I just got in to the Heartstone beta. Hearthstone is the computer-aided, online TCG or CCG, whichever suits you best, created by a small-squad Blizzard team. I was interested mainly because the UI grabbed me, and I like playing Duels of the Planeswalkers, which is the Magic the Gathering video game series. I am a long time CCG fan, and I frequently play Magic the Gathering with my gaming group.
A Lighter Faire
This is a light-hearted CCG. I remember picking up Pokemon a long time ago back when I did not fully understand the intricacies of Magic (like the stack, which is f’in critical to understand). Pokemon is still pretty complex compared to Hearthstone, and that is part of Hearthstone’s charm.
Mana ramps up from a pool of 1 up to 10 for each turn. The only limit to spells is mana, which fully refreshes each turn. There are no interrupts, which makes for incredibly fast play since the other player cannot respond. The move for each player is set each turn.
There are a few Magic-type customs. For example, creature permanents (“minions”) get summoning sickness (“sleepy”) unless they have haste (“Charge”). But attacking has been simplified incredibly. There is no tapping; there is no blocking. A minion can attack the opponent or an enemy minion. If an enemy minion is attacked, both hit each other. The only big hitch in the rule is that some minions have Taunt, which blocks any attacks to the opponent or other minions until they are dealt with. Players accustomed to thinking through Magic the Gathering turns quickly will blow through Hearthstone games.
The decks are 30 cards each with a max of 2 copies of each card, with the exception of a single Legendary copy per deck. So basically each deck will have about 15 unique cards in it. This is about what a 60-card deck in Magic will have. Yet for card mechanic complexity Hearthstone’s initial cards are well on the order of Magic Core set. Most cards are vanilla or have a small, expected twist.
Finally, each deck is built around an Icon, like a Priest, which has access to Priest cards. Each deck type has a flavor to it. I personally liked Hunter’s beast-synergy decks, but one could make a Hunter trap deck too. Each deck type has a 2-mana one-shot spell available each round. So even if the cards in hand are not helping at least the one-shot spell is available.
The Long and Simple Road
Personally, I was bored pretty quickly for two reasons. First, the mechanics are too simple. I found many matches were well over before either person hit 10 life (out of 30) because like chess or League of Legends one could see far down the road to who would win. There was no top-deck comeback, at least around my card level.
There were definitely clever plays. I would say that playing in a skilled manner is the third most important factor to winning. Deck building is by far the first followed by card draw. Card advantage is huuuuge in this game, especially since each deck is highly synergetic. Since skill feels so far down the list, even matchmaking is going to be really tough.
Going back to clever plays, it still feels expected. I can map out exactly what an opponent is going to do on my turn. It rarely feels like I surprised my opponent, or they surprised me. It was more like “Oh, that is the card they had; do the obvious thing .” I would guess this is going to be part of the charm, but for me, I am used to and prefer much more complex mechanics and randomness. That’s partly why we play the incredibly complex EDH/Commander variant for Magic the Gathering. (I will also say lack of multiplayer games, and a rule set that feels really resistant to it is another smaller black mark.)
Now it might be very different if I spend a few Jacksons to get the cards and deck I wanted. The complexity and ability to respond to tighter situations might come more easily. But, I don’t want to do that for something that might not even exist. I also don’t really feel like going the F2P route and grinding out gold to see if that exists either. For the money I know I will be much more pleased with Duels of the Planeswalkers and real Magic cards I play with my friends.
However, and a big one at that, Hearthstone is going to be an excellent, excellent gateway drug in to the world of CCGs. If you think you could have liked Magic or a similar game, but found it too daunting, I would say give Hearthstone a try when it becomes openly available.
Where Blizzard should be given standing applause is with the UI. It feels so immersive. The sounds and the way the cards move is just fantastic. It feels about as “real” as it can get in moving virtual objects with a mouse. I like how responsive and intuitive the UI feels. Bravo and brava indeed.
My one suggestion is that deck building needs a bit of work. I would much prefer a deck builder where I can “see” cards in my deck, ala Magic the Gathering Online so that I can virtually stack cards in combos I want, etc. However, something that complex is probably unnecessary given the game’s mechanics. It would feel more “real” though.
I might play off an on throughout beta to see what changes, but I feel Hearthstone is mostly not for me. It is still a really good game, and I would suggest it for people interesteed in CCG-type games and veterans of that dark realm alike. You never know when a good game will just click.