Polish developer CD Projekt Red reinvigorated the fantasy genre with Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The dark fantasy game took place in a fully-fleshed out world full of monsters, elves, and warring nations. It was grand in scale, methodical in design, and damn-near perfect in execution. Then there was Gwent, the fictional in-game card game in the Witcher universe. Gwent, s a fully functional mini-game in Witcher 3 was so popular, CD Projekt Red decided to make a full game release of it. Like the game it originated from, Gwent is also damn-near perfect.

In the world of nerd entertainment, trading card games sit inside a particularly closed-off area. The rules require large amounts of practice time to master, especially at a professional level; the cost of building a deck and collecting individual cards take a considerable financial toll; and the entire culture itself isn’t particularly welcoming to newcomers to begin with. That’s why the move to digital card games seems like such a good idea. With online trading card games like Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone, the barrier of entry is lowered considerably.

Gwent

Gwent might make for an even more compelling digital alternative, however. The rules are incredibly simple, even for a card game. Two players command a deck of cards that act as armies. Each game, they draw a single hand which they will keep for the entire, best of two, match. To win a round, the player must have the most powerful army on the field based on their numerical stats. Players must be careful not to overextend themselves any particular round as they risk not having enough cards to play competitively in the later portions of the game.

That’s pretty much it for the actual rules, but it’s what Projeckt Red decided to do in addition to the game that makes the game a mainstream contender. The developers cleverly paired the game with a narrative, single-player campaign that takes place in their already wonderful Witcher universe. Players take control of the series main character, Geralt of Rivia, a famous Witcher. By pairing their card game with a chance for players to become introduced with one of the best fantasy universes in the history of the genre offers a lot of fantasy fans who might not be into card games to jump right in. Stripping the Witcher universe of its action elements and replacing them with a fun strategy game opens the doors to a lot of genre fans who might not play video games regularly.

Then there are the cards themselves. Designed by Projekt Red’s art team, the cards might as well be works of art. Beautifully rendered to the point of making collecting these things a worthy pursuit, the cards are divided into two variants: regular and rare. While each card is illustrated like they would be covers of a fantasy novel, the rare cards are gorgeously animated versions of the normal cards. Projekt Red has plans to create a rare, animated variant of all of their released cards, which is both ambitious and totally welcome.

Even if video games aren’t really a point of interest for you, Gwent works on too many levels for any genre nerd to pass up. Designed with the same level of care and attention CD Projekt Red has become known for, Gwent could very well become the most popular of the recent online trading card games, if not the most aesthetically beautiful.