Review

Written by Nicholas Barkdull | Edited by John Gerritzen

Why are arcade games so great? They’re not packed with content and narrative like their premium brethren, but they still manage to be satisfying. I think it’s because you just need to spend a couple bucks to have a fun, interesting experience for a little while. The mechanics of arcade games let you jump right in and have a good game no matter how long or little you play. But arcades are a bit dead these days, unless you live in East Asia, an abandoned Pizza Hut from the 80’s, or Pete Davidson’s mom’s basement. For a little while, browser games filled that niche, but devs rightfully abandoned the format because it’s not profitable at all. So, what’s to stop plucky indie games with unique mechanics from coming along on Steam and offering the same kind of experience for just a couple bucks? Nothing! And Card Hog is a great example of a two-person dev team doing just that.

All the best parts of dungeon crawler card games.

Dungeon crawlers have of course been around forever, and in recent years the deck-based dungeon crawler has become popular among indie devs. It’s a great format that involves deck building and encounters without all the hard technical work of animating battles. It fits the genre well, because dungeon crawling comes from tabletop RPGs where a lot of the work happens in the minds of the players.

Card Hog, now in early access, is shaping up to be another evolution of the format. It’s a bit like playing 2048, with cards sliding onto the screen as you move around a grid, but each move is another encounter. As you move onto the adjacent squares, you either pick up weapons or items, or attack a wide variety of foes.

The more you play, the more cards are added to your deck. The weapons get more interesting, and the enemies become more challenging.

It’s an addictive twist to roguelike procedural generation.

Full disclosure: I’m not actually a big fan of procedurally generated dungeons. To me, the randomness destroys the narrative instead of enhances it. The intention is to have a unique game each time, but I need some kind of clear goal to be invested in that sort of thing.

The unlockable heroes and upgrades in Card Hog help remedy that problem of progress. It’s a great alternative to the tired old format of experience points and levels, and the grid of cards mechanic makes the procedural generation strangely moreish.

There are times when all the cards around you are enemies and you feel closed-in – you feel death looming on the horizon. But when you finally break through your foes to the health potions and weapons beyond, you suddenly find yourself on a roll, crushing enemies left and right. You never quite know what cards will pop up next, but you can see enough moves ahead to be strategic. This format is perfect for getting into a flow, and when you die it’s never a huge letdown. Part of the thrill is seeing how long you can play in an individual round, but when it’s all over you get to see what you can unlock with the money you’ve collected.

The aesthetic also fits perfectly.

This pig-themed dungeon crawler takes itself just seriously enough. Pigs are inherently funny and cute, and watching them swing swords at zombies or mushrooms whose caps fly off and damage the next card is great fun. The artwork is excellent – cartoony and descriptive. The sound design, while not prominently displayed, works well too.

The mechanics are constantly being updated, and they include the kind of card combinations that come from an enthusiastic imagination inspired by the game’s own aesthetic. There seem to be no limits to what the devs will try, even if they have to come back and balance it later.

In other words, this is the kind of game that lets your own imagination tell the story, but it would also be perfect for a story mode. In fact, the devs are very active in their updates and it looks like a story mode has been in the works for quite a while. We’ll see what actually materializes for the full release, but I for one would love to see a complete campaign in this game. Regardless, there are several play modes, including multiplayer, that fit the aesthetic just as well as the main single player dungeon crawling.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about Card Hog. It costs pennies, and it’s a great little game even in early access. Whatever the devs add to the game (and their track record hints that it will be good), I don’t see myself being disappointed with the full release of this one.

8

The Verdict: Excellent

Card Hog is a small but satisfying game. For just a couple dollars, it offers unique card-based dungeon crawling that doesn’t stale with extended play. It’s interesting and well-balanced, the devs are dedicated to updates, and the artwork is charming.

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