To Make It Better: Hearthstone Beta

By Ben Barrett on August 20th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.

This orc is really pleased.

In an attempt to make sure that no-one else is allowed to have money ever again, Blizzard announced free to play online CCG Hearthstone back in March. Using characters and lore from the rather popular World of WarCraft, the plan was for a late summer beta with a same-year release, the first part of which has now come to fruition. Momentarily available only in North America, you can sign up for a shot at a key over on Battle.net¬†while you wait for those bits and bytes to be shipped over the ocean. Some thoughts on what we’ve already seen of the game once you’ve become a hero.

I’m quite hype, and it’s not just because of my status as the world’s #1 Blizzard Fanboy. Card games are brilliant and, until recently, vastly underrepresented on the glorious mother-platform. They demand thought and planning without all that pesky manual dexterity involved in the more popular e-sports. Moreover, they’re quick to learn (particularly digitally) but can take years of careful study to master. Many experienced players, in fact, still find it difficult to separate losses caused by errors of their own from the ones caused by a bad draw. Hearthstone’s taking some interesting choices regarding that ever important balance between luck and skill.

I’m very excited to explore them and have my suspicions as to which are good ideas and which are not. As a long time Magic: The Gathering player I do have a strong bias towards a competitive game over a casual one, so my ideas would likely not be to everyone’s taste. Hearthstone’s great strength is its digital nature and how it has embraced it in both general game design and specific cards. It’s also stunningly pretty, every card played and ability activated throwing out feedback like it’s going out of style. On the flipside, there’s an undercurrent of randomness in card effects that turns me off – adding an additional element of luck to games such as this is a dangerous proposition. Look for more weapons-grade opinions once I’ve managed to give it a go.

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28 Comments »

  1. InternetBatman says:

    Is this anything like the warcraft trading card game? Having players attack a big bad is really fun.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      It’s similar in a bunch of ways, mechanically, though there’s none of the (very, very cool) raids you’re referencing. I’m hoping they’ll add that sort of thing in eventually, but it’ll be a long way down the line.

    • Moraven says:

      My comparison from the limited WoW TCG experience I have:

      Hearthstone only resource is crystals. Everyone starts with 1/1. Your next turn the crystals refill and your cap is increased by 1. Thus the game will end up to 10/10.

      You have a Hero deck and hero. Each hero has classic specific cards and a class ability (spell that can be used once a turn for 2 mana). There are non-class specific cards.

      There are no location or quests cards.

      Minions have Attack and Health value, like allies in TCG. Minions are asleep when deployed and not be normally until the next turn. They have abilities like Charge (allows action when deployed, ‘Ferocity’), Battlecry (some effect that takes place immediately), Taunt (enemy has to kill this minion before targeting anything else), summons a weak minion, etc.

      Any attack to a minion still gives a counterattack of the minions attack. If you attack an Attack 3 minion with your hero, your hero takes 3 damage. 2/3 minion will kill a 1/2 minion while taking 1 damage down to 2 health.

      Can deploy weapons to your hero. But there is no mana cost to use it after paying the cost to deploy it.

      Still draw one card at the start of your turn.

      I’m sure there is more features that are similar/same.

  2. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Download the beta opt-in application?
    yikes!

  3. Moraven says:

    It is pretty fun having played it for 2 days now.

    I guess I have not encountered any randomness beyond “Deals 5 damage at random in 1 attack allotments” or “Damage 2 minions for 2 points of damage”.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      I haven’t gone through the whole card list since beta started, but there’s a few more. Brawl destroys all creatures except one chosen at random. A bunch of minions have random battlecry effects (mostly damage to random targets). There was some “take a card from your opponents hand/deck” style cards, as well, but I don’t know if they’re still in the game.

      • Moraven says:

        Ah yes, Brawl I just got and have not used yet.

        Have not encountered any random Battlecry effects yet. I think the extent of the randomness and mana cost balances it out.

        http://www.hearthpwn.com/cards

        Has the full card database.

        In fact, filtered to all current 32 “random” cards:
        http://www.hearthpwn.com/cards?filter-name=random&filter-include-card-text=y&display=2

        • Ben Barrett says:

          I’ll hopefully get into this more once I’ve played it and can write up some proper impressions, but certain randomness (discarding own cards, discarding enemy cards, minions with 2 or less attack) I’m okay with because they’re controllable in some sense or limited enough as to be predictable.

          What I’m not a fan of is stuff that does damage or kills minions outright, but is totally random. This can just swing games to such a huge degree, by my reckoning. Again I haven’t played yet, which is why I’m not making a huge deal out of it, but it seems dodgy to me. Stuff like the totem power for the Shaman seems dodgy too, because you’ll use it so often that the random element will have a significant effect. Same with mind vision – you won’t cast it every game, but when you do it has the potential to be ridiculously powerful.

          • Moraven says:

            Yah I could see that. There is a huge difference in effect when your 9/5 Core Hound gets randomly killed vs your 1/1 Boar. I have found from limited play is using that randomness at the right moments it will have a greater effect.

            Its beta, its new and there is a lot of time to balance it out. And Blizzard is not afraid to simply remove elements from their games when they do not work.

  4. Bull0 says:

    Bit grim that it’s north america exclusive to start off with, I didn’t think that fit Blizzard’s MO.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      It is for their betas. I assume it’s just an attempt to make sure servers can handle it, since usually everyone connects to US servers during WoW/SC2 betas anyway (i.e. they aren’t setting up EU versions). Doesn’t stop me getting mad about it though.

  5. Commander Gun says:

    Was looking forward to play this, but alas, i am european so i guess i have to wait.
    BTW, there are quite some card games available on the PC. HEre’s my thoughts on a few:

    SHADOWERA: One of the older ccg’s that is available. I occasionaly still play this. From all the card games i mention here, i think this one has the fairest F2P mechanic, as in, grinding is quite reasonable and you can buy every card directly from in game currency.

    M&M: DUEL OF THE CHAMPIONS: I played this one quite fanatically. It is a lanebased ccg and the gameplay is executed quite well. It would be my favorite, but it has a HORRIBLE F2P mechanic. If you want to make a particular deck and want a certain card, you cannot get it. Moreso, even if you want to buy a single card for real money, you just can’t do it. There is one card showcased every 8 or 12 hours which you can then get by swapping the same rarity x 20. Too bad, for me this was the killer.

    SOLFORGE:
    The F2P part of this game went live last week. I looked forward to this game, as it being developped by the designer of Ascension (which is the most addicting and best card game ever!) and RIchard GArfield, the designer of Magic the Gathering. It is also lanebased and has a very exotic mechanic. I’m still in the dark on my opinion about this one. Some cards seem very OP and the luck factor seems big. However, this being developped by absolute masterminds i guess i’m just not good enough to see the strategy in this one. The F2P mechanic is somehwere in the middle between Shadowera and M&M: You get a few boosters every day very fast, but the chance for the (much better) Heroic and legendary cards is pretty slim.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      I’ve been playing quite a bit of Solforge recently, and agree with your critcisms. Doesn’t matter how a game is going, if my opponent drops a level 3 Grimgaunt Predator into a lane I have an “offensive mode” creature in, I don’t feel like I can win from that position. Really wish it was possible to buy cards directly.

      Speaking of F2P models, Hearthstone’s crafting systems seems mighty fair. Maybe as good as Shadowera, which I hadn’t heard of before.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Might and Magic: Duel of Champions is really great: amazing card art with some humor in the descriptions, deep gameplay with a lot of options compared to most free-to-play CCGs. Could’ve used more freedom in deckbuilding perhaps.

      They’ve announced that they’re working on a way to allow you to get individual cards you really want, and I guess they’re watching what the competition does, so they may not have played their last card. Ba-dum-tish.

  6. DantronLesotho says:

    So I saw this article and I thought “Wow, Blizzard bought out the guys who were making the minecraft-RTS game?”

    Then I realized that the OTHER game is called Stonehearth, and this one is Hearthstone. Video games! >: (

  7. Afkilla says:

    Anyone have a beta key to spare?

  8. DeFrank says:

    I’ve seen the beta keys being sold today on a few forums for $250+

    Insane.

  9. Cioomperkoi says:

    I know this kind of begging is probably frowned upon here (and anywhere else), but damn it, I’m desperate. That being said, does anyone have an extra key they might wanna spare? Please, I’d be very grateful and I’d most certainly name my firstborn kid/new pet after you.

  10. Ahtaps says:

    So, in order to win this game, do you pop Divine Shield and then use your Hearthstone?

    I’m curious to see whether this is any good (once the other 95% of the world can get in). I’ve always wanted to get into digital CCGs but never really found one I liked.

  11. Wixed says:

    give us people from eu beta keys pls! :D

  12. Widthwood says:

    Title image reminded me of Warcraft Adventures… Ah, the days where Blizzard could actually consider releasing a niche non-guaranteed-to-make-hundreds-of-millions game…

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