Card Hunter is a browser-based free-to-play game which surprisingly isn't total rubbish.

After you've finished reeling, here's another shock: Card Hunter is excellent.

Strategy card games are in vogue this year, but Card Hunter's use of grid-based maps adds an additional tactical layer that Hearthstone and Scrolls don't match. The result is a game that relies more on adaptive strategy than the art of carefully balancing decks. Cards play a major part in the game, but in truth Card Hunter is more like a board game - terrain and blocked vision makes carefully positioning your characters essential, and the success of shield and armour cards is based on visible dice rolls.

What could easily amount to a painful fiddle ends up being seamlessly slick - dice rolls and defence cards are all automated, giving you a clear sense of what's going on but keeping things snappy. It's fast-paced without ever being flippant, and detailed without ever feeling bogged-down. Strategic options are plentiful without being superfluous, and the difficulty scales at a rate which requires you to quickly start thinking about different strategies.

You'd assume microtransactions would ruin this, but the integration of paid-for stuff is difficult to fault. Restrictions or negative side-effects make all of the items in the game feel balanced - signing up as a paid member simply gives you faster access to a wider selection of tactical choices. Card Hunter's business model seems very simple: it wants you to buy the Starter Pack for $25. After having a blast for 5 or 6 hours, I felt more than happy to oblige.

If you're a tactics nut like me, Card Hunter is wonderful stuff. Deep, smart, and lovingly crafted - this is proof that free-to-play can work even without costumes and hats.

Campaign played for 6 hours. Multiplayer played for 7 hours.