Hop on your horse and head out for revenge in Card Cowboy, a delightful new indie game you can get for free. Your adventure unfolds by making decisions using cards which represent allies, resources, and events, which often have weird and surprising consequences. Weirdly, the game it most reminds me of is Townscaper: throw pieces together, uncertain what will happen, then be surprised and delighted what the system produces. Like accidentally making your cowboy confess his love for his horse, leading to a fresh new baby horse card in your hand. Oh no.
There you are, a cowboy, seeking revenge on the wrong’un who killed your dad, wooed your mum, and kicked your dog. The destination is less important than the journey. Off you go, crossing the map by hitting nodes which are all events. Maybe you join a pocker game which turns sour. Maybe you stumble across a hanging. Maybe you hit a farm and try to woo his son. Maybe you find buried treasure. Your options in these events are dictated by your cards.
In Card Cowboy, you have hitpoints as a number then everything else is a card. Your horse, items, money, and allies are cards, used by dragging them into the card slots on events. Some cards even represent happenings like a wedding or rodeo. Most cards are consumed when used but you’ll get more to replace them, rolling with the punches. This gets weird mighty fast. Any card can be used in any event, see, and they often have bespoke outcomes to weird situations.
What happens if you try to evade accusations of cheating in poker by using a baby? What happens if you offer a wedding card to a farmer seeking help? And what can I use this circus card for? At one point, I tried to fight my nemesis by offering him money for his head.
Along with Townscaper, Card Cowboy reminds me a bit of Blendo’s Flotilla. Not the whole ‘real-time tactical spaceship battles’ part, the ‘go on an adventure and just be pleased by how that unfolds’ part. It’s silly, often funny, and a joy to explore.
I’ve only beaten Card Cowboy once (with a surprising use of a mezcal worm) but a run only takes a few minutes and a losing run is often still fun. I’ve had runs where I built a travelling menagerie then grew overconfident and died from repeated rattlesnake bites. I’ve had runs where I grew a family. I’ve had runs where I became a rootin’ tootin’ super cowboy with a possee of my own. I look forward to discovering more weird things I can do. I don’t mind the limited pool of repeating events because I still have so many solutions to try, knowing even some event+card combinations I think should have predictable outcomes can go some weird places.
Card Cowboy is available pay-what-you-want (with no minimum) from Itch.io for Windows and Mac. It’s made by the team of Brieyh’leai Simmons, Karley Karensky, Max Hudetz, Tom Dunkin, Chris Wade, and Nic Lupfer.