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Of all the things you can do in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt—and there are a lot of things you can do in the world of The Witcher—the card game Gwent is among the most unique. While having a playable card game in a video game isn’t a new idea (see Final Fantasy VIII’s “Triple Triad” and many others), Gwent is one of the most fleshed-out and complex games-inside-games seen to date.
Gwent is a card game within The Witcher 3 enjoyed by merchants and many major characters. Each player draws 10 cards and the game’s board is set up like two armies squaring off. The basic cards comprise melee, ranged, and siege troops that all have a strength ranking. The goal is to end each round with more strength on the field than your opponent. You have to make the 10 cards in your hand last the entirety of the game, and there’s a lot of strategy involved.
While some players might assume that Gwent is just another video game distraction, it actually has some basis in the books that the Witcher games are based on.
“In the books, ‘Gwint’ (the original Polish name) is briefly mentioned once or twice,” Rafał Jaki, developer at The Witcher studio CD Projekt Red, told Playboy. “We took from there that there could be existing games about the clashing of two armies. There is even a funny bit about when Dwarves play Gwent they have a stick to smack cheaters who get caught. So we took that notion and built upon that.”
The idea was to do something simple, but not simplistic. There are plenty of strategies beyond the simple laying of troops, such as using weather cards to power down a row of your enemies’ troops—as well as your own—and so on. The main design of Gwent was done by Damien Monnier, the game’s senior gameplay designer, and many influences can be seen from other games. Hearthstone and Netrunner, two popular card games, are just a few examples of the real-world games that Monnier and his team drew upon when crafting Gwent.
But given how good Gwent is and how popular it’s become among The Witcher players, it’s pretty surprising that it wasn’t originally supposed to be in the game at all.
“Well, at first having a card game in Wild Hunt was not planned at all,” Jaki explained. “We tried to pitch our head of studio (Adam Badowski) with an idea like [a card game], but the concept did not fit very well. Then Damien told Adam that if he gives us two days we will come to him with a game that he will approve of—and we did.”
As development on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt progressed, Gwent had to be developed alongside the dev team’s normal duties, as this was never in the original plan for the game. Throughout its development, however, more and more people within the studio latched on to the concept and helped with the completion of Gwent while they still fulfilled their normal development duties.
“It took us more than a year to make it what people now, hopefully, are playing in The Witcher 3,” Jaki said.
Gwent’s success has caused players to ask for a standalone version, whether it be on PC or mobile—or both. In fact, one modder has already gone so far as to add the entire suite of Gwent cards and mechanics into a game called Tabletop Simulator, letting players enjoy Gwent without having to boot up The Witcher 3. As of now, CD Projekt Red has no plans to bring Gwent to any other platform, even though they know people are asking.
“We think that Gwent is a fun part of the world, but it’s exactly because it’s a part of it,“ Jaki said. "We are getting a huge amount of emails to just port it to iPad or PC as a stand alone, but it would not work without major changes. When you do quests inside The Witcher 3, you can encounter different decks, but in a player-versus-player (PVP) environment it would have to be far more fine-tuned. When you play real people they can come up with things that we as design didn’t think of.”
CDPR still has plans to support Gwent within the world they’ve created, as updates since launch have seen the addition of new Gwent cards to the game. So whether you’re someone who is begging for an Android phone version to play on your commute or a player wandering the streets of the city of Novigrad in search of the next tough opponent, Gwent will not be dying off anytime soon.
Gwent is a great way to just take a break from the humdrum life of a professional monster hunter, so while you’re battling petty merchants in the town you just rescued or challenging one of the game’s masters with your carefully curated decks, enjoy the brief in-game respite the developers worked so hard to bring you. Oh—and remember to watch out for Dwarves with clubs, lest they catch you cheating.
Joseph Bradford is a freelance writer based out of Las Vegas. When not blabbing about video games to anyone who is willing to listen, he can be found spending time with family and enjoying a great jazz record. He also hosts a weekly podcast about the gaming industry, aptly named Gaming the Industry.
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