Review: Brave Hand30 Nov 2017 0
Review: Brave Hand
Released 22 Nov 2017
Brave Hand is a combination of the two card games every kid knew how to play in elementary school: Solitaire and War, with with a strong element of chance and wrapped up in some very pretty artwork. Unlike most solitaire games, which rely on memory and strategy, Brave Hand is about managing risk and pushing your luck.
If you have a standard deck of playing cards (with Jokers) in your house you can play Brave Hand right now. The game is set up similarly to classic solitaire, with eight piles of cards in ascending quantities one to eight. In Brave Hand only some have their top card revealed. The player, on the other hand, gets a hand of seven cards. The goal is to clear the board by beating each one with a card in your hand. Winning a battle will let you refresh your hand with a new card, if you decide to cash in your cards for points.
The key mechanic is to 'push' your luck deeper into the pile to try to defeat more unrevealed cards. A powerful card like the fifteen point Demon (Joker) might be able to clear an entire pile, but if you hit a card you can't beat, you lose the chance to draw a new one. You don't have enough cards to win without risk, so I hope you feel lucky. You can also pay one card to roll a die for a chance to flip the top card of two stacks. This lets you make use of low ranking cards and gain more information about the field but you give up your chance for a replacement card and there's a fair chance you won't learn anything useful.
Overall the game relies a lot on chance. The main strategy is to try to burn through as many piles as possible with powerful cards and pray you don't get a whammy, and to hope that any low cards you spend on a die roll turn up something you can beat with one of your middle-ranking cards. It's not a very deep game, but it is fun in short sessions, which is why we put games on our phones anyway, isn't it? It takes some thought to effectively use a hand with a given board, and it's exciting to try to push through just one more card.
The game is a pleasure to play, with beautiful digital backgrounds that you might want to steal for your phone's wallpaper and music that effectively sets the mood. The graphics are clear and simple, with cards easily identifiable and a breeze to move around. Although one does wonder why there are still Jack Queen and King cards in the deck when they have no special use--why not just numbers?
The story is pretty cliche and barely there as it is. It's inspired by minimalist mysterious journey games like Ico and, ah, Journey. You have a hooded protagonist with ambiguous goals adventuring into various strange lands. The actual card game of Brave Hand is somehow meant to be diegetic to the story, but its not really clear how playing solitaire is supposed to win artifacts There's a whisper of a plot, and the twist can be seen from a mile away. The story is more of an excuse for the background art cards than a reason to play the game in itself.
Brave Hand is freemium with ads that play every few games and a one time purchase to remove them. This would work fine, but there are also coins to win in addition to the points you score in each game. The in-game currency is very strange and seems a bit stapled on. You'll get a few coins with each match, more automatically over time, or by watching an ad, and you can save up 100 to buy progress in the game's story. There are two additional game modes that can be bought with coins as well, and in one of these modes you can use coins to buy special boost cards. The boost cards add some interesting strategic wrinkles but are hardly essential.They get shuffled into your deck so they may show up in your hand or on the board, depending on how lucky you are.
The use of a currency in this way is really weird. It doesn't gate you off from anything that would make you want to buy coins or watch ads, just keeps you from buying the bonus cards or seeing the story. Paying the minimal IAP removes inter-game ads, unlocks the additional modes and give you enough coins to fly through half of the story. It would make more sense to tie progress to winning games, which is actually difficult to do, rather than letting you simply grind away low-scoring games, which makes the prizes you do receive seem hardly earned. The boost cards are nothing like cheats, so it doesn't really make sense to make the player buy them. Boost mode should just be an alternate game mode with an alternate high-score table.
In a reasonable app market, solitaire fans would happily pay five dollars for a well-made game like Brave Hand. It's a fun and simple mobile version of a card game. It's well-made and beautiful to look at. Not every game needs to have its own economy.