Sometimes I wonder why I decide to play these types of games. I know they’re going to require a lot of time, it will be enjoyable, but a large time commitment nonetheless. With my immense backlog of games, I didn’t pay much attention to Hearthstone initially. Luckily for me (or unluckily) a spark of spontaneity persuaded me to download and play Hearthstone. Here’s the quick verdict: I like it… alot. There are two reasons that made Hearthstone so appealing to me. The first is that it’s completely free to play; the second reason is that it’s a digital collectible card game.
For those who haven’t heard of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, it’s the new collectible card game (CCG) by Blizzard (World of Warcraft). Currently in open beta, Hearthstone exists in the Warcraft universe and draws its characters and lore from the game. However, players don’t have to be familiar with WOW to play or enjoy it. As you may expect, being free-to-play, Hearthstone has real money transactions integrated into the game. Many of these types of games earn the “pay to win” moniker, where players who use real money are given an unfair advantage over players who spend little or no money at all. The truth behind these “pay to win” games is that they do offer advantages to players who shell out the money. Businesses need to make a profit, this goes for gaming businesses as well. They cannot just develop a game and release it with regular updates for free. The question then becomes; is the game still balanced despite a slight advantage? In Hearthstone’s case, yes, players who do not purchase card packs can compete with those that do. Using real money will save players time and effort. However, it does not mean that they will win every game. Card packs are random, buying 5 booster packs doesn’t mean they will be filled with incredible cards. Most importantly the game is ultimately ruled by the timeless and unbreakable limitation all CCG’s have; luck of the draw. For the most part players like me, who haven’t put a dime into the game can win. I’ve played about 30 – 40 online matches, during which I’ve both won and lost by large margins, I lost to comebacks; I have also pulled some comebacks of my own. There have been a few games however, in which I’ve played players with powerful cards and I was subsequently beaten… badly. All in all, Blizzard has balanced the game well and will likely continue to ensure Hearthstone’s quality. For players sitting on the fence due to this issue, I suggest diving head first in the game to see it for yourself.
The game features in-game currency (gold) that players can exchange for a pack of cards. One-hundred gold pieces can be exchanged for a single pack, while two packs can be bought for 2.99 (USD) in real money. There are more expensive card pack options, going all the way up to 49.99 (USD) for 40 packs of cards. Everyday Hearthstone will offer “quests” to players to earn gold. I’ve seen quests worth 40, 10 and 100 gold. For every 3 games you win online you’re awarded 10 gold pieces. Overtime players who don’t spend money can get booster packs. These packs contain 5 random cards, with at least one rare card. There are various levels of rarity to watch out for. As I said earlier, using real money to buy booster packs will save you time and effort, but players who don’t will still be able to earn gold to spend on card packs.
Ok enough chit-chat, what about the actual gameplay? For a CCG Hearthstone is pretty straightforward. While it doesn’t mean the game is simple, it’s not complex for the sake of being complex. Based on my experience so far, I would use the phrase “easy to learn, hard to master” to define Hearthstone as a whole. While there are many types of cards, for the purpose of this article there will be only two types: those that can be used by heroes and neutral cards that can be used by any hero. Each hero has their own specific cards that can’t be used by other heroes. This gives weight behind picking a hero to build a deck around, rather than just selecting whichever hero strikes your fancy. Each hero also wields a unique “hero power” that can impact the way a hero can be played. Hero powers can range from defensive moves, attacks, healing, etc. There are currently 9 heroes players can choose from:
The game pits two players against each other (or against an AI opponent) and consists of a deck of 30 cards and 30 health points per hero in turn based matches. The game is over once a hero reaches 0 health points. Both Players start out with 1 mana crystal, with an additional mana crystal given out each turn up to a max of 10. Mana determines what you can and cannot do in terms of your cards. Each card comes with a mana value (or cost value if that makes more sense), if you only have 2 mana and the card you want to play has 3 mana, you cannot play that card this round. Giving a limited number of moves each round requires strategic thinking and some future planning. Due to the increasing amount of mana (and a turn time limit), the games don’t drag on forever. Matches tend to be on the shorter side lasting 10 – 15 minutes max. I personally enjoy these short and fast matches, rather than long drawn out matches.
While I won’t be going into depth regarding the cards, there are spell cards that have certain effects and minions you can put out into the field. I’m going to talk about minions, since spell cards are self explanatory. Minions have an attack value and a health value, as well as the possibility to have additional effects. Some common effects include taunt, charge, and battlecry. Minions just placed into the field need to wait until the next turn to be used, but those with the “charge” effect can attack right away. Taunt forces your opponent to attack that minion, thereby putting up a shield between your hero and your opponent’s minions. There are many different types of battlecries, which take effect when that minion is initially played into the field. There are many more types off effects minions than the ones I just went over.
I wanted to bring up taunt specifically. Even though both players may have minions in the field, you can choose to avoid attacking them in order to attack the opposing hero directly. Taunt is a common tactical move to prevent that from happening; however taunting minions can be destroyed just like other minions. Another important aspect of minions is that they hurt one another with every attack. If your minion has 3 attack and 4 health and you tell it to attack another minion with 2 attack and 2 health, you will destroy that minion, however your minion will also take 2 damage as well. This makes minion versus minion match ups more tactical, even using them as sacrificial pawns to destroy stronger minions. Even heroes themselves when attacking (either due to spells or hero powers) minions are injured.
Hearthstone currently has 3 modes; play, practice, and arena. After your initial tutorial you will likely spend time in practice mode to unlock other heroes. Beating a hero will unlock them for future use and each hero will have an amount of basic cards (20) that can be earned by leveling them up. Unlocking all heroes will allow you to play their expert versions. Practice here as much as you like, however it will not earn you gold. For that you need to either use the play or arena mode. Both pit you against random players in online matches. For play mode, you can either use the pre-made decks used in practice mode or make custom decks. There are two types of games in play; casual and ranked. For those who want to work up a higher online ranking, play the ranked mode. Initially, you will not drop in rank for losing a game, but at higher levels you will. The game will attempt to pair players up with “worthy opponents”, so in ranked matches you won’t be playing opponents who are 2+ ranks above you. Regarding casual mode, I’ve done some snooping around in forums. It seems the better you do in casual mode the harder your opponents will be ensuring a “worthy opponent” (or as close as possible) is given to you. Despite its name causal doesn’t mean easy since you’ll be paired up with opponents of your skill. Arena mode is interesting, but it takes 150 gold to play. You have 3 losses each time you purchase an arena round (you don’t have to play until you lose all three games). Keep winning in arena mode and your prize(s) at the end will get better, after 7 wins you’ll get back your arena entrance fee. You can win up to 12 games in arena mode.
The last aspect of Hearthstone is “crafting”, players can either create or destroy cards in their collection. Destroying (disenchanting) cards will give you a certain amount of Arcane Dust, while creating (enchanting) cards will require a certain amount of Arcane Dust. While I have not done this yet, I can tell it will be very useful to get more copies of really rare cards. Since cards are limited to 2 in each deck (i.e. I cannot put more than 2 copies of Bloodfen Raptor in my deck), having 5 or 6 Bloodfen Raptors is kind of pointless. Also, these cards are not used by other decks. If you only own 2 copies of a card, using both of them in 1 custom deck will not make them unavailable in another customs deck. You might as well disenchant those cards to create Arcane Dust.
In the relatively short amount of time I’ve been playing Hearthstone, I’ve had a lot of fun. The game mechanics work together really well adding a lot of depth and strategy to the matches. It will be interesting to see where they take this game in the future and when they actually release the game officially. Right now it is in an open beta, so anyone can download and play it. As someone who grew up playing Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh CCGs, it’s great to play this game without having to worry about physical cards and spending actual money on them. Overall, I recommend Hearthstone to anyone who enjoys CCGs or games with a bit of strategy.