Hearthstone Hands-On Preview: Blizzard Deals a New Hand

After you choose a class and a deck, Hearthstone uses Battle.net matchmaking to find a suitable opponent for you. You can also challenge your Battle.net friends in unranked matches. Once you’re matched against an opponent, the game begins.

Gameplay is easily approachable. While I have played a number of collectible card games over the years, I played a match against a player who never had, and he had no problems grasping the concepts of the game. A Blizzard rep emphasized that we were only playing with the basic cards sets, and that gameplay could become more complex once the full range of cards is available. Still, the approachability that made World of Warcraft so successful is fully present in Hearthstone.

As you’d expect, Hearthstone is teeming with WoW references. In one match we saw, a card called “The Beast” was played, and once it was destroyed, the opponent got a gnome minion named Finkle Einhorn. Any vanilla WoW player will remember that reference from the days of Upper Blackrock Spire.

One of the things that Blizzard emphasized was that trading card games and collectible card games are very much something that they’re into as a company. Most of the people who were at Blizzard early on spent time playing games like Magic the Gathering, and so when this idea popped up, they were excited to jump on it. Furthermore, bringing a game to the iPad, a platform they see growing explosively, was something Blizzard wanted to try.

Players shouldn’t be quick to dismiss Hearthstone as just another Magic the Gathering clone. While they’re both collectible card games with booster packs, there are a number of fundamental differences between Wizards’ flagship entry and Hearthstone.

First, and most important for Magic players is this: your minions don’t regenerate health between turns. While this sounds simple, the implications for gameplay are profound. In Magic, large creatures can be insurmountable in some situations. In Hearthstone, whittling large foes down over multiple turns is completely possible.

Second, there’s no blocking phase. Instead, you’ll be able to have minions in your deck with a ‘Taunt’ ability. If an opponent has a minion with Taunt in play, you have to eliminate that minion before you can attack anything else. Don’t have one of these minions in play? Too bad for you, because your opponent can simply choose to bypass your minions and attack your hero directly.

Thirdly, there’s no tapping of mana. Instead, you’ll have the same number of mana as the round you’re in. If it’s the third round of the game, you have three mana, and so on. This makes the construction of decks very important, as having cards that are playable early in the game can be the difference between winning and losing.

These differences sound minor, but in play they give the game a very different feel. That’s not to say that previous experience in Magic won’t help you pick this game up, but it’s certainly not a necessity.

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