Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Preview

I think I’m on a card game run. First Android Netrunner, now Blizzard’s Hearthstone? One thing’s for certain though- Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a very different beast from Android: Netrunner. However, it is quite a similar beast to Magic. And that’s not exactly a bad thing.

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If you know how to play Magic, you know how to play Hearthstone. It really is a sort of Magic-lite. You gain mana crystals (land) at one a turn. You cast spells or minions (creatures in magic) that cost mana, and then you try to whack your opponents minions, or your opponents themselves. When you get them to 0 life, you win. Even the abilities are relatively similar; creatures all have an attack stat as well as health. They are asleep and cannot attack when they come into play (summoning sickness), save for those who have charge (taunt), and of course some cooler creatures have special abilities. The differences include the fact that the attacker can bypass all minions unless one has taunt (in which case your minions need to attack it until it’s dead, and the fact that the health of a minion does not reset at the end of the turn, but must be healed or take damage until killed, but those are really minor.

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Where Hearthstone shines is in two areas. First, it can be played in bite-sized chunks. Netrunner and many other card games are beautifully complex, they have a great deal of strategic and tactical depth, but because of that very strategy many games last from 30-60 minutes. Hearthstone has its own depth as well, but it is simple enough to be picked up by any non-gamer, and its simplicity means that games can easily finish in 10 minutes, maybe even 5. When you can play against either an AI or be matched agains a human player, this means you can get your game on whenever you want. Secondly, it has a great thematic resonance with World of Warcraft. While it doesn’t have the Magic mana-wheel, you select a character class when building a deck. Decks can be built with neutral cards, or with class-specific cards. These cards lend each class their specific feel. For example, the Paladin deck runs with a lot of buffing and healing, while the Mage deck has a lot of creature and crowd control. That combined with its art and simple UI (the program automates most of the spell or creature effects, like enchantments/buffs and damage tracking) means that Hearthstone is a great gateway game to introduce people to the world of card/board gaming in general.

Of course, it’s a new game, which means a few things are given. First, it’s going to be launched across platforms (ipad, PC, etc). Secondly, it’s going to be free to play (who didn’t see that coming), which of course means one last more thing: microtransactions. Like any CCG, you gain cards by opening packs, and you gain packs by paying real money. You CAN also gain cards through pure playing (unlike bloody Plants vs Zombies 2, which I will get to in a bit), and you can get quite a bit when you’re levelling up each class. However, it’s entirely possible that the chance of getting cards without paying money will dry up as you progress in the game. This didn’t happen during the time I was trying out the game, but I reserve the right to change my judgment of the game if it happens.

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The next caveat is again related to the CCG-aspect of the game. As you open packs, you can get rares, or even legendary cards. Because these are so much rarer, the power curve between a rare card (or a legendary card) and a common card is obscenely blatant. Which means that while skill is important, sometimes the raw power of a rare deck will just overpower a player.

If you can deal with these few issues though, Hearthstone is a fun enough game to scratch that card game itch that you might have.

Edit Sept 15: After a few more games of hearthstone, it really does feel like pay to play. Quests do not give the free-to-player sufficient gold to buy card packs (you need to grind 2-3 days of quests to get a pack), which means you will likely get overpowered by the people who spent hundreds on the game. The only other option is arena, which is a sealed-deck format. Unfortunately, that costs either 3-4 days of grinding or $3 USD a pop, is prohibitively expensive. And so, I have currently hung up my hearthstoning shoes until it becomes friendlier and less of a price gouge, and gone on to much, MUCH better games.

Hearthstone will be out this year, with Beta access currently open (if you can get it).

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