Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is Blizzard Entertainment’s entry into the world of digital card games. The title is the spiritual successor to the now defunct World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, which ran from October 2005 until August 2013. Although collectors of the WOW Trading Card Game may argue that a digital title cannot replicate the experience of amassing physical decks, there are some benefits to turning the hobby into an online game. The most notable one is that finding challengers to play against is considerably easier thanks to the convenience of Internet match making. Building a competitive deck is also theoretically cheaper as Hearthstone costs nowt to buy.
A barrier to entry for most collectible card games is their complex rule sets, but much like how World of Warcraft made MMOs accessible to your average Joe, Hearthstone has been designed to be newbie friendly. Before you are permitted to play against a human opponent, new players need to best a series of tutorial matches, against AI opponents such as the infamous Gnoll known as Hogger, which do a fine job of teaching you the game’s mechanics. The basic gist is that players start with thirty health points and need to whittle their opponent’s HP down to zero in order to claim victory.
Much like in other card games, to harm an opponent players randomly draw cards from their deck, which allows them to summon minions or cast spells. Every card has a mana value, which is proportional to how powerful it is. Players start a match with one mana and each subsequent turn sees their mana reserve increase by one (until the cap of ten is hit.) I like this system as it results in matches were combatants start off by playing weedier cards before gradually building up to the point were they can call upon their big guns. This trumps other games were it is feasible to win a contest in a few turns should fortune be on your side.
Decks are made up of thirty cards composed of neutral cards (that anyone can select) along with class specific cards that are limited to the hero you choose to play as. At the time of writing there are nine heroes to select from, each based on Warcraft’s core classes. My personal favourite is the priest as he can restore health points. Some of the other available classes include a paladin who can summon holy knights, a warrior who can protect his health by donning armour or a mage who can toast enemies with fireballs (as well as poly morphing minions into sheep.) “Bah” I hate it when my best warrior gets transformed into a fluffy farmyard animal.
Right now Hearthstone offers two main game modes. Players can have a one off match (exhibition/ranked) or can spend gold coins to enter the arena. The arena is pretty cool as success is dependent on luck as well as strategy. Participants assemble a deck from a random selection of cards and then square off against fellow card gladiators, until they eventually succumb to three defeats. The quality of the prize you earn for participating in the arena is dictated by how many wins you accrued prior to getting eliminated. It’s a neat idea, which I expect other companies to mimic for their games in due course.
Although it is hard to judge this type of game, after a few weeks of play, from what I have experienced thus far Hearthstone comes across as a five star game. It doesn’t feel like a “pay to win” title, which is often the downfall of similar games. Serious players have the option of paying real cash to buy card packs, whilst the casuals can simply earn in-game gold by completing daily quests or winning a hat-trick of matches. Gameplay wise the current library of cards seems to be balanced. Legendries are powerful, but can be taken out with smart strategy and a well-assembled deck. If you are interested in card games I can highly recommend giving Hearthstone a go. You have nothing to lose, as it is free, and by the looks of it Blizzard are keen to support the release. After a successful PC trial the game has come out for the iPad and more content is planned including a single player campaign.