It's probable that most gamers who want to play a digital CCG are already finding their needs met nowadays. You have the trendsetter Hearthstone retaining a large player base, adaptations of major franchises like Plants vs. Zombies Heroes and The Elder Scrolls: Legends, and well-received original titles like Eternal and Shadowverse. Yes, it takes something particularly unique to stand out in a genre this busy. Thankfully, Flaming Fowl Studios and Mediatonic are well on their way to achieving this goal with Fable Fortune.
Born from the ashes of Lionhead's untimely demise and a Kickstarter pitch that led to outside funding, this long in development fantasy card game has polish for days and complex mechanics to learn. You play as one of six archetypes, ranging from a farmer to a necromancer. Decks combine cards specific to your chosen character with a collection of generic tools that everyone can use. Once you pick your hero, you can choose to play solo against human players, train against AI, or team up with a friend to take on a single powerful foe in co-op. This is good to know off the bat as the game could be a bit more clear as to revealing all your options. Things like AI matches and custom decks are hidden behind layers of menus and not easily accessible to a casual player.
Of course, there could be a reason why custom decks are not obvious from the start. Fable Fortune has a pre-made theme deck ready to go for each hero, and the game is complicated enough that it's worth sticking with that deck for a good while as you learn the game. Gameplay here iterates on a lot of what Hearthstone brought to the table, including familiar mechanics and a structure where attacking and playing cards can be done at any point during your turn. What Fable Fortune adds on top is a quest system that gives you a small task to complete as you play. Accomplish your goal and you'll be able to upgrade your hero's abilities in one of two ways. This will determine your morality, which can, in turn, transform and power up certain cards should you choose to use them.
Combat is also a bit more complicated. Instead of specific creatures having a Taunting Elf-esque ability, you can make any creature Guard for one gold (Fable Fortune's version of mana). This is a good change by the designers, an attempt to expand past players being forced to use certain creatures in a deck because of vital abilities. On the other hand, it's also another layer of complexity to think about on any given turn.
Fable Fortune is a game that feels deeper than many others, which is both a blessing and a curse. Once you know what you're doing, the synergies between cards can pop out, and the options you have when it comes to crafting your deck can feel limitless. However, for new players, this ocean of possibilities will most likely come off as a daunting task to overcome. The game currently has no tutorial and relies on a player's familiarity with the genre to get by. Playing a few rounds will throw loads of cards at you, but building a new deck and testing it out while you're still learning the ropes can be suicidal to your win ratio. Needless to say, if you are interested in Fable Fortune, prepare to sink quite a few hours into it before you feel confident in taking on anyone who knows what they're doing.
Going back to the quest system, I do like how it thematically fits in with the Fable franchise. Watching your hero transform between good and evil versions is one of many great visual tricks that the game pulls. Regardless, the rewards for the quest system seem a bit out of place in a deckbuilding game. Basically, each "season" has three specific quests to choose from during each game. Each successful quest will net you and your opponent a specific card in addition to the morality shift. Everyone gets the same card, but both players are still playing separate decks.
Therefore, it's entirely possible that your opponent could have a deck that is more attuned to the reward card. This gives them an advantage over you based solely on whatever week it happens to be. The specific tasks could also be more simple for one deck to achieve over the other, and all of this is an extra imbalance that is happening outside of the player's control. This mechanic seems fine for a side mode, but to have it be tied into regular play (including AI practice matches) adds a bit too much random chance for my liking.
Thankfully, Fable Fortune is going into Early Access, meaning that the developers are ready and willing to accept player feedback. The game is already one of the best looking among its peers and features voice acting that doesn't try to embarrassingly shoehorn in card game terms whenever possible. On top of everything, there's a solid foundation to build from when it comes to the way the game plays. With enough tweaks and a proper tutorial, Fable Fortune has the potential to be a real contender.
Fable Fortune was previewed in Closed Beta on PC via Steam. It will be available on Steam Early Access and Xbox Game Preview on July 25th.