RDBG #10: Hand of Fate 2 (2017)

Released on November 7th, 2017, Hand of Fate 2 is the first direct sequel we’ve seen to something covered here. Unbeknownst to me at the time of writing about the first game, it is also Australian dev Defiant Development’s final game – the company went defunct in July 2019. Founder Morgan Jaffit has chalked their closure up to a failure to adapt to the changing nature of the game market and the risks taken in making their games. Ultimately, it sounds like the games weren’t selling enough to recoup what they were spending on making them. This is deeply unfortunate, because the Hand of Fate games are some of the most polished and graphically impressive things we’re likely to see in this genre, and the refinements made to the game’s formula make it easy to recommend over its already enjoyable predecessor.

Premise and Gameplay

Largely being an enhancement of the first Hand of Fate’s formula, I will not go back over much of the background in my post on the first game. In brief, the Dealer, having suffered his first loss at your hands in the first game, returns to narrate your traversal through “22 paths of wisdom and despair”. As before, you navigate your way around a card-based game board, managing resources and equipment as you make choose-your-own-adventure style story decisions and fight enemies in real-time action rather than turn-based card combat. Rather than collecting and playing cards during a run, you select a pool of cards you may or may not come across during the run, affecting the equipment and scenarios you will encounter.

He’s back, and he’s not best pleased. He will, however, let you choose to be a woman this time around.

The biggest modification is the expansion of the concept from simply surviving a run to taking risks through exploration. The object of the original game was to endure movement around the board long enough to get to the next floor, eventually reaching and defeating a boss. Exploration is now encouraged by walling off access to the boss until certain criteria are met. There are different extents to which runs can be completed, as well. Many will deem you successful if you rout the boss, but extra rewards can be obtained for completing all the objectives.

You aren’t adventuring alone anymore, either: you can have a companion alongside you. Companions offer a variety of support, such as using ranged magic or acting as a secondary melee attacker to draw enemy attention while you focus on walloping someone else. Enemies now have different resistances and weaknesses to certain equipment, and you can even unlock further benefits from your weapons by using them a set number of times in a specific way. This helps to mitigate a problem with the previous game where equipment choice was almost always a no-brainer exercise in sticking to the weapons and armour with the highest stats.

New enemies, bosses, and even your own character when you enter a fight with new equipment trigger a splash screen with a few details.

Combat is still melee focused and feels a little more responsive this time around. Little icons appear if an enemy can be hit with a special or finishing move, which I’m grateful for because it used to be easy to forget to ever use them and just hammer the normal attack button if things got hairy. You will likely still do a lot of that anyway, but with the greater variety in enemy types, you are encouraged to at least think about changing your approach from time to time. Your character still does the thing where they will ‘slide’ toward the nearest enemy in range if you press attack but you aren’t close to anyone, as though ice skating in their direction, but it isn’t as egregiously obvious. I don’t think it does anything particularly innovative or exciting to sell you on this style of combat if you aren’t already a fan of it, but I think credit should be given that this is still a novel form of engagement for this early in the genre.

Other improvements may not be apparent unless you played the original. A big one for me was the moment I noticed that travelling over previous-visited spaces no longer consumes food, enabling exploration greatly. You can now camp at any time to restore health and trade for items, but the risk of running out of food and starving remains. On the whole, a greater amount of important decision-making is on offer at any one time, and that’s usually a good thing.

Hilariously, the ONLY way to defeat gnomes is to kick them in the face.

Randomised Elements

Not a whole lot new on this front, but there are two things I deem worth bringing up here. The first game had a bit of a difficulty issue whereby 85% of the campaign missions could be fairly easily blasted through on your first try if you were good enough at the action combat and were careful with your equipment, until the last two or three missions stonewalled you by making you likelier to come across bad cards that sapped your health and resources, leaving you in poor stead for the boss fight. This has been addressed by rebalancing the difficulty curve. I started getting game overs around the 5-6 mission mark, but these were rarely things that couldn’t be overcome without a little more thought about rebuilding my deck and a second try. By endgame, you are spending a good bit of time before a run choosing exactly what you hope to come across in your deck instead of just hitting the ‘Recommend’ button and hoping for good RNG, as it now makes more of a difference.

The tone of the first game remains in tact – equal parts grim and grimly funny.

Another feature that I think may be more controversial is the addition of more purely luck-based minigames on top of the random success-failure cards from the first game (which also make a return appearance here). The most curious of these is a dice game, where you roll three dice and must beat a certain number for a positive outcome. This is novel the first time you play it, but because the only action you can take if you fail is to reroll one dice, it quickly becomes uninvolving. I can think of an easy way that this could have been improved: have the Dealer roll against you (perhaps within a certain range) and have the result of his roll hidden until you make your own, not unlike rolling against your DM in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Perhaps there was a development reason they wanted these instances to have a definite hard-set number you must pass, but as it stands, there’s little engagement to it, especially as you can’t quit partway through.


It’s hard to tell in static screenshots, but a lot of care has been taken to liven up enemy encounters and locations. Enemy typing is a lot more diverse now, and I’m happy to notice that the lighting has better direction now, meaning you can get a much better look at the models now. Your own character’s appearance and clothing is now even partly customisable. The font is less ye-olde-traditional looking, but it is much more immediately readable, which is definitely the right call to make for a text-heavy game.

It gives me great pleasure to report that the last enemy defeated in a fight will still ragdoll away from you in slo-mo, now accompanied by VERY over-the-top victory music.

The vocal performance of Anthony George Skordi as the Dealer is once again the standout here. I honestly think the HoF games would only be half of what they are without this character, and that’s very unusual for a genre that lives or dies by its gameplay mechanics. HoF2 is a great example of how a little bit of good writing goes a long way to keeping someone coming back to a game, and the Dealer’s voice samples invite you to consider the worldview of the game beyond what’s simply written on the cards. At times aloof and condescending while always waxing philosophical, he seems to equally delight and despair when you overcome his challenges. Lines like “I never understood the duel. If you’re at war, use every tool at your disposal. If you’re not, let things lie” give you a bit of a window into his mindset but he’s every bit the enigma he was in the first game. I also noticed a bit less repetition in his voice clips between runs, which greatly helps his credibility as a ringleader overseeing your whole journey.

Jeff van Dyck returns on the OST, doing a spectacular job staying within the tone and motifs of the first game while expanding on the instrumentation. Voices, wind instruments and acoustic guitars get more of a look in here. Surprisingly, some of the tracks border on Zimmeresque bombast. Defeating any encounter brings with it an almost deafening celebratory blast of synthy horns. I’m personally delighted that winning a run brings with it a new but equally exciting guitar piece while you pore over the spoils you can carry into future runs. I’m going to make a point of looking into other games purely on the basis of his scores.

RNG minigames return with greater variety, if varying quality.

Closing Remarks

It saddens me to think that this is perhaps the last we’ll see from Hand of Fate as a series. I think 2 came very close to perfecting its formula. Having said that, given how hyper-competitive the indie space is, perhaps we should be grateful it even got a sequel with this much love and refinement to begin with. There’s three packs of DLC I have yet to dive into. Quite honestly, I actually would like to keep them to one side as a treat. I know that it’s only a matter of time before I will get the itch to challenge the Dealer once again.

Standout Cards

Cards in HoF2 are significantly more involved than their predecessor. As such, the compendium doesn’t offer up full details of a card’s dialogue or functions – those surprises are saved for the game itself. The compendium simply shows how cards can affect a run mechanically.

Unrest in Ironpeak probably demonstrates this best. I’ve kept it in my deck every run I’ve been on and still haven’t unlocked its ‘completion’ token. As you can see, if can confer up four different boons and one literal curse, but in order to see everything this card does, you would need to satisfy four different requirements in four different runs.
Companions are a new addition to HoF2. Keturah of The Hunter card is my favourite. Not only can she fire at things from a cooldown, but her bullets also pierce through multiple enemies, which is great if you can line them up.
Even with the action combat, there is no one universally ‘good’ weapon. Different enemies carry different resistances, and while there’s a lot of smaller, nimbler things you’ll come across that can handily evade Hretha’s Ire here, the shockwave and fast it can smash through things that give most other weapons a lot of bother is very satisfying.

RDBG #3: Hand of Fate (2015)

The third entry to meet my criteria is already one of the more unique: it is as much an action RPG as it is a roguelike deck-builder. Released through Steam Early Access on July 7th, 2014 and receiving a finished build on February 17th, 2015, Hand of Fate was crowdfunded by its Australian developer Defiant Development. It received a sequel in 2017, and its use of reflex-dependent combat makes it a take on deck-building that still feels special in 2022.

Premise and Gameplay

Hand of Fate pits the player against ‘The Dealer’, a mysterious cloaked figure who serves as antagonist, opponent and narrator. Upon starting a run, the player and the Dealer mix together cards of their own choosing to form a deck that serves as both a game board and resource system for the third-person combat encounters (think of a very stripped down Arkham Asylum or Bayonetta). With a number of these cards set face down on the table, the player chooses a path from card to card, turning them over and triggering choose-your-own-adventure-style events, traps, rewards and encounters in the hopes of finding the one that allows them to exit the area and progress to the next one until either the boss or player is defeated.

The Dealer in the midst of mixing an upsetting number of encounters into the shared deck.

The choose-your-own-adventure comparison is apt. You don’t play cards against each other. Rather, each card you choose will outline a scenario your adventurer finds themselves in and then present you with choices (often luck-based to resolve) to decide the outcome. For example, the Hero’s Remains card sees you coming across a funeral for another adventurer and you are asked to return their sword and shield to their hometown. Your options include using them for yourself or returning them to their rightful place for a different reward – both options will curse you if you don’t reach their hometown card quickly enough. Resolving a card’s scenario in a certain way often unlocks ‘sequel’ cards that build on the scenario or its relevant characters if you add them to your deck for future runs. Given this piecemeal approach to narrative, you won’t learn a lot about the totality of Hand of Fate’s world by the time you finish, but the vignette approach always keeps you wondering what’s waiting behind your next step.

Card scenarios oscillate between darkly humourous to… just dark.

Further variation is added by choosing a ‘fate’ before the run – functionally a character class, but with the potential to run into unique scenarios or cards. The Wildcard DLC pack adds an additional 9 fates, with some really out-there variations. One of my favourites is Iron Hunger, who eats equipment instead of food, a resource needed for movement and healing. I got through a significant chunk of the game with your bog-standard adventurer, but whoever you choose, it isn’t going to transform the experience of combat as significantly as choosing a different class in Slay the Spire or Dream Quest does. You will still be whacking a lot of things in real-time.

Let’s talk about that action combat a bit. It’s not the deepest of its type, but I would argue that you probably do not want to overcomplicate the twitch combat when the card gameplay is having such an impact on how you take and receive damage. When a fight starts, you will be put up against a number of foes. Options include dodging, deflecting projectiles, and using artefacts gained from cards that create effects like calling lightning onto enemies or temporarily repelling damage. Incoming attacks can sometimes be dodged or countered with a well-timed button press, but when you’re getting properly ganged up on by six or more enemies, it’s often better to try to split them up and defeat them one-on-one. End-of-run boss fights are decently challenging, but late game battles can get a bit frustrating if you stumble across enemies before you’ve had much chance to gain adequate equipment.

Defeating the last enemy in an encounter triggers a ludicrous slo-mo effect as their body ragdolls in reaction to whatever you last did to them. Hilarious.

Randomised Elements

This is the first game we’ve seen that lets you have some direct selection of what cards may show up over a run before it begins. These runs are not totally random every time. If you choose the same ‘chapter’ multiple times, you will gain a sense of what cards The Dealer is going to shuffle in, and as such get an idea of what threats you will come across and prepare your portion of the deck accordingly. The main story takes place over twelve of these chapters, and I was having a reasonably easy time until the final three chapters, at which point the The Dealer takes the gloves off and shuffles in some real beasts to ruin your day. Even if you know they’re coming, you just hope that they come your way in such an order that you can pick up some good resources first.

Herein lies the key weakness to HoF’s deck-building, which is that you rarely need to do any deck-building of your own. Completing a run will usually unlock a handful of new cards for future runs, and it wasn’t until multiple run failures near the end of the game that I started trying to actually make my own decks. Before then, I was more than happy to hit the ‘Recommend’ button and just have the game rotate in the new, often strictly-better ‘sequels’ of cards that I’d just used from my previous run. Because there’s rarely much headscratching to be had over composing your deck, this makes it all the more apparent that you are at the mercy of luck in later runs – if I’m already outfitted with both what I and the game think are my best cards, why is there such disparity in how far I get before getting crushed in multiple runs of the same late-game chapter? It could be that I’m not particularly good at the combat, but I’ve been playing action games a lot longer than I have deck-builders, and it wasn’t until the end of the game that I started needing multiple runs to beat chapters. The game gets a lot harsher with health and resource penalties and throwing up inopportune encounters that you’re in no state to fight. Patience becomes a greater asset than skill at this point.

The artwork is wonderful. Even though I didn’t do a lot of deck-building, I found myself here a lot just to admire the cards.


Seven years down the line, you can still crank the settings on Hand of Fate and have it looking very nice. Some odd lighting decisions oversaturate bosses and darken their surroundings during their intros, which is a shame as they represent some of the game’s more interesting visual design. Great care has clearly been taken to have the game feel like a one-on-one with a mysterious opponent who only gives you glimpses of their personality and worldview as time goes on, helped in no small part by the wonderful voice acting of Anthony Skordi. Seams begin to show the longer you play. The Dealer will start repeating his clips of dialogue sooner or later, and while it doesn’t break immersion it may become a little wearing to hear a repeated observation on your fifth or sixth attempt of a late-game run. Lastly, I have nowhere else suitable to add this, but I insist on drawing attention to it: upon defeating the Queen of Rats, The Dealer warns you that “a million half-orphaned rats will fall upon you like a tide of horror”. What an excellent quote. I dream of quitting a job with a line like that at the ready.

The Jack of Skulls does in fact have a face, you just wouldn’t know it from his intro, where he’s apparently in the headlights of an oncoming truck.

I’d also like to give credit to Jeff van Dyck’s score, exciting and understated in equal measure. It does a great job of adding tension to fights but also knows when and how far to take its foot off the tempo for a hint of ambience when you’re simply choosing your next path. One bit of cinematic flair that I find never stops being thrilling is the shuffling of your deck together with The Dealer’s upon starting a new run, which is accompanied by a galloping bit of acoustic guitar work. Like a good TV intro, it really gets the hype going for another instalment.

Closing Remarks

Hand of Fate is worth your time if you want a more visceral interaction with your deck-builder. In particular, its early to mid-game, when it still has a lot of new events and equipment for you to try out, makes for compulsive playing. However, it is strange for a game in this genre to feel this apparently mechanically shallow or offer this little replay value. Beyond beating story mode, assuming one has the patience to power through several unlucky endgame runs, all that remains is Endless mode if you really like the experience on offer, and that’s about it. The DLC classes offer some interesting twists, but I think the game’s world and tone would really have to click with you personally to keep you coming back after beating it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing which of these rougher edges the 2017 sequel rounds off. With some further refinement, I think there’s a real winner of a concept to be found here.

Standout Cards

Mister Lionel becomes a recurring character throughout many of the game’s cards, often making dangerous propositions in the hopes of mutual gain. This one often shows up early in runs, providing a basic reward and a little levity. We never get the whole story behind Mister Lionel, but we don’t need it – it just makes for good flavour.
Several other cards hint that the game’s world is grim, populated largely by the doomed. The Lonely Bard is a follow-up to The Lovers and Angry Guild Master cards. He has become an alcoholic after the woman you helped him escape town with abandoned him. Fail to pay him coin and he plays a song so bad it lowers your maximum health.
Maze of Traps is quite special because it triggers mazes that must be navigated via the combat engine. They can be a tad overdesigned, but they demonstrate an initiative for using gameplay mechanics in ways other than their basic intent, which is to be applauded.