I’ve spent a lot of my free time on this free-to-play game recently, and I figured I should let you guys know why.
Hearthstone is Blizzard’s brand new turn-based card strategy game, set in the Warcraft universe. The concept behind it is that characters from World of Warcraft all pop down the local pub for a bit of harmless fun with some magical cards that lift themselves off the table and explode in your opponents’ faces.
For those of you who haven’t played online card games, it’s a bit like chess except you get to choose which pieces you bring to the field. You have a deck of cards, drawing one more each turn. Your cards each cost something between 1 and 10. Turn one, you have 1 point to play cards with, turn 2 you have 2, and etcetera until 10. On your turn, you can play creatures (which all have differing hit points, attack points and skills) alongside spells and secrets (which activate when your opponent does something), and then choose to attack your opponent directly, or aim for his/her creatures.
The simplicity in design, compared to other online card games, is in its favor. The tutorial is pleasant and doesn’t feel like it’s nannying you as it explains the basics. If you’ve played other “magic” card games like Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!, you’ll find the rules a lot less complex and it’s much easier to pick up. Slowly, you start to learn about cards with extra rules, like weapons and death rattles (stuff that happens when the creature dies), but all this information is easy to read, to pick up, and if you missed it, a quick brush over your enemy’s cards explains why her goblin has so much more health than normal. It takes no time to boot up a game, and they never last more than about 10 minutes, there being a strict 90 second timer going for each turn to stop you daydreaming.
Like all big Blizzard blockbusters (Diablo, WoW, Starcraft), clearly hours and hours and HOURS have gone into making the game incredibly well balanced. You don’t see the vast majority of players all adopting the same strategies in deck-building – everyone is coming at you with the cards they like and that fit their play style the best, and there’s a kind of complex rock-paper-scissors style to it, so your winning strategy will always have flaws that the right opposing deck can bulldoze through.
It’s another one of those games where you can pay real money to buy yourself some better cards and speed your way to a good deck, but unlike those evil Facebook and phone app games, you get nothing exclusive that you can’t get through a reasonable level of patience and slowly completing daily quests to earn the currency. And even when you do buy cards, you get a random 5 as your prize, so you can’t just fork out cash for the rarest and best cards and thrash everyone around you.
Finally there’s the Arena, where you build a quick custom deck from scratch, where you and your opponents are all on a level playing field with your possibilities, and it’s down to your skill to win. Each win with your thrown-together deck brings you higher up the reward scale – 3 wins or more and you’ve more than earned back the price of entry – but three losses ends your run.
The sound effects are all sorts of grunts and shouts, the music a cheerful background inanity, but the game runs so smoothly, I just turn the in-game sounds off, skip back to the desktop and stick my own music on in the background, then hop straight back into the game.
It’s free-to-play and quick and easy to download. All you need is an account with Blizzard to get all logged in, but that’s hardly a chore. The art is pretty, the pace is fast and the charm is undeniable. Give it a go.