A little while back, Blizzard announced it was developing a new card game for play on computer and other portable devices (iPad, etc.) that would mimic some of the styles of WoW: Trading Card Game and Magic: The Gathering. I recently got invited to the beta for this game and thought I would give it some play. I was anxious about giving it a try as I have played both the games previously mentioned, but both games require other people who are equally as enthusiastic about the games and both games had some clunky play to the with rules, order of operations, and resources. With Hearthstone, Blizzard attempted to create a game that kept the fun elements of deck building and card playing, while simplifying resources and the computer figures out all the rules for you and applies them. So here’s what I think.
First off, this game is awesome. I love the quick and simply play style, it’s easy to pick up and the rules are easy to follow-and if not, it tells you what you can and cannot do. The game currently has 9 class decks to play from. There are 11 classes in WoW, but in Hearthstone, monk and death knight are currently not represented.
The tutorial teaches you how to play using the Mage class, represented by Jaina Proudmore. You go through some simple games and learn the basics, then you’re on your own. The first thing recommended is to unlock the other heroes/classes by playing the NPC. Once you beat a hero class you get to unlock it and then can use that deck to play. Unfortunately at this time, you are limited to that hero icon/voice for each deck. I’m hoping with future updates you will be able to choose other heroes of that same class as your hero icon, or even just generic icons…because I really don’t want to hear Jaina anymore, as much as I love her. Your heroes also have XP which you earn from playing games, but after level 10, you have to play against humans to keep earning XP. But at level 10 you also have unlocked all the basic cards for each class. So if you really wanted to, you’d never have to play against anything but the NPC, but I suspect that would be boring. I’m not sure if who you play against is based on level or not, since you also gain XP when you lose.
In addition to playing whom you like, quests will also appear and are rewarded with gold. Gold is useful to buy new packs of cards for those of us that don’t want to spend real money. So completing the quests gives me another way to continue to expand my available cards. 100 gold buys you a pack with 5 cards in it. I have to give props to Blizzard on this for allowing the players another way to earn gold to purchase packs. So many games are full of micro-transactions these days that it limits play and is a big turn-off. You don’t have to have ALL the cards to have fun with this game. And some of the early quests will give you some free packs anyways and a chance to earn more packs in the one time free arena play. I won’t cover arena play here, but for a small cash fee or 150 gold you can enter the arena for a chance for good prizes. You can earn gold, card crafting dust, or more packs based on how many games you win, but once you lose three games, you’re out with a small consolation prize. The thing with arena is that you pick one of three randomly selected heroes for you and then build your deck one at a time by choosing again one of three cards selected for you at a time. So one card at a time you build your deck from random cards which you then battle with…so I only really recommend this to people who have had some deck building experience otherwise it’s a waste of gold and money – potentially.
I mentioned card dust. You can only have two of each card type in a deck, so you can disenchant extra cards into this dust which then you can spend to buy specific cards you know about. I haven’t done this yet, but again, it’s another way for the player to gain access to some cards without having to spend money. Of course spending money by-passes all that, but some of us aren’t prepared to drop buckets of money on non-tangible items…but then, some of us are (*cough* moonkin hatchling).
The deck builder is fairly friendly and allows you to create custom decks for classes. You can play with the basic decks provided, but once you learn more of the game, and hopefully unlock some new cards, I highly recommend playing with your own custom deck. The builder allows you to sort through your cards simply clicking to add them to your deck and presto, good to go. When discussing with one friend I played against, our criticism here is that for those new to card type games, it would be useful to have the basic decks available as the start of your custom deck, that way you could pick and choose from there, giving new players an idea of how to build a deck.
The play field is clean and colorful. Cards have voices or spell effect sounds associated with them. Turn based play is easy to follow and mana is used as a resource. Each player starts their first turn with one mana and this increases by one each subsequent turn to a maximum of 10 (I believe). There are ways that some classes can modify their mana pool for one turn, but this resource system is clean and you don’t have to stack a deck with resource cards (yay!!) saving more time for just picking the fun minions and spells. The play field is also interactive, you can click on the cute little buildings and such around the board and little animations will happen. I’ve jiggled the gem eye out of that Zandalari a million times while waiting for my players turn. Speaking of which, each turn has a time limit, so it keeps the play moving. Like I mentioned before, the computer does all the rules for you, so you don’t have to count health or mana or minions health, this speeds up the game tremendously. And having played Magic: The Gathering on my iPad, this game just moves faster.
Cards are easy to read, a lack of complicated resources, the mana cost is displayed in the upper left corner of the card. Text explains the card and if you mouse over a card it will further explain what it means for things like “Charge” or “Taunt”. This mouse over feature keeps a rule book out of the game. Attack power is in the lower left of a minion and the lower right has the health of a minion. Spells don’t have health, but will cause effects like healing, damage, summoning minions, or modifying minions, for example. Each class has specific cards limited to that class.
Naturally, since Elgar, my priest is my go-to in WoW, I decided to give the priest deck a try, and after some playing around with it, I have settled on a pretty good deck until I unlock a card worth replacing. I don’t want to give away my whole priest strategy, but the priest deck has many modifier spells for minions. They also have powerful spells that can outright destroy enemy minions, and the all-powerful 8 mana mind control spell, allowing you to steal a minion from someone else. Play order becomes critical in this game, being mindful of what counters other classes have, like mage polymorph reducing even the strongest minions to mere 1/1 sheep and warriors execute, which allows you to destroy any minion that has taken damage. Being mindful of these enemy cards helps you play better.
Again, I won’t spell my whole deck out for you, but I like to play a fast deck, which means powerful cards that cost little mana. Here are some examples:
Those cards listed there with just a total of 5 mana would allow me to turn that little 1/3 priest, into a 10/10 MEGA PRIEST!! Plus, the priest heroes special ability is to heal, so if the takes a little damage, heal her up, and her active power allows you to draw an extra card when you do. Whee!! Now of course, the deck is shuffled, so the chance you’ll get all your magic cards in your hand at once to make it work out is, well, based on Blizzards favorite thing, the Random Number Generator. But two of each card and a maximum of 30 cards means you’ll still have pretty good chances. Sometimes you’ll get lucky, and you can turn a cheap creature into something awesome, allowing you to nearly one shot the enemy hero…as I did below… Did I mention this game is awesome?
So in summary, if you’re a fan of card games or ever have been, give this a try. I’ll give it two thumbs up overall with the recommendations mentioned above – allow the user to choose their hero icons, and more importantly, allow the basic decks to be used for starting a custom deck for those that have nearly no deck building experience. Thanks Blizzard for a fun little game to play!