One of the best surprises about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was the inclusion of a surprisingly deep tactical card game: Gwent. The game proved such a big hat with fans that developer Cd Project Red has decided to release an expanded version of Gwent as a standalone, free-to-play game, due later in 2017. 

The public beta is now running, meaning you can try the game out for yourself right now. Here's everything we know so far about the game, including the release date, platforms, and how to join the beta

When is the Gwent release date?

CD Projekt Red hasn't yet announced an official release date for the full version of Gwent, but it's expected some time in 2017 - likely some time in autumn. 

The game will come out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC - there's no news yet on any potential Switch version, or a release for iOS or Android.

Until then, you can get a taste of what to expect by playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt if you haven't already. You can buy a Game of the Year edition from £24 on Amazon UK or $38 on Amazon US, though if you're a PC player your best bet might be GOG.com, which has the game free of DRM software, and with exclusive bonuses like a digital soundtrack, comics, and concept art.

How much does it cost?

Here's the good news: Gwent will be free-to-play. That makes sense given many players have already played a more limited version as part of The Witcher 3, but also because it puts Gwent in line with its biggest competition: Hearthstone, one of the best free PC games out right now. 

Like Blizzard's hugely popular deckbuilding card game, Gwent will be entirely free to play, but will make its money through optional in-app purchases. Those will presumably consist mostly of buying new cards. Packs of five random cards are apparently priced at £1 each, but you can also buy them using the in-game currency you earn from winning games.

How do I join the Gwent beta?

If you want to get the chance to play Gwent early, your best bet is to join the game's free open beta, which is running now.

The public beta is open to PC, PS4, and Xbox One players, and follows on from the game's lengthy closed beta, which ran from October 2016. Bad news for players who took part in that though - progress is being wiped, so you won't be able to carry on your card collections or player progress, though you will get some free in-game rewards.

If you want to try it out, head to the official Gwent site to find out more, and if you want to play on the PC you can head straight to GOG to sign up.

How does it play?

Anyone who's played The Witcher 3 will be familiar with the base mechanics of Gwent, which remain for the most part unchanged - it's still a turn-based two-player card game where winning relies as much on the deck you build as the way you play it.

You draw 10 cards from your deck at the beginning of a game, and each turn choose to play one or pass - and since you only draw a handful more cards as the game goes on, each is hugely valuable. The strategy comes in choosing which cards to play, where to play them on the battlefield, and when - especially since each match is split into three rounds, and victory requires winning at least two of them.

There are five core factions, each with different play styles and abilities, and every player will be given a starter deck for each: Nilfgaard, Skellige, Monsters, Scoia'tael, and the Northern Realms. 

You can earn new cards by 'milling' your existing ones for scrap to craft from, or by buying card packs (here called kegs) for either £1, or 100 ore, the game's currency.

While the core game remains unchanged from The Witcher 3, this standalone version will be expanded and improved upon in multiple different respects. 

For one thing, there are more cards than before, and a greater variety of card types and functionalities. Some existing cards have also been tweaked, and a few elements of the original game, like spying and the Tight Bond ability, have been removed. 

The production values have also shot up, with cards boasting animations, voice lines, and new art, all to match the level of quality set by Hearthstone. 

There are five core factions, and every player will be given a starter deck for each: Nilfgaard, Skellige, Monsters, Scoia'tael, and the Northern Realms. 

One of the biggest and most important additions to the standalone Gwent is that it's now a multiplayer titles, with casual, ranked, and private matches available - playing against other people rather than just in-game AI will no doubt be a huge part of the appeal for people who've already played Gwent within The Witcher 3.

That doesn't mean multiplayer is the only way to play though - there's also going to be a campaign mode, which will see you play as a mercenary recruiting fighters (cards). The developers promise that this will even feature a proper story, even with major decisions to be made which could see you win or lose cards.

Trailers and videos

The best way to get a sense of how Gwent works is to watch it in action in this (very rapid) breakdown of the game's basics:

And if you want to watch something that's less informative and more very, very silly, check out the game's announcement trailer from E3 2016: