Review: Brave Hand

Previously released on mobile devices and now available on Steam (which is the version I played), Brave Hand is a solitaire-like card game with a Press Your Luck influence that brings a risk-reward high score challenge to the fold.

Brave Hand is probably closest to the TriPeaks variation of solitaire. You’re presented with eight stacks of cards, a starting hand of seven cards, and a remaining deck of 11 cards to draw from as you make progress. Like solitaire, the eight piles increase in card volume–the first pile has one card, the second has two cards, the third pile has three cards, and so on. The objective is to use your hand to clear the stacks by playing a card that is higher than the card on top of one of the stacks. Capturing a card in this manner removes it from play and rewards you with points, plus the chance to draw a bonus card. The game ends if you either run out of cards in your hand or you’re able to successfully clear all eight card piles. Unlike solitaire, there are no suits. Your only concern is card value.

At the start of a game only four cards are visible on top of the eight stacks, and as cards are cleared the others underneath do not flip over, so there is a gambling nature to playing cards blind. And that’s where the risk-reward scoring system comes into play. Once you’ve successfully captured a card you’re given the choice to cash in the points and draw a card or let it ride, challenging the next card in the pile for the chance to earn bonus points for each subsequent card you’re able to capture at the risk of losing all points and the bonus draw if you push and lose. Talk about a whammy!

Other subtle dynamics are at play when it comes to clearing the board and building a high score you’ll be proud to have posted on the global leaderboards. For example, clearing a pile increases per-card point value, so there is a certain strategy to trying to clear piles as early as possible. Each pile also has a bonus associated with it, such as a x2 point multiplier or a bonus card draw. These bonuses are only earned, though, if you beat the last card in the pile.

The dice pile adds another wrinkle. At any time a card can be sacrificed from your hand to the dice pile, granting yourself two dice rolls that will reveal the top card of two piles determined by the numbers that are rolled. If the number rolled lands on a pile that already has the top card visible, the sacrificed card was wasted.

Using these core mechanics, Brave Hand offers a variety of mode variants designed to cater to differently play styles, skill levels, and player preferences. Jumbo Deck Mode consists of a 90 card deck and all piles containing eight cards. Using coins (more on those in a minute), Boost Mode allows you to pay before the game begins to introduce different boost cards that trigger bonus effects when captured. For pure casual play, Zen Mode eases the rules by always granting a card draw, win or lose, and letting you win ties. You lose when card values tie in all other modes.

My favorite mode is Dungeon Run, which turns your draw pile into a life bar and allows you to play through successive games until the deck runs out. Clearing a “floor” lets you continue on to a new board while carrying over all points earned from the previous floor. Bonus cards are added to your draw pile between floors based on the number of piles cleared, while every third floor counts as a camp checkpoint, rewarding additional bonus cards. Playing Dungeon Run feels like it has more substance than the other modes, along the lines of a solitaire-like rogue-like, if you will.

Showing its mobile origins, Brave Hand uses a gold coin currency system for unlocking content. Coins are mainly earned through play but there’s also a timer that allows you to automatically redeem 150 coins every hour. Playing through the primary Brave Mode allows you to earn coins to unlock a progressing series of story pages and dialogues. The story isn’t anything that you’ll remember but it’s a neat incentive to come back for, though it only takes an hour and a half to two hours to unlock the tale in its entirety. After that coins are used for Boost Mode but largely become superfluous. It would’ve been nice to have more use for the currency system, perhaps some kind of integration to add more depth in the Dungeon Run mode.

Beyond delivering a light narrative, each unlocked story page serves as a new visual theme to use during play. The story page itself serves as the background art, complete with unique matching artwork for the card backs. The presentation overall, from the art to the music, has a mysterious fantasy adventure motif that keeps your senses piqued.

My only real issue with Brave Hand is the lack of meaningful high score stakes. Due to the random luck of the draw structure inherent to any card game there really isn’t any true skill behind achieving a high score beyond a basic understanding of how to play the odds and hoping they turn out in your favor. There are elements of strategy and tactics to employ (as I described earlier), but in the end it often does feel like achievement is tied to luck. It’s a harsh reality that in some games you’re going to be dealt a rotten hand and have little chance to succeed, while in others you’ll start out with an amazing hand and a favorable board that automatically sets you up to compile a bunch of points. This doesn’t necessarily make the game less enjoyable, it just negates some of the gratification for reaching a new high score. I find myself replaying not out of a desire to beat my previous point total but rather for the simple joy of solitaire-like card play.

I wouldn’t say that Brave Hand is one of those hyper-addictive games that you dive into and unintentionally wind up playing for hours on end; however, it is the type of game that routinely lures you back for a few hands at a time, when you just need some form of low intensity fun to fill a 10 to 15 minute void. For $2 that’s all the game really needs to be.

BuyIt

Game Info:
Platform: PC (Also available on mobile platforms)
Publisher: Heart Shaped Games
Developer: Heart Shaped Games
Release Date: 8/6/2021
Genre: Card Game
Players: 1

Source: A free Brave Hand Steam key was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration by Heart Shaped Games.

Buy From: Steam for $1.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!