Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hearthstone: Like That Other Game, But Different. By Jim Lucky

                  I have recently been accepted into the closed Hearthstone Beta testing, and prior to that I had been keeping an eye on its progression as a game. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Hearthstone is a new digital collectable card game produced by Blizzard studios - makers of the World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo series of games.

            To the casual onlooker Hearthstone appears to be much the same as any other Collectible Card Game (CCG) and I would not disagree with that conclusion. Hearthstone is primarily a compilation of mechanics of from CCGs that have come before it, the most notable influences being Magic the Gathering and Cryptizoic Entertainment’s World of Warcraft Trading Card Game. The latter even shares some art assets with Hearthstone.

              However, what I will say beyond that point is this: Blizzard has done here what they have done for their MMORPG over the years. They have not simply lifted the parts from these other games but improved upon them in the process, making for a very smooth and enjoyable CCG experience.

            Let’s have a look at the finer points of the Hearthstone experience, starting with your first time into the game. When you first boot up Hearthstone you will be required to play through the tutorial where you will be given a pre built deck and lead by the hand through a few matches against AI opponents from around the Warcraft Universe. The first criticism I have with the tutorial is that there is no option to skip the tutorial at all. For people like me who have been keeping an eye on the beta play the tutorial is not instructional and only serves to sink ten to fifteen minutes of our time into less than challenging matches. Secondly the tutorial (as of writing this article) does not teach you about one of the primary mechanics of going second in a match, The Coin. The Coin is an extra card that is added to the hand of the player that goes second in a match. When it is used that player immediately gains one temporary mana (the resource used to play cards) for that turn only. It is a very large part of the strategy of the game and it is disappointing to see it left out.

            Once you have completed the tutorial, you will have two of the three game mode options available to you, “Play” and “Practice”. The difference between these two modes is very simple to explain. Practice mode allows you to play one of the pre built decks or one of your own construction (for any of the classes you have unlocked previously) against AI opponents from a class of your choosing. This allows you to unlock more classes than the one you were originally given. Once you have played against and beaten a deck of each class, you will be given “expert” AI opponents to play against, in order to unlock these new classes. In reality however, most of us however will rarely use Practice mode after we have unlocked all of the other classes.

            In Play mode you can unlock the other classes as well, but you will be pitted against live opponents of (roughly) your same overall level in your choice of either ranked or unranked matches. If you are into the competitive card game aspect of Hearthstone this is where you will spend the majority of your time playing ranked matches and climbing the ladder.

            The third mode, and most interesting, of the game is Arena. Arena is a game type where after purchasing a ticket into the arena, but before you can play a game, you have to first draft a temporary 30 card deck that you may only use in the arena. Once you’ve lost three games, or you have won the maximum number allowed, your deck is retired, you collect your prizes (that get better the further you get), and are ejected to the main screen to begin your journey once more. You start by choosing one of three randomly selected classes to build your arena deck around. The game then kicks up three cards at a time of similar rarity and you choose one to keep for your deck. You do this until you have chosen a full deck, and then you may enter games immediately. The game does not lock you into the arena mode once you have drafted and you may play games at your leisure, even voluntarily retiring your deck before it’s time. In my opinion Arena is probably the most entertaining mode of the whole game.

            Now that we have gone over the first experiences of the player and the three major game modes of Hearthstone, let’s talk about how Blizzard actually intends to make money with the game. Simply put, Hearthstone uses the micro transaction model that has become so popular in the gaming industry as of late (and not just in the free-to-play scene either). Hearthstone offers a store where players can spend real world money to buy packs of cards in quantities ranging from one to fifty packs at a time, with five cards in each pack. Additionally for the price of $1.99 U.S. you may forego the gold cost of an Arena ticket.

            Now it is important that, in the interest of fairness, I mention that you do not need to spend real money to get cards, you may purchase packs with the in game gold you earn by getting victories and by completing the daily quests that the game assigns you. There is also a pack as a reward for nearly every tier of the Arena, so you'll almost certainly be able to get cards without spending your hard earned cash. However these two methods are far slower, and if you simply don’t have the patience to wait or grind out the multitude of wins that will be required of you to earn that gold, don’t be surprised to find yourself dropping a few bucks here and there for packs.

            As far as the mechanics of actually playing the game, there is nothing surprising here. Minions have an attack stat and a health stat, as well as a multitude of various card effects that go with them. For example the “Taunt” ability on a minion requires that it be attacked and/or removed before a hero or a minion that does not have taunt. There are spells that usually offer some sort of removal of your opponent’s minions, card draw, or some combination of the two.

            All in all Hearthstone is a fun game with a fairly smooth interface and a fan base that has a very healthy interest. In fact, at Blizz Con this year the Hearthstone tournament attracted a huge number of people to it, and many people are looking to it as a potentially viable e-sport. So if you are a fan of collectable card games then I’m sure that you will find yourself quite pleased with Hearthstone. There is plenty here for both the hard core and the casual mana tapper. However if the CCG market hasn’t quite been your thing in the past I don’t suspect that Hearthstone will be the one to bring you around.

About the author:

Jim Lucky is a resident of Sacramento California

He has a Youtube channel where he plays video games and runs on at the mouth. It can be found here:

You can find him on Twitter @thejimplays

And he can be emailed directly at

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