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13 February, 2014

Hands on Hearthstone - Impressions of a Warcraft Fanboy

Blizzard’s free-to-play collectible card game (CCG) Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft recently made the transition from closed to open beta and it’s really taken me by surprise. While I’m an avid lover of anything Warcraft related, I tend to steer clear of card games because I literally know nothing about their structure and rules – I’m basically a complete CCG noob. However, the game does a brilliant job of teaching you the fundamentals of the game – the rest is up to you to learn. And that’s what makes Hearthstone so addicting.

You can choose between nine of the iconic Warcraft classes, each represented by a standout figure from the franchise’s lore. Each class also has a unique set of basic cards that correspond with their heroes’ skills and abilities. My personal favourite is the mage, because nothing is more hilarious than turning your opponent’s most powerful card into a useless sheep.

A deck in Hearthstone consists of thirty cards. Each card costs mana to play and you accumulate one mana crystal each turn starting from one until you have a maximum of ten. The strength of a card is directly reflected in the amount of mana it will cost to play – strong cards will require more mana to play than weaker cards. In general you can expect that half of your opponents deck will be a class specific card and the other half will be a mixture of random minions. This feature of Hearthstone is what really gives the game the right mixture of strategy, expectation and customisation. While the accumulation of mana drives the game forward by opening up ever more powerful tactics.  

Every time I play a match I never feel completely caught off guard because I know that there are certain class specific cards that my opponent can play. This allows me to plan accordingly. But at the same time, every match feels completely different because half of my opponent’s deck is unknown – are they going to rush me down in the early game with a bunch of murlocs? Or are they holding out till late game with some huge card that’s going to turn the match in their favour?

You simply never know how each game is going to play out until it happens. Whether you win or lose isn’t important. Each game you play in Hearthstone is a learning experience and it’s mostly about managing the strengths and weaknesses of your deck.

Just recently I played a game with a friend who rushed me down so hard during the early game that I was dead before I even knew it. I realised that my deck was extremely vulnerable to an early game blitz and didn’t show its worth until the late game. Lucky for me though we were playing best of three. I made some slight alterations to my deck and was able to take out the next two games with out too much trouble.

This might sound weird, but for a digital card game with mythical characters, Hearthstone has a couple of nice little features that help bring this digital world to life. Each time you purchase a deck from the shop you have to open it manually and go through each card one by one – as you would in real life. Even the board that you play on is completely interactive and tapping the various objects can lead to some quirky interactions.

There’s room for improvement - I would like to see a spectate mode that allows you to watch other people play a match in real-time – be it between friends or even between two highly ranked players. I think this feature would help in bringing the already huge community of Hearthstone even closer together. 

But this is still just an open beta and Blizzard will undoubtedly put its signature polish on Hearthstone before it hits the App Store sometime in the second half of 2014. With twenty years of source material to build off, it will be interesting to see where Blizzard takes Hearthstone in the future.

Five Great Collectible Card Games to Enjoy While You Wait:
- Magic 2014
    - Order & Chaos Duels
    - Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
    - Shadow Era: Dark Prophecies
    - Might & Magic: Duel of Champions

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