Stack ‘em up
When I came to play Hearthstone, I had little to no experience with World of Warcraft. Some purists may say that this makes me less than qualified to discuss the finer intricacies of Hearthstone. I say, “Dah!” to that. It gives me more right as I come with fresh eyes on a franchise almost as old as PC gaming itself. So before I begin the breakdown of one of the most downloaded games of 2014, let me begin by saying I am not a Warcraft knowledgebase, and neither do you need to be to jump right in.
The game is a turn-based, card strategy game. It takes the guise of the “Heroes” from the Warcraft universe sitting across a table from one another and battling with cards. You assume the role of one of the Heroes; your opponent another. The game is primarily based on PVP play, with the option for either Casual gaming or Ranked gaming. There is a training mode available where you can play against the CPU.
You begin with the Mage unlocked and the other decks can be unlocked by beating the less than informative Tutorial challenges. Each class you beat, you unlock that deck. You can then take that deck, customise it (more on that later) or battle other players.
As of 22/07/2014 the first section of “Curse of Naxxramas” DLC was released, which is a Single Player challenge campaign. I will be adding a review of this once I have plucked up the courage to face it…
Mechanics are simple and very accessible. If you have never played a strategy card game such as Magic the Gathering, then I suggest this is the perfect introduction to the genre for you. There are two players, one being you, and each of you take it in turn to play cards from your hand. The hand is a set of 5 cards given to you from your deck at the beginning of the game. Each card has 3 stats to be aware of:
Mana Cost – This is the amount of energy or Mana it costs to play this card. You start with one mana and regenerate all mana and gain +1 mana per turn. There are cards that will grant you additional Mana, normally temporarily.
Attack – This is the amount of damage your card will do against the target.
Health – This is the amount of damage that your card can sustain before it is destroyed. Once destroyed it will be sent to your Graveyard and is unusable.
Some cards have special modifiers that can give a special ability or have an effect. These change per card and will be covered under my “How to Play Hearthstone and not suck” blog.
There are currently 9 classes to choose from and each class offers its own set of cards as well as “Hero Power,” a unique ability that can help (or hinder…) your character in battle. I have played with all of the classes and I can say that the default decks are all balanced and involve several different play style abilities. For example, a Rogue may focus heavily on low mana cost spells in order to achieve a quick victory; whereas a Druid is primarily focused on restorative spells and high mana, high damage/high defence cards.
The game balancing mechanic works in such a way that you are never pitted against an over-powered opponent who can easily destroy you. I have been playing every day for 3 months and have never come across an opponent who I can’t beat. It comes down to your skill vs. their skill.
Ranked mode runs in seasons. A season will run over a calendar month period and will end on the last day of that month. At the beginning of the season, you are provided with a rank (between 25 and 1) that is determined by how well you performed in the last season. You need to win games to advance rank and face tougher opponents. You will never play anyone who is more than 2 ranks ahead of you.
Deck Building is what I would describe as one of the most streamlined and efficient mechanics in Hearthstone. I have spent a number of years playing Magic the Gathering and have spent many long hours building physical decks from 100’s of available cards. Not only does Hearthstone offer a suggestion system, the cataloguing of cards into Mana Cost/Class/Power all make it easy to design and build an effective deck.
I have built a deck that I call “Blitzkrieg”. It is a rogue deck that has no card with a higher Mana value than 3. The idea is to hit the opponent hard and fast with everything I have and hope it does enough damage to stop him recovering. It works well against Hunters and Warriors, but I come seriously unstuck against spell users such as Mages/Druids and Shamans. This again is where the balance of play comes in. Each class has a weakness. Your job is to find it and make him (or her (we’re not Ubisoft…) pay.
Free to Play Model
This brings me on to the final point of note. A contentious issue to say the least, but F2P has divided gamers since the birth of Farmville and Candy Crush Saga (please don’t sue me King…I have no money…). “Free?!” I hear the doubters grumble…Yes, the game is 100% free to play. I have not invested a single penny and yet have a formidable collection of cards to play with.
There is the option to purchase packs at a price of real money or in game “Gold” which can be earned by winning games and completing challenges. Where the element of fairness comes in is that buying a pack of cards with real money does not give any advantage. You will still get 6 random cards. One will be rare or better. There is no “Spend all your money and we’ll let you PWN all the free-to-players!!” I have several rare and one or two legendary cards and have not spent a single penny.
To sum it up, Blizzard have continued to build on an already broad franchise. I am a relative WoW n00b, but I have now been convinced that there may be a reason to play. I have downloaded the WoW trial based completely on my love for Hearthstone. There was a great gap in the market for a Card Battle game that didn’t involve giant anime tits or 12 sided dice and multiple pieces of paper just to keep count of your health.
This my friends, is the dawn of a new age in Card Based gaming.