It’s the game within a game that some people argue might actually be more fun than the actual game itself. The tabletop deckbuilding simulator Gwent, found inside CD ProjektRED’s The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, has proven to be an unexpected runaway hit since it released with its parent title back in May of this year, as players from every corner of the globe continue to pore through decklists, strategy guides, and card location maps long after the single player campaign has already been explored to completion.
To pretty much everyone’s surprise (including the developers themselves), a feature that could have easily been thrown in as a one-off, two-bit minigame has since transformed into one of the biggest reasons people still come back to the Witcher III long after putting a beat down on all the monsters and bosses. Gwent has emerged as a deep, feature-rich card game that easily rivals other popular CCGs like Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering in both complexity and addictive potential, sending you scouring to every edge of Novigrad to get that very last card to finish your Nilfgaardian Empire collection.
In this beginner’s guide, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about the foundation of Gwent, while also dropping a few key hints that can help you up your game along the way.
For those out of the loop, Gwent is a card game first introduced as a part of the RPG The Witcher III that the main character can play with any merchants or shopkeeps in various towns to win prizes and extra cards. The more players you defeat, the more cards you acquire, and the better your deck will become as you progress through the main storyline.
The game is played in up to three rounds as a 1v1 bout, in an overall best out of three match. At the start of each round, players draw a hand of ten cards, maintaining the option to redraw two out of their total deck to better equip themselves for the battle ahead. One the hands are drawn, players must then attempt to play enough of their own minions onto the board to keep their overall battle score higher than that of their opponent before the round is eventually passed by both players.
There are three rows in which to play your minions, each corresponding to a different minion “type”. A minion can either be a Melee, Ranged, or Siege character, and you can only play minions of the same type together in their predesignated lane.
Each player can place down one card per turn, building up their army piece by piece until they’re satisfied with their total battle score. The first player to “Pass” their turn leaves the rest of the round up to the other player, who can then either continue to play out more cards to try and beat the opponent’s score, or forfeit the match to wipe the board and start over.
Your Hand/Resource Management
What makes Gwent so different from most other card games out there is unlike those, the cards you draw at the beginning of the match are the only ones you’ll have to work with until all rounds have concluded. This means that managing your resources is just as important from the beginning of the game as it is all the way to the end, because even though your opponent might have gotten a ton of minions out in the first round to secure the initial win, as long as you’ve managed your card pool carefully, you should be able to sweep the series once whatever remains in their hand inevitably runs out of steam.
The true strategy of mastering Gwent lies in how well you’re able to sacrifice a battle in order to win the war. Both planning out your initial hand, and knowing when the best moment to Pass are two of the most important skills you can learn when finding the path to secure ultimate victory.
In Gwent, there are four separate factions, each of which have their own specialized minion cards as well as a unique “Leader”. Leader cards give players the opportunity to activate a unique power at any point during the round, ranging from low-tier attacks like playing a type of Weather card, to stealing three cards from the opponents discard pile when resources start to run low. The four factions available in Gwent include the Nilfgaardian Empire, the Northern Realms, the Scoia’tael, and Monsters. Every player in the Witcher will automatically be started off with a basic Northern Realms deck, the Leader of which has the initial power to “find an Impenetrable Fog card in your deck and play it immediately”.
This is a power that can prove useful when your opponent is relying heavily on ranged cards to boost their score, and can even be upgraded through four separate tiers by purchasing special cards from merchants in certain cities. Once upgraded, the ability can be transformed into the option to clear all the weather effects on the board instantly rather than adding one, a change which can drastically alter how the deck is built and played despite belonging to the same faction throughout.
Getting the perfect mix of Leader ability cards, minions, and factions for your upstart Gwent deck is a process that even the most dedicated players still don’t have totally nailed down yet, and as expansion packs are released and the card pool grows, the meta will only continue to change and evolve as time goes on from here.
Of course, the game wouldn’t be all that fun if it was just about throwing around arbitrary cards until you got a bigger number than someone else. This is where card effects come in, acting as modifiers for minions which bring extra levels of flair to each round. If a minion has a card effect, it will be notated by a white circular badge, located just under their type and power rating on the left-hand side of their portrait.
Card effects can range from bolstering spells like Morale Boost (increase the attack of all minions in the row by +1), to more popular effects like the Spy modifier, which sends a minion or monster to your opponents side of the field, thereby increasing their battle score, but allows you to draw two more cards in return. These are the kinds of mechanics that can either pay off huge of flop completely in one move, and knowing how to mitigate the gaps in that risk is what separates the amateurs from the pros on the battlefield.
But why should a minion type matter if the score is always the same?
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Say hello to the rainy day, because there’s going to be a lot of them from now on. For each type of minion, there’s a corresponding Weather effect card that players can use to reduce the attack of all the minions in a particular row down to one, negating their effectiveness on the battlefield until the round is over or an opponent counters the card with a “Clear Weather” spell.
Weather modifiers like Biting Frost will reduce the attack of all melee minions (also to one), while Impenetrable Fog and Torrential Rain will do the same for ranged and sieged minions, respectively. This is why it’s smart never to rely too heavily on any one type of particular minion to win you the game, because often all it can take is one well placed Weather effect to completely swing a round in the other direction.
Like mana in Magic or spell cards in Hearthstone, managing a fine balance of Weather effects in your deck crucial to coming out on top for any hard-fought victory.
Lastly, there are hero cards. These are rare cards that players can only earn by completing special quests around the world map, or finding obscure merchants that pop up via various quests along the way.
Hero cards are high damage minions that are completely unaffected by weather spells, and more often than not the first hero card you get will determine how you build your deck around their type. Because this is only an introductory course in Gwent we won’t spend too much time dwelling on all the different characters that occupy the hero tier of minions, but keep a look out for our future guides to learn more about who they are and how they can help you nail the toughest opponents in the Northern Kingdoms.
As we mentioned at the outset, Gwent is a highly intricate game, complete with dozens of different strategies for each faction and deck type. To try and break them all down in one article would be nearly impossible, but stay tuned to How-To Geek as we give you all the tips, tricks, and techniques you’ll need to amass your card army and become the master of the Witcher III’s Gwent gauntlet.
Until then, now that you know how Gwent works and the building blocks for what it takes to get good, you can finally set out on your adventure into the world and start racking up some wins like the power of your deck depends on it.