Despite offering an expansive open world filled with monsters, political rivalries, and loot, many players of 2015 game of the year The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt spend more time in taverns littered throughout Temeria playing a creative card game called Gwent. CD Projekt Red noticed the intense following the pub game got, so it took the natural next step in creating a standalone digital card game that doubles down on the formula.

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game plays much like the version that appeared in the original game, but with a few minor but important tweaks. First, you are allowed to mulligan up to three cards at the start of every competitive match. Second, your deck is limited to four heroes. From there, the developers rebalanced the action to make sure certain play styles (like aggressively relying on spies in the first round) aren't overpowered, while improving the visuals and user interface. Each card has a premium version that is animated and interactive, allowing the player to change the angle of the card with an analog stick or mouse to appreciate the model.  New abilities, cards, and mechanics are coming to Gwent as well. 

Competitive play is grouped by skill tiers that players can climb or descend based on their performance while in the groupings. Beyond head-to-head play, CD Projekt Red is fleshing out the experience with offline, 10-hour campaigns for each of the four decks (Northern Realms, Scoia'tel, Skellige, and Monsters) complete with top-down maps to explore and untold stories starring both new and well-known characters from the universe. The stories play out in fully voiced comic book style cutscenes. As with any Witcher game, choice and consequences play a role in the adventures.  

In the demo we watched, Geralt is tagging along with a mercenary named Falibur and an elven guide named Milaen. The group is escorting a small girl named Torina who they find next to a slaughtered guard in a tavern. From here they set out in the open world, heading to an old elven ruin. Here the player can choose to explore or disregard the ruin. Exploration yields a new Gwent card called Scorch, which is an ancient elven recipe for a fire bomb. 

As the group approaches a town, the girl transforms into a demon named Zaphire. A Gwent battle ensues in which the player can test out the new card. As the battle plays out, characters placed on the board will react to certain situations with voiced dialogue. 

The depth of the Gwent experience for this standalone game is impressive for a free-to-play game. CD Projekt Red says it's still fine-tuning the microtransaction model, but stressed that they don't want it to turn into a grind fest for those who choose not to spend money. 

Gwent is scheduled to move into a closed beta for Xbox One and PC in September, with a PlayStation 4 version to come at a later date. To sign up for the beta head here.