In Hand of Fate, you use a constantly growing deck of cards to form the very dungeons that you move through. You challenge increasingly difficult bosses, and seek to defeat the ominous dealer. Although Hand of Fate hinges on cards, it’s not a card game; it’s a roguelike action/RPG, and a surprisingly fun and original experience that comes together admirably.

The dungeons are randomly assembled, so you never know what boons or burdens are under each card tile, but you can stack the deck with a few cards prior to each adventure. The rest of the deck is determined by the dealer, and you have to change your playstyle to accommodate. Some levels may curse you each time you opt to use a shop, so you may want to prepare your deck accordingly.

You assemble equipment and encounter decks, which can be edited before each adventure. Weapons and armor you discover are drawn from the equipment deck. When you step over a card tile, the card comes from your encounter deck. These cards can be standard enemy encounters, which offer fast-paced action combat with blocking, swinging, special abilities, and a lot of dodging. The battles are fun, but take a backseat to the non-combat encounters that constantly leave you wondering if you made the right choice to gamble with drunks at a tavern or attempt to get a blacksmith to craft you the perfect weapon.

Encounter cards aren’t always fights; they contain myriad other options that don’t take place on the battlefield at all. A player could wander through a secret portal to end up on another map entirely, meet a bard, explore a chasm, or strike a deal with a demon. These encounters often have tokens associated with them, and if the card is completed in a specific fashion, that token yields permanent cards to add to your core decks. A good portion of the game is management of these other encounters instead of a focus on fighting, as acquisition or lossof core resources can come from these events.

Tokens are persistent, and you keep them even if you fail a map, which hedges any frustration that comes from dying during a level. You are constantly progressing, making things potentially easier on your next attempt. For instance, if you make a blood bargain with some vampires, it may cost you a nearly lethal amount of health and make you easy pickings in the next battle, but the token you acquire offers you some magical gear for the next attempt. This feels like an excellent compromise, making Hand of Fate sort of a “roguelite” as opposed to a strict, unforgiving roguelike.

You manage three key resources along the way: gold, food, and health. If you run out of food, each tile movement costs you health instead of recovering it, so management of all three resources is crucial as you wander the dungeons. Combined with the other systems in play, these elements make Hand of Fate feel like an awesome tabletop experience with the dealer as a sort of dungeon master – you never know exactly what’s going to happen next, and it keeps things continually exciting.

I noticed a difficulty spike toward the end, but overall the card-based journey is a fun, challenging jaunt that should leave you craving more as you run into disasters and tough battles, taking your tokens and licking your wounds as each attempt brings you just a little closer to the next boss. While the game could use some enemy variety, overall the good mix of encounters and potential outcomes shine and keep things interesting the whole way through.

This review pertains to the PC version of Hand of Fate