Hearthstone Review: Dealing a Winning Hand
Collectible card games aren’t a new genre, but Blizzard is revolutionizing the way they’re played digitally with Hearthstone.
Most CCGs start out as physical products that subsist on the revenue from packs of cards, called boosters, that players must buy in an effort to obtain new cards. Normally, these titles start out as physical products, and then transition into some sort of digital equivalent, such as Magic: the Gathering’s Duels of the Planeswalkers. In the case of Hearthstone, however, Blizzard launched a CCG that had never seen the inside of a game store, freeing it from many genre conventions.
Platform: PC (Reviewed), iOS, Android
Release Date: March 11, 2014
Available: Battle.net (Mobile versions coming later in 2014)
A simple core
The basic framework of Hearthstone will be instantly familiar to anyone who has dabbled in CCGs before. You have a selection of creature and spell cards that you use to build decks. You then play those cards using “mana” — each card has a number dictating its mana cost — and each card you play can generally target other creature cards or the player him or herself. Each player gets a set amount of “health” at the start of the match, and the idea is to use spells and attacking creatures to reduce that number to zero. It’s fairly simple concept to grasp, and Blizzard’s excellent-as-always tutorials make it even easier.
It’s fairly simple concept to grasp, and Blizzard’s excellent-as-always tutorials make it even easier.
Hearthstone gives players mana at a fixed rate of one additional point per turn, allowing them to play more powerful cards as the game progresses. For example, on your first turn you can play a card costing one mana; on your second, you can afford to play one costing two mana, or you could play two one-mana cards; and so on.
The mana system is a simple change from what Magic players are used to. Instead of having players draw mana cards from their deck and then play them, Hearthstone takes a different approach, and it makes a huge difference in how it plays. Gone are the frustrating times when you just can’t draw enough mana cards to play that awesome creature you’ve got in your hand. Instead, you can plan your in-game strategy based around the cards you draw, because you always know exactly how much mana you’re going to have and when.
There’s also a fully fleshed-out AI system that lets players take on regular and expert level opponents to learn a new character class (which players choose to represent them in-game, and which can change what cards they have access to), test out a new deck construction, or just get some extra practice in. This gives new players a great place to learn the ropes, earn a few cards as they level a deck up, and get used to building their own decks. In short, it’s a training camp to make it easier to get into the game.
Deck-building, a CCG staple, is simple for both experienced players and newcomers alike. Cards are listed by class, and you can add or remove cards from a deck with a simple click. Bar graphs show the distribution of cards by mana cost, and the whole thing has the feel of clicking through a book. In fact, if you just want to select a few key cards that you want in your deck, the game will finish building the deck for you at any time with just the click of a button. It’s a straightforward, intuitive process that just about anyone can learn quickly.
In fact, that’s the very essence of Hearthstone: making the CCG accessible and approachable. As any veteran of Magic, one of the most popular CCGs ever made, can tell you, that game includes myriad status effects, multiple types of cards that can be played at different times during your turn or your opponent’s, and a casting system that requires building mana cards into your deck. Hearthstone eschews all of that, and instead employs a simple, easy-to-understand design that can be quickly picked up by just about anyone.
A World of Warcraft
Blizzard is doubling down on getting WoW players interested in the game by offering up rewards in its flagship MMO to players of Hearthstone.
Hearthstone pulls every bit of its artistic inspiration from one place: Warcraft. It’s an inspired choice, as that’s a world that has 100 million lifetime players to pull in, and that familiarity will be a big help to convincing new CCG players to give the game a go.
All of Hearthstone’s decks are built around classes lifted directly from World of Warcraft, and whether it’s the Priest who packs a healing ability, or the Mage who can toss damage, they’ll feel instantly familiar to WoW players. There are familiar spells, like Frostbolt for the Mage, and familiar characters, like Finkle Einhorn. Even the backdrops the game is played on are WoW-themed, with interactive bits that you can click on, like ringing gongs or lighting fires.
Not only does it feel familiar, but Blizzard is doubling down on getting WoW players interested in the game by offering up rewards in its flagship MMO to players of Hearthstone. For example, winning three games in Hearthstone will net you the Hearthsteed in WoW, a unique mount only obtainable through the CCG. Blizzard is obviously betting that it can retain those crossover players once they get them in the door.