Today, it is difficult to impress players with a card bagel because this mechanic is used in one way or another in every other modern indie project. Each first one features Vampire Survivors. But even amidst such successful card bagels as Slay the Spire, Roguebook, and Gordian Quest, Hellcard by Polish studio Thing Trunk stands out nicely. Let’s find out why.
|Skystone Games, Surefire.Games
A few years after its founding, Thing Trunk devoted itself to developing the concept of Return 2 Games, a series of seven games that use card mechanics but have completely different gameplay and settings. All games take place in the world of Paperverse, where everything – the environment, monsters, heroes, etc. – is created as if from paper, almost like origami.
The first game of the series, Book of Demons, a kind of linear card game Diablo, was released in 2018. The second one was supposed to be an XCOM-like game with Book of Aliens maps. Yes, yes, we already have one XCOM game with maps – Marvel’s Midnight Suns, but this is different. In 2020, the developers switched to Hellcard, which was released on Steam Early Access in February 2023. And now, finally, this project has also been released.
Stairway to hell
As in the previous game in the series, Book of Demons, we descend into a monster-filled dungeon under a cursed abbey. But if in Book of Demons the cards were your weapon, which beat the monsters in real time, like in some Diablo, then in Hellcard the gameplay is step-by-step. First, the heroes play their cards, then it’s the turn of the monsters.
But, unlike most card bagels, your heroes and opponents are not lined up in a row, one opposite the other, no, Hellcard has a full-fledged playing field. Three heroes in the center back to back, monsters on all sides, moving, swapping cities, etc. That’s why some spells and abilities here affect either the area, in which case they need to be precisely directed, or certain sectors or zones, which significantly changes the gameplay. Sometimes it’s more useful not to hit specific monsters, but to freeze the threat, or move enemies to another area, or throw them back.
Monsters attack the heroes in their own sector, but for the party to survive, it is important to cover each other, give a block in time, kill “other people’s” monsters, etc.
Of course, on the way down, to where the Devil or the Antipasto awaits, you will find new artifacts, places where you can improve or discard extra cards, heal, and more. And of course, there are bosses to defeat.
Cards for three
Hellcard was originally conceived as a cooperative card game, and it turned out to be so, despite the fact that it has a full-fledged single-player mode in which the player controls three characters at once. In cooperative mode, each of the three players has their own character, their own area of responsibility, and you can’t look at your partner’s cards. So you need to negotiate, set common goals, help your comrades who are suffering from monster attacks, protect them, remove the threat, cover them, and so on. As always, a balanced party (mage-warrior-archer) and good communication are the keys to success.
There are not that many players online, but it is possible to find companions within 5-10 minutes. However, I was thrown into the party several times by a player with the nickname “Something DNR”, which was unpleasant, so I had to restart the search.
A standard 12-level dungeon takes a little over an hour to complete. If one of your teammates joined your party later, it may take longer, as the newcomer will need to level up by completing additional levels before the final boss.
Heroes and heroines
Hellcard has four main classes of heroes. The warrior, who deals significant damage to enemies and has defensive skills to cover his party members from retaliatory attacks. The archer, of course, is better at fighting at a distance and has a lot of very cheap cards in her arsenal. The mage can freeze opponents or summon Armageddon, a weak but skillful mage. And the last class is a kind of mechanic who must first obtain the necessary components and then “assemble” a weapon that will act independently when changing moves. The last class is the most difficult to play.
In addition to the basic classes, each of them has various variations that must be unlocked for cooperative play, and in single-player you can get companions by chance. For example, an archer can become a thief who will scatter bombs that need to be detonated across all sectors. It’s a scary weapon. There are also variations for other classes.
Of course, between races to the final boss or the death of a character, you will unlock new maps that can be obtained during subsequent trips. In the adventures themselves, maps can be improved, deleted, changed, and so on.
The single-player campaign in Hellcard is not bad and allows you to fully control the passage, which is especially important in the case of endless dungeons, where the player is subject to various harmful bonuses. But the game reveals itself in cooperative play.
Yes, there can be mistakes, you can die here simply because you played your card earlier than necessary or did not hear your partner. Yes, sometimes there is real chaos here, but this is how the game approaches the classic card and board games that you enjoy playing with your friends from time to time.
If you love card RPGs and want to try a co-op experience, Hellcard is exactly what you’ve been looking for. Be warned, like all good card games, Hellcard is addictive.