I’ve seen several posts lately from new players looking for help with learning how to play Gwent. Rather than answer each with brief and still inadequate answers, I decided to try my hand at making a guide. Nothing below will contain any radical new ideas or strategies, just basic advice Also, this will be somewhat lengthy, so bear with me. It may seem complicated, but I promise you that the game is far simpler to play than it is to describe. I have also divided the guide into “cards”, “deck building”, and “strategy”, so you can jump to the section that interests you most if you wish.
For anyone reading who may be a more experienced player, if I leave anything obvious out or get anything blatantly wrong, please mention it in the comments. Also, please feel free to add you favorite tips or strategies. Maybe I can also learn something new.
A few basic disclaimers before beginning: First, this is a guide for the Witcher 3 in-game version of Gwent, not the stand-alone version. The two are quite different, and should almost be treated as two different games. Second, I am not claiming to be any kind of expert on this game. I just know enough about this game to help others get started playing. And third, all of the suggestions I give are just that: suggestions. There are lots of ways to play, and you should enjoy the game in any way you want. What I offer is merely a reliable way to start winning games in a consistent way.
Also, it should be mentioned that if you are truly struggling, it is possible to drop the difficulty of Gwent down to easy in the settings. However, I honestly can’t say for certain how this will change your experience, as I didn’t learn that this was possible until after I was already comfortable with my ability to win. I can say for certain that it is more than possible to learn to play and win quickly, even on the normal difficulty.
Whew! Ok, after that wordy introduction, let’s get started.
At the start of a Gwent game, each player gets 10 cards. A coin is tossed to determine who goes first. The game is divided into rounds. The cards you play can earn you points, and the player with most points at the end of the round wins that round. The first player to win two rounds wins the game.
There are two basic types of cards in your deck: Units and Specials. Unit cards have a point value (often called strength), and are typically played to increase your score. Some unit cards also have their own ability, which may alter how you choose to use them. These will be covered more later. Special cards have no point value, but have some powerful effects that can change the course of a round. Some of these cards are used to cause harm to your opponent, and some are used to benefit yourself. A deck must consist of no fewer than 22 unit cards, and no more than 10 special cards.
There are three types of unit cards, which correspond to the three rows on your side of the board: close combat, ranged, and siege units. Close combat can only be played on the first row, ranged only on the second, and siege on the third. This is easy enough, since the game won’t allow you to play them in any other way.
There are also exceptionally powerful unit cards called Heroes. These function just like other unit cards in all ways except one (significant) way: they cannot be impacted by any other card, for good or for bad. Neither special cards nor units with abilities can do anything to either harm or help a hero card. If, for example, you play a hero card worth 10 points, then that card will be a guaranteed 10 points added to your score that round. Many of the Gwent related quests in the game will reward you with unique and powerful hero cards.
Many unit cards serve no purpose other than to increase your score in the round you are playing. However, the most interesting unit cards also have abilities, which, combined with your special cards, will form the basis of all the strategies that you will use to defeat your opponent.
The abilities will be briefly described here. Don’t feel like you need to memorize these right away, but do be aware that they exist.
Medic- Revives one card from your discard pile and plays it instantly. Can’t be used for hero or special cards. The icon on the card for this is a medical cross contained in a heart.
Tight Bond- When played next to a card of the exact same name, it doubles the strength of both cards. For instance, if a “Blue Stripes Commando” (strength of 4) is played next to a “Blue Stripes Commando”, then both cards will be doubled to a strength of 8, for a total of 16. Note that playing a third card played next to the previous two will continue to compound this effect. The icon for this is two hands shaking.
Morale Boost- Adds +1 strength to all cards on the same row with it, excluding itself. The icon is a medical cross with arrows on the left and right.
Muster- Finds all cards in your deck with the same name and plays them instantly. The icon is two helmets.
Agile- Lets you choose whether you play it in the close combat row or the ranged row. It cannot be moved once played. The icon is two circling arrows.
Spy- Played on your opponent’s side of the field, increasing their score. You then draw two cards. The icon for this is an eye. This type of card is one of the most powerful in the game, and learning to win generally means learning to use you spies effectively.
There are a few other more rare abilities, but these are enough to get started.
Other than unit cards, there are also special cards. These act like powerful abilities, but do not directly increase you round score. Their effects are significant enough that they are a necessary addition to any deck. Like with abilities, these cards will be briefly described.
Commander’s Horn- This card is played on a row, and it double the strength of all units (except heroes) in that row. Only one can be played on any row.
Scorch- Kills the strongest card(s) on the field (except heroes). Warning! It will kill WHATEVER is the strongest card, even if it is yours. If multiple cards (including yours) are tied for the highest in strength, it will kill them all. Used correctly this card can be one of the most satisfying to play.
Decoy- A “fake unit” card that swaps itself with any unit card of your choosing on your side of the field. The replaced unit card returns to your hand. Use in combination with spies for some truly overpowered strategies.
Weather cards- Biting Frost, Impenetrable Fog, and Torrential Rain impact the close combat, ranged, and siege rows respectively on BOTH sides of the field. All units in the impacted row are reduced to a strength of one. The Clear Weather card removes the effects of all other weather cards.
And that’s it! Well, mostly. There are a few other unique unit cards that I left out, but I’ll leave you to discover those on your own.
Deck building should be an ongoing process throughout the game. Always be seeking to gain new cards. Play any character with whom it is an option, to win a card from them. Buy all cards from merchants when you see them. Complete Gwent quests quickly to avoid missing opportunities and to gain some of the best cards. Your collection of cards can be seen at any time and your decks modified at any time by bringing up the pause menu and selecting “Gwent Deck”.
When describing the various elements of deck building, I will also offer my opinion on recommended cards to include. The reasons for these choices will be given in the “strategy” section.
When modifying a deck or starting a match, initially you can choose to play as one of four “factions”: Northern Realms, Nilfgaardian Empire, Scoia’tael, or Monsters. Each faction has its own unique ability. Each faction also has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you will need to play around with each to figure out which one best suits your play style. However, the very beginning of the game simplifies this for you, as the Northern Realms is the only faction that starts with enough cards to be viable.
Briefly, here is my impression of each of the factions.
Northern Realms- Strength is many siege units, spies, and tight bond units. Weakness is few medics. The faction ability is to draw a card after you win a round.
Nilfgaardian Empire- Strength is spies and the most powerful single units of any faction. Weakness is lack of units with strong abilities. The faction ability is to win any round that ends in a tie.
Scoia’tael- Strength is a large number of agile and medic cards. Weakness is lack of spies and siege units. The faction ability is to guarantee that you start the first round.
Monsters- Strength is a high number of muster cards. Weakness is lack of spies. The faction ability to keep one random unit on your side of the field after each round.
Generally, new players should pick a single faction to master rather than trying to jump around frequently between factions. I am of the opinion that the Northern Realms is an ideal beginner faction. Not only does the game set you up with a deck in that faction, but their strategies are easy to learn and can be tweaked to beat even the best players in the game.
After selecting your faction, you need to choose your deck’s leader card. The leader card is like a free special card than is guaranteed to be in your hand every game, but can only be played once per game. A well chosen leader ability can alter the course of a game. Find one that complements your play style. At the very beginning, your choices for leader will be pretty limited. Keep playing, and that will quickly change. As Northern Realms is my recommended beginner faction, Foltest Lord Commander of the North is my recommended beginner leader.
All cards you come across in the game will be either “faction specific” or “neutral” cards. Faction specific can, understandably, only be used when playing as that particular faction. Neutral cards can be used in any deck. For instance, the “Blue Stripes Commando” I mentioned previously is a Northern Realms specific card. It could not, for instance, be added into a Monsters deck. However the “Geralt of Rivia” card is, appropriately, one of the most powerful hero cards in the game. It is a neutral card, and could be placed in any faction deck.
Every deck must contain a minimum of 22 unit cards. This includes all units of any type, including heroes. My recommendation is that your deck always includes EXACTLY 22 cards. This cuts out the bloat in your deck and increases the odds of drawing what you need.
Include as many spies as you can, always. The same goes for medics. After that, at the beginning of the game, you’ll want as many heroes as you can get (Later, you may find reasons to leave heroes out of your deck, but by that time you’ll be beyond following the advice in this guide). Place in any cards with strong abilities (The Northern Realms has several cards with tight bond, for instance. They can multiply scores very quickly when used together). Then, fill in the remaining spaces with your strongest units until you hit 22. Replace weaker ones as you find stronger cards. That Poor Fucking Infantry is well named! Get rid of it!
The deck can also have anywhere from 0 to 10 special cards. This one is more a matter of personal preference, and the included number of special cards can vary quite a bit. I usually have about six- two each of Commander’s Horn, Scorch, and Decoy (Obviously, you won’t have all of these to begin with. Just put in as close to this as you can). I personally don’t feel the need for including any weather cards at all, and have beaten pretty much everyone in the game without them. However, a single Clear Weather card is rarely a bad idea. Find what works for you.
My strategy revolves around overcoming the single greatest limiting factor in the game: the number of cards in your hand. As a general rule, “He who has the most cards wins!” This is an important concept, and I will keep repeating it.
You draw 10 cards at the beginning of the game. From that point on, nothing but your your own actions entitle you to any more cards. Generally, any card played is lost at the end of that round, so use you cards carefully and plan ahead for future rounds.
When starting a new game, you are given a choice to replace up to two of your cards. Should you do it? Take a look at you hand. Do you have cards that will let you get more cards, or use cards more than once? Spies are your first priority- try to get as many as possible in your hand. Decoys and medics are a good second priority. Those both let you reuse previously played cards, and are almost as good as being able to draw new cards. So keep discarding until you have as many spies, decoys, and medics as you can get.
Alright, Round One! What’s your goal? Surprisingly, it’s not to win the round. Your goal is to -you guessed it- get as many cards as you can. A secondary goal is to waste as many of your opponent’s cards as you can. This round is the absolute best for using spies. Play every spy you can. If your opponent plays spies in return, use any decoys you have to pick up his spies. Then turn around and play them on him again.
Done correctly, this spy play creates two big problems for your opponent: First, it gives you a large card advantage. Having even one card more than your opponent is significant, and any more than that is a major advantage. Second, every time you take a turn playing spies makes him have to decide if he should play in turn. If he passes his turn with low points, you can easily slap down just enough points to go barely over him, and take an easy win. If he doesn’t pass, he has to keep wasting his own cards each turn. If he keeps laying down units on his side, and you put nothing on your side, he’s just wasting his cards. When you are out of spies, just pass and sacrifice the round to him. Watch all his precious cards get flushed down the toilet.
What about if the worst happens, and you didn’t draw any spies, even after your discards? Well, hopefully you drew at least one medic (If you didn’t even manage that, it’s probably because you don’t have enough of those, and should add or try to get more. Or you have too many total cards in your deck, and need to trim the fat). With at least one medic, you have another option: Lay down your strongest non-hero card. With a bit of luck, this will cause your opponent to panic, and waste a good card or two. Surrender the round and recall your strong card with your medic in round two or three when it can make the most difference.
On to Round Two! If you follow the above, you likely have a card advantage, but are down a round. This makes things simple- you must win this round at all costs. As long as you succeeded in getting more cards than your opponent, winning this round should be easy. A few smart opponents will see the writing on the wall and just surrender this round immediately. Great! Lay down your weakest unit and call it a day. If they seem determined to put up a fight, that’s ok too. I’ll usually come out swinging here with a powerful hero. This encourages them to put out their strongest cards while you still have the most cards (and thus, means to deal with them) in your hand. Also, if you lead with heroes, you’re free to Scorch any non-heroes they play without fear of hurting your own troops.
Some fools will run their hand completely empty trying to win this round. If so, just make sure to keep at least one unit in hand to scoop up the final round.
If you happen to have won the first round (rare, using this strategy, but it does occasionally happen), then keep in mind that while winning the second round is great, it is not completely necessary. Some decks, Monsters in particular, are sometimes set up to have one truly spectacular round. If they played cautiously enough that you were able to grab the first round without trying, then they may go for broke in the second. That’s fine, let them. They’ll empty their hand in the process. Pass, and take the third round easily.
If you’ve followed my recommendation and played as the Northern Realms, you’ll also get a free card for whichever round you win. Another reason why the Northern Realms are superior!
Final Round! If you’ve played cleverly up until this point, this round should pretty much be a formality. Run him out of cards, then assert your dominance.
Heroes always make a good first play, because they can’t be touched. Then start laying out your weaker cards, in case your opponent wants to Scorch. Work up to you strongest last, just to give them the least amount of opportunities to counter. The second and third rounds are also best for playing tight bond cards (or muster, if you play another faction). Multiply those with commander’s horn, and you’ll soon be unstoppable.
Often it is in this round that they will play any weather cards if they are going to. This is why I like the Lord Commander of the North as my leader. I don’t have to bloat my deck with any extra clear weather cards, and I still always have one available to me in my leader ability. If they hit you with a weather card, don’t panic! Wait, and draw out as many of their other cards as you can. If needed you can play your leader ability or clear weather card to set things right at the end. Victory!
Like I said, I’ve used this or some variant of this to beat every opponent in the game on normal difficulty. However, don’t be afraid to experiment! Try new things, and see what works for you!
Hopefully, this will be enough to get new players on their path to consistent victory. If so, then my goal has been met.
Let me know if this was helpful to you! And if you have any cool Gwent tricks or strategies to share, let us hear them!
Good luck, and happy Gwent-ing!
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