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First thoughts on Hearthstone

Posted 12-05-2013 at 08:25 PM by Spacebear

I got my Hearthstone beta key just before Thanksgiving. My brother in law apparently has been sitting on one for a month or two, so I was quick to point out that they were selling online for quite a bit, and he just frowned.

I got about 100 games in over the break, since I didn't really want to play Tribes on my parent's mediocre internet. So while I don't really have a real opinion on the power level of certain strategies or anything, I have a good grasp of the game's mechanics. That, and I have over a decade of Magic: The Gathering experience under my belt, so my card valuation for any game is usually pretty good.

The first thing I noticed was how good the sound was. This is a really unusual thing to praise about a card game, but it really does a good job of bringing the cards to life without the traditional ways of doing so (Art and Flavor Text). (I know there is art but its so damn small it might as well not be there) The little quotes all the minions say when they are played and when they attack are all very effective. By the end of the weekend I knew what was going on in my bro in law's game without looking at the screen.

Mechanically, the game is pretty basic at this point, but very solid. There isn't any "Activated abilities", but there are a lot of triggered and static abilities. I find the combat funny because it works the way a lot of people assume Magic's combat works, with choosing between attacking minions or players. The minions are all pretty well designed around the combat too; even after looking at all the cards available, I felt that most of the cards had a very real purpose for existing. This contrasts with how Magic handles creature power level, but Magic also has to consider various "limited" formats.

Of all the card games I've ever played, Hearthstone feels the most accessible. Blizzard gives you a lot of stuff to work with and have fun with right off the bat, and it isn't like its all the bad cards. The fact that there aren't many actual "bad" cards only helps make the game more accessible, because it makes it easier for people to play what they like without worrying about whether or not they are making a mistake by going "against the flow".

Ok, I'm bored talking about the things I like.

One thing I am not convinced of in the current design of Hearthstone is sustainability. A lot of old TCGs used "universal mana" in some way or another to solve the "mana screw" problem that Magic has. But the resulting resource systems end up having game crippling flaws. For example, VS. System's resource system had only one type of mana that you would get more a turn, and almost every card had some sort of faction on them. The problem was, if there was a 3 drop character that was even a little better than previous 3 drops, it would completely demolish any purpose that the older card had. There was no point in playing the old card anymore.

There was also a very uneven distribution of available cards for any given faction. If a new faction was created in a later set, there would be a very small pool of cards to build decks for that faction. Whatever state it was in when the set came out, it basically stayed there. Not every faction was like this, but the fragmentation problem was still vast.

So for Hearthstone, I am worried that they don't have enough to differentiate similarly costed cards. Right now, a lot of minions have similar stats, cost the same, and the only difference is that they changed what keyword was on the card. Down the line, they are going to have to make new cards to play side by side with the old cards, and I think they are going to have a real problem, depending on how often they want to add new cards. If there is a 2/2 with taunt in the game, you can't make a 2/3 with taunt at the same cost, because that would look very bad to players. (Magic can get away with this due to rotating formats and the structure of limited play)

I also don't know what Blizzard's stance on "intentionally making bad cards" is. Not having that freedom to make cards a little weird and usually bad might lead to the game having difficulty growing the card pool. I own a 540 card cube for Magic, and I've been constantly working on it for about 5 years. If I tried to make the cube as evenly balanced as possible, I would lose all my hair. I also don't think it would be as fun.


The other issue I have with the game is the progression system. Right now, the best way to acquire new cards is booster packs, which cost 100 gold. The best way to get gold is to complete quests, which usually give you 40 gold. And I've only been getting one quest a day. Which means that pack acquisition is insanely slow. I have my own idea for what I would like to see as far as card acquisition goes, but I don't remember all the little details from when I described it to my buddy.

I feel that earning .8 packs a day, and some amount of arcane dust to craft specific cards, would be a decent place to be. Right now, dust is only useful when you already got a lot of packs. And the way the game is right now, its pretty hard to have a surplus of cards. Giving players some amount of dust would allow them to improve their decks slowly, without having to depend on booster packs giving them cards for their Druid deck.

Overall, I like the game a lot, but there is still work to be done, and a lot of my issues with the game are not about where it is now, but where it could be going.

(Oh, and as far as Arena goes, I don't like it at all. Easily the most boring and worthless drafting system I have ever seen in any card game.)
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