Duelyst stands out among the card games that inspired it

It may not have the player count of Hearthstone, but it outshines the behemoth with its complexity.

2016 GOTY Awards

Along with our group-selected 2016 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as a personal favorite of the year. We'll continue to post new Staff Picks throughout the rest of 2016.

Hearthstone blew the CCG genre wide open, creating space for dozens of competitors like Duelyst to fill. And while the idea of any new CCG topping the 50+ million player behemoth Hearthstone is hard to imagine, that doesn't mean it's still the best option out there. Duelyst may not have a lavish stage at BlizzCon, but it's become a better game than the CCG that helped inspire it.

The reason is simple: the board. Duelyst's blend of turn-based tactics and card game adds a level decision-making neither genre had on its own. For example, if you begin a game of Hearthstone with one playable minion in your hand, you have two options: play the minion or don't. Beginning a game of Duelyst with one playable minion gives you 66 different options; nine different areas to move to on turn one, each of which has either five or eight different spots to place the minion depending on where you went. That's not even considering whether or not you mulligan a card at the start of the turn, or the fact that going second could let you take a mana tile to open up more options. 

The movement mechanics leaves room for subtlety in a way regular card games often don't.

Both games have plays which will be clearly better or worse, and both require you to think forward about what your opponent could do or what else is in your deck, but a game of Duelyst can branch out in many more ways than a game of Hearthstone. Where you move and place minions dictates which direction the fights will move in. You can drive your opponent to a certain side by blocking off their other routes, press forward and make sure you stay on their side of the board, or hang back and make them come to you. The movement system leaves room for subtlety that regular card games often don't.

But what has really kept me playing Duelyst all year is that developer Counterplay Games fit this depth into matches that rarely go longer than ten minutes, making it quick enough to jump in and out of among other games. Counterplay has also been proactive with balance patches, and releases a steady stream of four new cards a month, keeping the meta on its toes. It also doesn't hurt that its pixel art animations are without a doubt the best of any game out today. 

But mainly it's when to move forward, where to place minions, whether or not to trade blows with the enemy general, and a million other choices that make Duelyst a game I imagine I’ll never actually master, but absolutely love to play.