxiously worrying about bent corners, or whether to drop a round to keep more cards.
At PAX East 2016, the team behind Gwent detailed its origins, and I knew that there had to be a standalone game around the corner. So when it was announced, I was in the beta within a heart-beat, and have been losing horribly ever since. Beating the A.I. in Novigrad is one thing, but the skills some of these players use to chain together huge card combos is amazing.
All of that long winded background brings us to the book I’m reviewing today: Gwent: Art of the Witcher Card Game. This Dark Horse book brings together the art from the game, all meticulously curated to tell a story in the several seconds each card makes its impact on the playing field.
The artwork is pretty damn incredible. As the world of the game is worn, dirty, and raw, the aesthetics reflect that in stark detail. Monsters are horrific — creeping out of dark corners and feasting on lots of dead, or soon to be dead, flesh. The Northern Kingdoms reflect the dual identity of war mongering nobles and expendable commoners. The Scoia’tel fare quite a bit better, showing a large connection between the non-human populations and nature. Skellige’s culture of honor from battle, a great deal of self sacrifice, and no division in gender on the front line is all captured with a backdrop of cold Celtic/Norse environments. Nilfgaard displays just how far diplomacy at the end of a sword can bring an empire, and how good a vain noble can look in a set of armor. Finally the neutral/hero cards are the pin-ups of sorts of the game. Splashy images of Geralt, Yennifer, Ciri, etc. are drawn to show the characters’ nature and power set in an instant, so that even without looking at the number on the card, you know you’ve got something big going down.
The extra details on these pages is also very welcome, especially for a fan like me. Not only is the basic card description included, but some cards dive deeper into the lore, sharing more backstory or the designers’ and artists’ intentions in how they crafted the page and image. Learning that one of the artists considers her image of a disgusting monster hatching a “perfect Mother’s Day card” is fun and silly.
Overall, this is a great resource, and a fun picture gallery of what makes the game come alive. I don’t see all that much of an audience for this beyond the core Gwent-heads, as a great deal of the cards deal with older Witcher game lore, or unique items and tactics from the standalone game. Still, my general feeling is if CD Projekt Red is going to get some money from something, I’m going to buy it to reward them for being the kind of game developer we all want. Grab a copy, and then ping me for my Xbox Gamertag so you can see how terrible I am at this game.