Standing in the CD Projekt RED meeting room at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), you felt as though you were transported to another place. Gone were the sounds of people mingling around you at the Los Angeles Convention Center; instead you were sitting in front of a one-of-a-kind carvedcard table in a tavern that could have been pulled directly from the Polish game developer’s 2015 blockbuster The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Yet, it wasn’t the wildly successful Witcher video game series that we were there to look at, but the competitive card game Gwent.

“I’m really humbled,” Damien Monnier, lead designer on Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, told me. It was at E3, the year’s biggest video game convention, where CD Projekt announced that the in-game card game beloved by players of The Witcher 3 was being developed as its own separate video game. “We had no idea it was going to be that big,” Monnier said.

In The Witcher 3 players control a warrior named Geralt of Rivia on an epic quest, but you can also take breaks to challenge the world’s many inhabitants to Gwent matches, wagering coins or unique cards. It’s a fun distraction in a great video game.

I spoke with the developer last year about the origins of Gwent. The card game was designed during development of The Witcher 3, alongside the regular development of the total game. It was never meant to be released as a standalone game, rather just a fun addition to the full Witcher game.

“So I didn’t lie back then,” Monnier assured me with a laugh.

The outpouring of fan support for a standalone Gwent game began almost immediately after the launch of The Witcher 3, and pretty quickly it became too much for the company to ignore.

(photo: Joseph Bradford)

(photo: Joseph Bradford)

“So what happened is that we listened. We always listen to the fans. This is our thing. We sat down and we [asked]: ‘Should we do it? Can we do it justice? Can we do something really, really good?” Monnier said. “Because it was totally unplanned.”

In the “tavern” at E3 you could tell that the team was excited to show off what they’d come up with. Instead of a simple version of the same game that appears in The Witcher 3, which is likely what everyone pining for standalone Gwent expected, the developers at the Polish company pulled out the stops to create more than just a card game.

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game isn’t exactly the same as it was in The Witcher 3, and that’s for the better. Gone are the overpowered cards you can accumulate in the award-winning adventure game, making your deck nigh-unbeatable. instead the game’s mechanics have been completely rebalanced to accommodate multiplayer with other live players. This original unbalance was a key reason why a multiplayer release wasn’t originally planned, as the game was designed to mirror your growth in The Witcher 3; as Geralt got stronger, you accumulated more cards and could essentially destroy anyone in a game of Gwent.

“We had to change a few mechanics, add some restrictions—but not too many restrictions,” Monnier said.

The beauty of Gwent is its seeming simplicity. There are no costs to playing cards, as you see in other games such as Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering. However, the strategy can be complex, and the changes made to the game add to that complexity.

Adding onto the experience is something CD Projekt RED was also excited to showcase at their E3 hands-on demo. Gwent: The Witcher Card Game will feature a fully voiced story-based campaign, complete with quests and stories untold in the Witcher universe until now. This isn’t a simple “Here’s the card game you’ve been asking for, have fun,” scenario. Rather, the developers are putting their “CD Projekt” spin on it, making it as great as they can.

All hands are seemingly on deck at the studio as well, as even the voice actors from The Witcher 3 are lending their talents in Gwent. Additionally, the lead writer and lead quest designer are on board with the project, meaning the quality seen in The Witcher 3 will not be diminished even though—like many modern video games—Gwent will be free-to-play.

In fact, the team showcasing the game seemed proud of the fact that they weren’t showing off some halfway-done game, but rather making Gwent really feel like a premium experience without the premium price.

“We know that free-to-plays have a bad rep,” Monnier mentioned when asked about the business model of the upcoming card game. “So when we sat down with the guys we asked: ‘What can we do to have a free-to-play that’s fair?’ Is it even possible? And every step we ask questions: ‘OK, how can we improve this, is it the right way for us?”

A toast during the final demo of the show (photo: Mike Rougeau)

A toast during the final demo of the show (photo: Mike Rougeau)

In the end, this is a game made for the fans. The decision to make the game free to all wasn’t a hard decision for Monnier and his team. “That was the call: ‘You know, people [asked] for it, just give to them for free,’” he said. “The goal for us was that you do not need to spend a penny to enjoy Gwent.”

Instead of a simple port, fans of Gwent will get a fully voiced, quest-driven card game experience that can be played completely for free by yourself or with friends online. Monnier was adamant they weren’t going to just release a game and just “screw everyone.”

“Marcin Iwinski, the co-founder actually said to us in a meeting,” Monnier recalled, “he said: ‘Just remember, we’re CD Projekt RED.’ And that means a lot.”

Joseph Bradford is a freelance writer based out of Las Vegas. While he could explain, correctly, why Balrogs have wings, he’d rather spend time with family and listen to a great jazz album. He also hosts a weekly podcast about the gaming industry, aptly named Gaming the Industry. You can follow him on Twitter

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