Wot I Think (Of The Open Beta): Hearthstone

Every time Hearthstone launches the first thing you see is a box. The camera lingers on the bevelled edges of the lid, gaining height before tilting to settle on a top-down view. The inset stone glows with restive energy, clunks backwards and spins – in a surprise twist, the lid doesn’t flip open but splits vertically. Hearthstone‘s roots are in the real-world, and a big part of the joy in card games is the physical pleasure of playing with them. This lovingly-crafted box is the opening volley in answering one question; can Blizzard make a digital card game that feels like a real one?

Blizzard themselves have been keen to downplay expectations, but Hearthstone is a product of rare quality, the foundations of a game that could have decades of life. Players have been slamming down cards in closed beta for around six months and the game has now entered ‘open beta’ (sign up here) – though as a free-to-play game the distinction between this and a full release is somewhat subtle. It’s fair to say, at the least, that Hearthstone today is the functionally complete product, with all nine of its heroes and multiple hundreds of cards long in-place.

Hearthstone is a competitive game of one-on-one matches, turn-based and with thirty cards each. Each player starts with one mana crystal, and on subsequent turns draws a card and gains another mana crystal to a limit of ten – the player who goes second is granted ‘The Coin’ as a leveller, a 0 cost card worth one extra mana point. Each player controls a hero with 30HP, and a ‘hero ability’, and the goal is to get them before they get you.

What happens within these confines could be anything: a Hunter deck crammed with low-cost beasts and buffs, tearing away at opponents and minions from turn 1 and wearing down the enemy’s HP with the ‘sure shot’ ability; a Druid that rips minions off the board with brutal AOE and direct damage, before planting giant trees for a beatdown endgame; a Mage of ice that freezes entire armies before unleashing waves of dragons and flame, finishing you up with a Pyroblast to the face; or a Paladin with the Sword of Justice, summoning orderly lines of Silver Knights that shoonk into place with a shudder, +1/+1, like clockwork toys. “Rreporting for duty,” each new one says, the nasal tone never altering whether they face murlocs, knights or legendary monsters.

My beloved silver knights are the Paladin’s hero ability, which lets him summon in a 1/1 minion for 2 mana once per turn. Each hero has their own special trick (equipping daggers, or armouring up, or shooting a fireball) but your choice also dictates most of the cards you’ll be able to select. Hearthstone’s cards are in nine categories themed around the nine heroes, plus a huge pool of ‘neutral’ minions that can be used by any class. These cards can be further divided into categories like Pirates, Murlocs, and Demons that work well together, but the vast majority sync beautifully across multiple styles. The Mage, for example, has a tonne of exclusive spell cards dealing AOE damage and effects – as well as minions like the Sorceror’s Apprentice, who reduces the cost of spells, and ‘secrets’ like Counter-spell.

Secrets are an interesting part of Hearthstone’s system, because they exist to mask over a part of CCGs that’s been removed, namely mid-turn interplay. When you’re with another human and playing MTG, it is easy, as long as you have the right card, to interrupt someone in the act of casting a spell and counter it. In Hearthstone this is impossible, because it’s not face-to-face and Blizzard clearly don’t want these kind of floating decision points where players can intrude on another player’s turn.

So Secrets exist. These are classed as spells but once cast stay dormant on your hero until an enemy action triggers their card text – it could trigger when an enemy plays a minion, or attacks, or casts a spell. This is Hearthstone’s way of mitigating some of the flexibility lost by so clearly demarcating player turns. Does it work? Not really kinda maybe it’s OK most of the time. The problem with the Secrets method, and the reason I don’t use Counter-spell in my Mage decks, is that I want to pick a target rather than leaving things up to Lady Luck.

The secrets, though, deserve to be considered in context as part of an overall streamlining of mechanics. Hearthstone has many obvious antecedents, but in the service of a fast and accessible style of match simplifies or removes CCG staples – there’s no graveyard here, for example.

The clearest impact of this is that Hearthstone is easier to pick up than any other card-battler I’ve played, and Blizzard also do the right thing in using Warcraft as a tongue-in-cheek flavour rather than a stodgy base – you need no prior knowledge or love for the series to enjoy the cartoony and superbly-voiced minions.

By being accessible in this way Hearthstone opens itself up for the kind of sneer that’s already darkening plenty of online discussion. ‘Shallow.’ This is the kind of hard-to-substantiate but serious-sounding accusation that sticks around. Depth in card games like Hearthstone comes from the surprises baked into rock-solid fundamentals, the potential in its combinations which players are constantly excavating but never fully uncover. In other words, everything depends on how often Hearthstone’s cards can keep surprising players.

I’ve been playing Hearthstone for around four months now, and in that time have seen the rise and fall of countless ‘unbeatable’ decks – some of which, like the Hunter’s ‘Unleash the Hounds’ one-move kill on turn 6 or 7, were nerfed by Blizzard and some of which, like the Warlock’s Murloc deck, stick around as strong but beatable archetypes. Things have come and gone: the super-passive Druids that bleed out your deck, the Mages dependent on low-cost freezing spells into Alexstraza then Pyroblast, or the Priests and their silly Mind Control nonsense.

I had a Mage Pyroblast deck, and how Blizzard dealt with its sudden popularity was simple. The Mage has several spells that freeze all enemy minions, which blocks them all for attacking for a turn. With multiple of these, plus a few flamestrikes, the mage could keep the board clear and then in the endgame slam down Alexstraza – a card that reduces one player’s health to 15 (in this case your opponent). Next turn the Mage would unleash super high-damage magic and do 15+ damage to win.

All that Blizzard did here was make the freezing spells more expensive. That might not sound like much but, considering each spell’s mana cost is separate and the original plan depended entirely on freezing enemy minions in the earlygame, it makes the decks super-vulnerable early and clunky to transition out of and into the big endgame. That brutal combo of Alexstraza followed by nasty magic is still open, unchanged, but getting there without taking big damage or wasting key spells is a lot tougher. I still have a deck like this, but let’s just say it’s changed.

This type of call-and-response has always been the lifeblood of card games but Hearthstone’s position as one of the first potentially mass-market CCGs with an excellent online infrastructure makes things exciting. As for the ‘free-to-play’ tag, this is one of the few games that will make Western players love the business model. It’s as simple as that. I’ve been playing Hearthstone for a while now and, at the start, had a few issues with the way the in-game currency Gold trickled in. Happily the Arena has been majorly tweaked in subsequent updates, and the win cap is now a dozen games (and a potential 250 Gold), which goes hand-in-hand with the new ranking system for competitive play (and its irresistible ‘winstreak’ booster). With the Daily Quests topping up your Gold, you won’t ever have to put a penny in to have an enormous amount of fun with Hearthstone. Yes you might not have all the cards you want quite as quickly as you want, and it’s a long road even if you’re sticking a few quid in here or there, but that’s part of the pleasure with CCGs – and the basic game is incredible value for nothing. A special mention, too, for the incredible pack-opening animation, which verily splits them asunder, and the Scottish dwarf who flips out when you score a big card: “O-OA-EPPECCKK!!”

One of the many little perfections in Hearthstone is its matchmaking carousel – perhaps because you spend so many small chunks of time with it. As you click ‘Go’ the apparatus slams down with a rocky thunk, and nameplates whizz past two arrows making sparks fly with the friction. The machine slows, hovers for a delicious instant over fake-outs like ‘Blizzard Developer’ or ‘Fiscally-responsible mime’, but never fails to settle on a Worthy Opponent. Is a matchmaking screen subsidiary to a game itself? Here it is polished to a shine, because Hearthstone is not just content to be a wonderful game; it wants to hold your attention and imagination, to feel almost real. At times you blink, check the in-game clock, and two hours have passed. Well played.


  1. DatonKallandor says:

    If only Hearthstone was the Blizzard made Warcraft based CCG that was genuinely good instead of…Hearthstone, which is just an incredibly polished ultra-simplistic side project promoted to full blown Blizzard game. Unfortunately that promotion to real game means the porting of the good version of this game is now never going to happen because there’d be too much overlap.

    The other one had real game design thought put into it’s every mechanic, while Hearthstone had real thought put into reducing the game design and it’s every mechanic until it’s just a math puzzle that is incredibly satisfying to solve a few dozen times – but then there’s nothing left but the same puzzle, over and over and over.

    • Thurgret says:

      I have to agree with this somewhat. I’ve worked out the priest rather well, and play the priest primarily. Except, unless a future card I get changes my tactics drastically, my game revolves around the same damn tactics over and over and over. Of course, the priest seems to be acknowledged by the community to be not very good, in general, and almost none of the highest rank players play priests, apparently, so maybe over the weekend I’ll look more fully into the druid, for one thing (or a murloc heavy deck with just about any character, because murlocs are a bit silly). I don’t have quite all of the priest cards, but, yeah, it’s long since boiled down to doing some quick sums in my head and knowing opponents’ potential line-ups well enough to bait out the things that might really stump me e.g. mage’s polymorph.

      The priest can be exceedingly powerful if an opponent fails to recognise and promptly counter the stronger priest strategies. See: two Oasis Snapjaws with 40 attack and 40 health each, thanks to Temple Enforcer, Divine Spirit x2, Inner Fire and a Faceless Manipulator. I didn’t even need the second, but hopefully my opponent in that particular game took a lesson away from it. Similar stuff has happened with my Lightspawn and Windfury Harpy. Or even some lesser cards. Mogashu (spelling?) Wardens are another favourite. As is my Pint-Sized Summoner, when it goes ignored– sensible opponents kill those and the Northshire Clerics as fast as possible, despite the low mana cost.

      Anyway! Rambling. Yes. The game does boil down to the same number-crunching over and over, eventually. But there are certainly a few dozen enjoyable games to be had before that point.

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    • chiablo says:

      Their obsession with oversimplification will probably be what dooms Heroes of the Storm. DotA 2 keeps people playing by having such a high skill ceiling that it’s seemingly impossible to master, even after thousands of hours of gametime. Heroes of the Storm looks like DotA for babies.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        I think Heroes of the Storm might evade that problem by simply having more people playing in the same match. The unpredictability of 10 people on the same map (it’s still 10 right?) might be enough to cancel out the simple mechanics. It helps that some of those simple mechanics are genuinely different from other MOBAs, so they’ll get boring slower since you’ve never seen them before.

        • Xocrates says:

          Err… 10 people is the default in most mobas (5v5) and all I’ve seen of heroes of the storm suggests the same applies there.

        • chiablo says:

          Both LoL and DotA use 10 heroes (5v5). The biggest difference with HotS is the inclusion of more maps and game types. To be fair though, LoL has added a few new maps and modes and DotA has their seasonal events that shake things up a bit.

          But if people use it as a gateway drug into DotA, I’m all for it. :D

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            Although 90% of LoL games are played on one map. It will be interesting to see if HotS’ maps are treated equally by the community or if the closest one to the standard 3 lane map will become the “proper” game mode with the others being a distraction that people play occasionally.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Sure, but nobody ever went bankrupt underestimating the yada yada yada.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Dota 2 also plays like a lame dog of a game that feels like it was released 10 years ago. One thing you have to say about Blizzard games is that they are polished, smooth and fluid, they feel good to play. Hearthstone is no exception and their MOBA will likely be the same. Why people must constantly look for things to be super hardcore is baffling to me. I don’t feel the need to play a game like this for 5 hours a day, its only a card game after all, but its damn fun to jump in and play a few games of when you have some spare time.

        • dmoe says:

          RPS posters always talking about shit they don’t know a thing about. Keep it real, son.

      • dmoe says:

        This is what made me tired of Hearthstone after playing it for about 4 weeks straight. The ceiling is very very low regardless of the spread of cards. The lack of trading or any real social environment is the other killer. As per usual Blizzard doesn’t like their base communicating with other very easily.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      Absolutely agree. Hearthstone is lacking any of the complicated mechanics that make games like MTG fun and as a result it boils down to the maths puzzle you mention, and luck, very quickly.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      I thought the same thing when I first saw Hearthstone. Overly simple kid’s game version of actual CCGs. I played a lot of them (admittedly, not WoW because I have no interest in WoW). I love complex card mechanics. I want that in a digital CCG.

      In fact, I bought into Scrolls immediately when it was released. I played Duel of Champions as well. I’m eagerly waiting for Hex. And I played a bit of Card Hunter but that one didn’t really do it for me. Hearthstone was an afterthought and I signed up for a beta only because I love card games and figured why not take a look. After trying it out, I have been exclusively playing Hearthstone. So, from a position of a CCG snob who’s “seen it all”, let me tell you – Hearthstone is awesome.

      Its prime quality is condensed gameplay. Scrolls, for example, is great. I love it. A good game with a decent opponent can last about 30 minutes, though. Even close to an hour occasionally. A game in Hearthstone lasts ten minutes. And there’s no filler there, all of those 10 minutes are actual, tactical decisions with consequences. When you don’t have all day to play games, that’s a glorious, precious thing.

  2. wakham says:

    I’ve been rather enjoying this since it went into open beta. It is still very much in beta. There is constant disconnects and problems of connecting to servers. Not to mention that half of the games you will be playing against mage decks. The balance is not quite there yet if everyone is using only 1 class out of 9.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      At which rank are you experiencing this? I wouldn’t be surprised if the low ranks (20>) are dominated by mages since it is the class you are first introduced to, but in the general ecosystem the classes are pretty well represented I’d say. Druid is pretty dominant right now though, and Hunter will continue to be pretty bad for the foreseeable future.

      EDIT: Hmm, that should be “>20” I guess.

      • TonyB says:

        That’s interesting – I’ve mostly been playing Druid simply because it’s the class I had most fun with in WoW, so I want it to be my favourite in this too, but I’ve not really been that effective with it against real people. Where I struggle is that the Druid has no card to instantly take out a single powerful minion, which most classes have, so when combined with being a slightly slow deck I’m usually killed before my big cards come out, or squeezed out in the late game.

        I could just be rubbish though.

        • FrogPeppins says:

          The druid has a spell called Naturalize for 1 mana, it destroys any minion outright. Several classes have a spell like this with a drawback, and Naturalize’s is that the opponent will draw 2 cards when it’s used. Warlock has Corruption which waits to kill the minion until the opponent’s next turn has passed.

          Naturalize is a 1-of in many standard druid decks in the ladder. They also deal with many threats by using KotG, a very strong card with an option to silence.

          Druid’s strategy is to use powerful removal early on to stall for their strong late-game cards. Wrath, Claw, Bite, Swipe, Starfall, and Starfire are all very strong for various reasons and can card-efficiently deal with most early-game classes. The Druid also has mana ramp mechanics that allow him to get his larger minions out sooner at the cost of either card advantage or immediate board control. Another Druid strong point is the ability to choose between two options on many of his cards, allowing them to remain strong in totally different situations.

          • TonyB says:

            Ah, I haven’t unlocked Naturalise yet, maybe things will be easier once I have. I’ve generally ended up saving some of the other spells you mention until late in the game just so I have something to deal with big minions, so maybe once I have that the decisions on how soon to start blasting things will be less complicated. I had already concluded that the card options are one of his big strengths though – that seems appropriate given the adaptability of the class in the parent game, part of why I found it so entertaining to play. Thanks a lot for the details.

    • bhauck says:

      I’ve played probably 15-20 hours over the last three weeks and I haven’t been disconnected since the first day, when I realized I was blocking a bunch of its connections.

    • SavageTech says:

      I’ve played the game nearly every day for about two months now and I’ve never encountered a server problem. The only times I’ve had an issue with connecting to the game is when my ISP dropped the ball and the Battle.net client tried to reconnect while my Internet connection was still down. If you try to reconnect without an Internet connection then the Battle.net client makes you wait for ~60 seconds before you can try again, but that’s more of an annoying design flaw than an artifact of its beta status.

      That said, totally agreed on the Mage/balance thing. That goddamn character has good cards for every situation (e.g. single target removal, sweeping removal, direct damage, etc.) and often has the best cards of that type even across classes. I’m seriously baffled why Blizzard thinks it’s okay for some classes to have super-gimped abilities in some areas while the Mage gets to be good at everything.

      • Thurgret says:

        The mage doesn’t get much by way of minion buffs that I’ve seen. I’ve won most of my games against mages so far. It’s usually easy to get them to play polymorph, flamestrike and so on quite prematurely, although that may just suggest that I’m playing against bad mage players more than anything else.

    • Nurdell says:

      The biggest offender for me is that cards randomly swap places and the card that lingers on the field after being bounced to the hand. I also have seen cards that overlap in hand but it was pretty rare.

  3. WarThunder says:

    Anyone who has been playing Hearthstone for four months has my unreserved admiration – you must have incredible stamina to keep playing this highly flawed, overly simplistic and incredibly over-hyped game.

    While I can appreciate that it will have flaws due to it being in Beta, it also has too many game-breaking bugs which have been in the game for many months and still remain unfixed. And on top of that Blizzard have the gall to charge people to play Arena and to buy extra card packs (if you’re too impatient to earn them with the extremely slowly acrued in-game Gold).

    Let’s also not forget the highly predictable gameplay which becomes a real bore after a while once you’ve played against almost the same deck for the umpteenth time (depending on whichever deck is the current ‘flavour of the month’ amongst players). The ‘match-making’ is also poor and often pits you against players who are either too weak or too strong, resulting in unbalanced matches.

    There is also a huge lack of variety in the game and after a while every game feels like the last.

    I fear that the game will be a victim of its own hype, with players rapidly becoming bored with it. In short, it was released far too soon in its development cycle.

    • Randomer says:

      I don’t understand these complaints about “the gall to charge people to play Arena”. At my peak of playing I was probably averaging an arena every two or three days, and sometimes I was doing two or three in one day. You get gold from doing quests. You get gold from the Arena. You even get a trickle of gold from winning games. I’ve never dropped a dime on the game. How are you running out of gold?

      Are you trying play Arena for eight hours straight every day? If you enjoy the game enough to play that much, don’t you think you could supplement your play with $2 every now and then? The game is free, for crying out loud. I honestly feel a little guilty that I haven’t given them any money, given how much enjoyment I’ve derived from it.

      • WarThunder says:

        You misunderstand me. When I said that Blizzard have “the gall to charge people to play Arena” I was stating that the OPTION is there for people to play Arena by paying with real money (in the same way that people can play for in-game Gold to buy card packs (as well as Arena entry)). Many people WILL spend money on the game as the grind for in-game Gold, to many, will take far too long. On reading the various forums a good number have spent well over $100 on the game so far. That, to me, seems wrong for a game that is in Beta test. Yes, it’s the money of the people who are playing the game, but IMO Blizzard shouldn’t be charging a penny for this until all of the game breaking bugs are fixed (and by ‘game breaking’ I mean, for example, the rapidly shifting minions, overlapping cards, random server disconnects – all of which can cause the loss of a game).

        • mouton says:

          Everyone hates F2P, I get it. I hate it too.

          But Heartstone is one of the best implementations of the model.

        • Ergates_Antius says:

          I’m still not seeing the gall here. They give people the option to pay for something if they choose. Why is that bad?

        • Colej_uk says:

          I’m not a fan of the F2P model, but the point is nullified by how easy it is to acquire 150 gold (the cost of arena). You get a significant amount of it back from playing arena itself even if you do badly, plus a booster pack. Usually another 1-3 daily quests will give you enough for another run. It’s very well implemented.

          If people are annoyed about spending money in a product that isn’t finished, don’t spend money in a product that isn’t finished! It’s a similar argument to the early access debate really- if you don’t think it’s worth it don’t buy it.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Ok, so you don’t like the game. I don’t quite understand why, because of that, you feel the need to flat out lie about things. What are these gamebreaking bugs you speak of? because as far as I’m concerned you’ve plucked that out of thin air, there isn’t a single bug in this game that is more than a slight annoyance occasionally. The idea that cards occasionally landing in the wrong place (something which will probably turn a win into a loss less than one game out of a hundred) is gamebreaking is a laughable idea.

    • Mhorhe says:

      I find your comment to be somewhat malicious.

      Allowing people to pay is hard to call galling..especially when, as others have also stated, it really isn’t too hard to accrue the gold needed for an Arena run. For crying out loud, you only need to do the daily quests (a matter of 10 to 15 minutes a day..) 3 days in a row and you’re there. And you need exactly 3 victories there to get back your money’s worth.. That more than covers for a casual player.

      And gamebreaking bugs.. please. Which are these innumerable gamebreaking bugs that have been fouling up the game for months? :|

  4. nullward says:

    Great write up. But you forgot to mention the matchmaking carousel music. The tinny playback of Warcraft 2 cinematic music warms the aging cockles of my heart…

    • Mhorhe says:

      I had come to comment exactly that! :) Great music, not to mention great nostalgic music..

  5. Richard Nixon says:

    If anyone’s looking for something a little more complex than Hearthstone, I’d highly recommend Might & Magic: Duels of Champions. It’s got a bit more going in terms of tactics and positioning, with a “lane” system with ranged and melee creatures, and a more complex resource system. IMO there’s more variety between factions in MMDoC than between heroes in Hearthstone (neutral creatures are mostly gimped versions of faction ones). I personally prefer the more realistic artstyle they’ve gone for (the card art is *really* good). It does a nice job of capturing the feel of the old HoMM games, too.

    Not that Hearthstone’s a bad game or anything – I think it comes down to preference, but MMDoC is less well-known so I thought I’d plug it.

    • Setroc says:

      Good shout on duel of champions. I’ve been doing the rounds a bit with these new (and older) DCGs and MMDoC is definitely the one I’ve played the most. It just seems to do everything better than hearthstone, adding in touches of complexity to bring extra meaning and strategy to every card play. Unfortunately it has quite a wonky UI and of course no where near the production value of blizzard’s effort.

    • Meridian99 says:

      Personally I prefer Solforge than HS. It’s lane based, so it’s a different beast in a way, but I like the variety of interactions and the many options I have every single turn. When I play HS I feel that i have only a couple of options of what to play and when, especially in the early rounds. That made most games play out the same way.

    • donweel says:

      I agree, Might and Magic DoC is my main card game now. I finally got an invite to Hearthstone and I like it more than I thought I would. It made me laugh right away with the voice overs and the presentation of the game. It certainly lacks depth but gains in casual relaxing game play. Also it is nice to run a card game on my Mac. I think if they expanded on the crafting aspect of the game it would add interest and complexity.

  6. Arathain says:

    I’ve been really enjoying this. It’s nice to have a high quality competitive experience in which matches feel complete, but only last 10 or 15 minutes. I don’t see the game as simplistic at all. It’s beautifully streamlined, for sure. But all the signs of a deep experience are there. You’ll see a bunch of different decks at different ranked levels. At the top ranks (I hear and read, since I’ll never be that good) there are usually fewer decks in operation, but those decks shift rapidly as the meta sifts. It was Druids for a while, then as of last week Hunter rush decks started showing up. Might be totally different now. It bodes well.

    There are some irritations. In particular, cards of legendary rarity are often that bit better than equivalent cost cards that are more common, and there aren’t that many big game-enders that aren’t legendary. Having those cards does give you an edge, rather than just more interesting options. It does mean you aspire to have them, though.

    • Rizlar says:

      Things that annoy me about Hearthstone:
      – starting afresh after playing quite a lot on someone else’s account and having to grind up every single character for them to be at all viable (which has to be done to complete many of the quests).
      – that dwarf’s accent.

      Basically I agree with you, the games themselves are great, but it’s a bit annoying when the odds are heavily against you simply because you haven’t been playing for as long/haven’t spent as much money as your opponent. Though I can live with that.

      • mouton says:

        Yeah, I am pretty fed up with those faux-scottish/whatever fantasy dwarf accents. They always feel forced to me and I don’t even know what Scotland looks like.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Nobody knows what Scotland looks like, impossible to see it through the constant rain and snow.

          • Nate says:

            Well, considering that Scotland is 1.5% of the native English speaking world, that’s a ten-fold overrepresentation…

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            Maybe so, it was also a joke and not meant to be a serious representation in any way.

  7. mtomto says:

    It’s the best game Blizzard has made in 10 years….

    … this sentence can be used to praise Hearthstone, or dish out critique of Blizzard. :-/ wonderful

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      More of a critique, I’d say. Sure, the whole look is polished to the extreme, but that doesn’t make it a great game. I’ve found it to be fun on a rather casual level but I already have had my fill after one or two games per go. And I just got into the open beta so I can only imagine it goes downhill from here.

      It just isn’t all that great. Fun to play a game every once in a while, though.

  8. SillyWizard says:

    I clicked on this article and skipped it just so I could come down here and post about how this doesn’t interest me!

    Carry on.

  9. Zorak says:

    All this obsession over Hearthstone is sort of bizarre when there’s basically no attention given by RPS to its primary competitor: Magic the Gathering. Magic has its own MASSIVELY profitable (yet developmentally troubled) online client, Magic Online, that’s existed for a decade and a half. This is not the same as their regular Duels of the Planeswalkers releases, which are arcade-y entry level products. Magic Online has a genuine economy and generates Wizards of the Coast a substantial portion of its MASSIVE Magic revenue.

    Heartstone’s core mechanics are essentially ripped from Magic in the first place (to be fair, almost all card battling games do nowadays), and ultimately its survival into the far future is going to be more about how it competes with Magic’s own client (favorably, since the Magic Online client and its beta versions are kind of terrible), Magic’s R&D (unfavorably, since Wizards’ development cycle for sets are two years in the future at any time, giving them a looooong time for testing), and their lack of a paper format (hard to say).

    • Steven Hutton says:

      They’re both pretty much total messes at this point anyway. Although Magic is more like a really good game sagging under the weight of it’s toxic business model. Hearthstone is just not particularly good. Super-duper-high production values though.

    • Richard Nixon says:

      I really think this comes down to taste. I think most people will naturally gravitate towards either Magic or Hearthstone (or the Might & Magic CCG) depending on what they’re looking for in a game. I can also see Hearthstone being a sort of “gateway drug” to CCGs, with folks moving on when they get a hankering for something meatier.

      One advantage Hearthstone does have is being designed from the ground up to be a computer CCG. Like Rich said in the article, things like playing cards in response to actions definitely aren’t bad mechanics, but are much harder to do well online than in person.

      Anyway, I’m pretty sure M:TG has a secure playerbase and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’d be surprised if Hearthstone makes more than a dent in it.

    • Moraven says:

      The core of Hearthstone is based on the WoW TCG, which has been around since 2006. Instead of just being that same game digitally they adjusted it work better in an digital format and added features that would only work in a digital format.

      Point is the most of the mechanics came about awhile ago.

    • SavageTech says:

      Hearthstone is getting coverage on RPS because it is new and made by a company that primarily makes PC games. Magic: the Gathering is not getting coverage on RPS because it is old and made by a company that primarily makes card/board games (and cardboard games). MTGO isn’t worth discussing on a site primarily focused on PC gaming because it’s an exact replica of the paper game and there are thousands of websites devoted to discussing just that game.

      C’mon man, this is like Journalism 101.

      And yeah, maybe Hearthstone isn’t as complex or enjoyable as Magic, but so what? It’s still a good game (especially for CCG virgins) and it’s worth talking about. Also, I agree that WotC needs to get their shit together RE: client/interface design, because playing MTGO after playing Hearthstone makes me weep openly.

    • Syphus says:

      Well there was a good article on Netrunner back in 2012 on the site. And that’s pretty much all the Card Game stuff I need on this site.

  10. GC says:

    SolForge is more interesting and challenging. Also far prettier artwork.

    • bills6693 says:

      Really? I backed it on kickstarter and so far have been thoroughly unimpressed.

      The highly random nature of it – a fresh hand every turn – leads to less ability to plan and save for combos.

      Both players advancing at the same rate to level 2 and 3. And when you get to the higher levels, the random nature of the game really ramps up since now you have to get lucky and get higher level cards but often are swamped with low level cards.

      I have to say, I’m not experienced enough yet to rule it out, but I’ve left it for a while and will go back when its actually finished and hope that new cards and mechanics will improve the fun for me. As it is I do not enjoy SolForge at all.

      • Meridian99 says:

        The more you play the more you learn cards that can trade at later levels even at level 1 etc etc. Deckbuilding and leveling becomes much more important as you learn the game. And yes, luck does play a role but so it does in HS when sometimes both me and my opponent are drawing cards having full mana and just hoping we get the card the finishes the game first.

  11. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I admit it. I laughed when I played a Raid Leader and he growled “Handle it!” at me.

    • Horg says:

      Raid Leader is still sulking, you heartless dastard.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      I think for someone who played WoW at least a decent amount (most people on here I guess), the animations, the voice work and the overall theme of the cards and classes are spot on and really make the game more than another CCG.

  12. ecbremner says:

    There are so many good digital CCGs on the market that make Heathstone look like babies first CCG. Its polished and pretty. But the deck limitations based on class and the complete lack of off turn play just makes the game shallower and shallower the more it is stacked up against something like Dual of Champions, Infninity Wars, and most especially Hex (or where Hex is going). I am an avid Blizzard fanboy (9 years in WoW and still going) but i do NOT get why people stay with this game after a week. Ill wait for Hex.

    • Dakia says:

      I have to agree with this. I dropped in to the open beta, having not looked at anything at all. After playing with it for a couple days, I just don’t get the appeal. The strategy is so extremely basic that it gets boring while you just wait to get your class “I win” before the other guy.

      • FrogPeppins says:

        I’ve only played this game for two days but already I understand there’s no strategy involved.

        Next you’re going to say that if you had all the cards you’d be legendary 1.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      For an enthusiastic CCG player Hearthstone seems limited but I don’t think they’ve aimed the game at that. This is a great introduction to the genre imo, it’s accessible and fun, that isn’t a bad thing. There is this trend among gamers to bash things seen as “casual” or “noob friendly” and its stupid imo. Not every game needs to be or should be “hardcore”. There are lots of CCG’s out there competing to be the serious, intricate games of choice for the enthusiast players. Blizz has made a good decision making Hearthstone a game the masses can jump into, play a couple of games and enjoy it without having to delve super deep into the mechanics.

    • drewski says:

      HS is for the 98% of gamers who’ve never played *any* CCG, not for veteran CCGers who know every trick in the MtG book.

      Blizzard’s style is to take something smart but relatively niche and turn it into something 10 million people will play. I don’t know why that’s such a problem for a lot of people.

  13. Shieldmaiden says:

    There’s a lot to like about Hearthstone, but I don’t find it all that interesting to play. I’m not a super hardcore CCG player or anything, but I have played them on and off since the early days of Magic and it didn’t take me long to hit the point where I was easily able to play the best cards in any given situation, if I had a choice at all. Combined with the relative lack of interaction with your opponent, I didn’t feel all that engaged and, except for the rare occasion when I made an obvious, headdesk-inducing cock-up, winning or losing felt pretty random.

    A friend of mine described it as 70% RNG, 20% deck-building and 10% skill and, sadly, I have to agree.

    • bills6693 says:

      Only been playing it for a short while but I feel it is similar. Maybe skill and deck building account for more than 30% because I have been doing fairly badly and I’m sure its because I don’t have a great deck and I’m not that skilled (I make dumb/uninformed moves, because I don’t know what they might have in their hand as I don’t know the cards well).

      But still, especially as the game progresses, it seems to become very RNG heavy. When you are at 10 mana and an empty hand, it seems to be totally based on luck of the draw. Draw a good card for the situation and you win, draw some crappy 1-cost and you’re knocked out.

      • Gilmir says:

        Not wanting to be a wiseass and I’m not that great, myself. But – usually (with a few rush exceptions) the most important thing is to NOT go out of cards in hand. There are really many carddraw options that can be included into any deck. A few of them free, some “white” cards (low crafting cost, so buildable without spending any money).
        If you read around you’ll realize that card advantage mostly tops life advantage (so does board control)

      • Artificial says:

        Ofcourse it will be luck of the draw when you get to that point, and if you don’t like that, then you should build a deck and use tactics that either take out your opponent sooner before you get to that point, or use cards that allow you to draw more cards.

  14. racccoon says:

    “Wot I Think (Of The Open Beta): Hearthstone” Its a card game.

  15. tetracycloide says:

    Just a heads up to those lamenting the gold rate and are still new to the game: you can reroll one daily quest per day. So always reroll 40 gold quests and only complete them if you’re full on quests and have used the days reroll.

  16. Nate says:

    Why are dwarfs always Scottish? Why don’t you ever meet, say, a dwarf with an Indian accent?

    • RedViv says:

      Convergence of stereotypes broadcast widely in some pen & paper settings, so it became somewhat of a standard in the 90s.
      Though it’s not like the most recent dwarf-heavy big film does not avoid it, so there is that.

      • Creeping Death says:

        You do know that out of 13 dwarfs in that film, only 2 of the actors are actually Scottish, right? 15% is hardly enforcing a stereotype.

  17. Mr Coot says:

    I haven’t really got into a game. The VA annoyed me, but the real problem was installing HS requires installing the new beta Launcher which appears to not be fully functional yet. I am running 3 monitors and need to be able to change display modes before entering other Blizz games or there is a crash. There is no option to do this in the new Launcher.

    So, beta Launcher was uninstalled, and so HS is unplayable. Oh well. There is a slew of good virtual tcg games on the market at the mo.

    • SavageTech says:

      Haha, I love this kind of selective nerdery. “I am willing to purchase and configure a tri-monitor display, but I am unwilling to try even a basic workaround if a game doesn’t work with my unusual configuration.”

      If it seems like I’m ragging on you, well I am, but it’s all in good fun. I’ve done the same sort of thing before. Hope they fix the game so that you can play it :)

      • jrodman says:

        So if you’re going to be snide.. you could at least offer the workaround.

    • Moraven says:

      I usually have HS on my 720 screen while playing any other game, application and other Blizzard games.

  18. kretsdaddy says:

    Hearthstone = Magic: The Gathering for dimwits.

    I gave it so many chances, but it’s just not good. It’s like trying to play World of Warcraft as a fan of real RPGs. It’s almost like they’re made by the same developer for the same subset of mouthbreathers.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      No. Magic: The Gathering = Magic: The Gathering for dimwits.
      Hearthstone = Magic: The Gathering for people who don’t like the smell of stale body odour.

  19. jrodman says:

    The game is shallow and it’s easy to substantiate.

    In typical scenarios, the number of options available is quite limited. The pace of the game has a very constrained range due to the lack of blocking by default. The mana system constrains the zone of power that can be achieved by specialist building. There’s a lot more where that comes from.

    That said I don’t think it’s fatally shallow. Deck building has a bit of room to maneuver, and the fact that everyone is pretty much always vulnerable keeps the game outcome in question a lot of the time until the end. But I definitely don’t enjoy it as much as other card games that give me more of a sense to play a thematic deck or make a several turn plan.

  20. Bra10 says:

    I keep playing Astral Masters instead… Although quite old it is still the best ccg-game, IMO.

  21. Furyia says:

    I wouldn’t have said this was my type of game but I played the beta on a whim and I’m so impressed with it, the game is designed so well that it’s the perfect amount of challenge while still being fun. Comparing the quality in design from Hearthstone to Scrolls is what did it for me, you can tell that Blizzard have nearly mastered this already.

    I think 2014 is going to be the year of card games, for sure.

  22. DanMan says:

    The thing people seem to forget is that the longer the skill curve is, the harder it becomes to attract new players in the long run. If there’s too much to know for a newcomer to compete with long-time players, a lot of them will just quit outright, which is bad for business. So even if you hate it – the more luck is involved, the more even the whole playing field.

    • Blackcompany says:

      This is true. But it also raises another concern. Namely: The more luck is involved, and the more even the playing field, the less interesting the game becomes over the long term. When luck plays too great factor, this means a relatively low skill ceiling. If people feel like they have mastered your tactics in a couple of months and are now just praying to the RNG gods in order win, they will lose interest. Its a balance that’s hard to strike.

      • DanMan says:

        Agreed. As with a lot of things, going too far in one direction often leads to imbalance. ;)

  23. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I find the free to play model also rather irksome. Maybe because I don’t like most of these models. But the only way to get more cards once you’ve hit all your unlocks is to either play Arena, grind gold through play mode or buy packs directly. Which, by the way, are per card more expensive than real Magic the Gathering cards (if you buy regular boosters). By the way, Arena is the most expensive option in Hearthstone to get packs unless you do well.

    All these things considered, I’d rather buy a couple of MtG packs than some digital cards from Blizzard.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Yeah, one of the massive problems with these kind of card games in general, is they emulate chess but each side has different pieces. Oh, you only get the Queen if you buy/grind enough random packs/drops. Yeah, I’m not so enthusiastic to go play a game of chess with random draws not only of the pieces I get to move, but also the pieces I get to actually own for the entire game. :(

      Give me an even playing field in all instances, and I might be interested.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        That’s one of the advantages of arena play in hearthstone, actually. Everyone draws up decks out of random cards, but they’re cards from the entire pool of available cards (for your chosen class). Instead of regular play mode in which you have to rely on cards you’ve unlocked or purchased.

  24. Meneldil says:

    My brother has been trying to convert me to Heartstone for quite some time now.

    So far, it’s a failure.

    I can see how the game is polished and nervous, but as a CCG, it can’t hold a candle to MtG, and to some recent video games like Scrolls or the Might and Magic spin off. The rules are over simplistic and never change. You can play a dozen games and see the same old combos for hours.

    So yeah, I rather waste my time on the Duel of the Planeswalkers series. Decks are premade, game is buggy and not nearly as slick, but MtG is just so much better in any possible way. Saddly, since Hasbro (is it still Hasbro who owns MtG) is unwilling to make a decent, slick looking video game, they will let Heartstone and what not gain the upper hand.

    • DanMan says:

      It’s looks are the most disappointing thing about MtG:DotP. To me the perfect look would be kind of a mix of Scrolls and The Eye of Judgment (on PS3). I’d just like to see the battleground/table to come to life, like having the creatures on the cards summon onto the table. They wouldn’t even have to actually fight each other (for a start). Or a spell changing how the table looks or weather effects. Get creative people! Do I have to do everything myself? ;p

      If you implement that in a moddable way, they wouldn’t even have to do it themselves.

  25. maped says:

    Oh, is it cool to hate Hearthstone now? And just when I was starting to get into it, too, gosh darn.

    Well, call me a filthy casual that’s ruining videogames for everyone, but I quite like a bit of hearthstonin’ every now and then. I don’t quite follow the logic behind saying that the simplicity of HS is it’s weakness, when for me it’s the biggest reason I play. I’ve tried a bit of MTG Online, Solforge, Scrolls and Cardhunter and none of them really grabbed me enough to make me want to learn them (Cardhunter seemed the most interesting, but not necessarily due to it’s gameplay). HS is easy enough to learn in a couple of hours and deep enough for me to keep playing a couple of hours a week and right now that’s all I want from my CCG.

    I have yet to find anything too disgusting about the F2P-system; I did buy one nine euro card pack, but that was more more out of wanting to reward the dev than necessity, as I feel it should be in any F2P-game. The arena is the main attraction for me, and it seems easy enough to keep playing as much as I want with the rewards and doing dailies. The arena fee also seems to keep timewasters and disconnectors at bay and it does give a bit of a tingle to know theres something “real” on the line, even if it is just 150 fake gold coins.

    I’ve been playing for a month and a half now and the game still is buggy, but it’s getting better, and the bugs I’ve encountered since the open beta began have been mostly visual, barring the connection problems Blizz had last week and the odd minion that goes in the wrong place. It’s completely playable but if you enjoy Blizz games for their polish, maybe wait until the final version comes out. All in all, I find Hearthstone to be a very enjoyable game to play and its fun even when you lose. Except against priests, they are complete BS.

  26. Pesticide says:

    loving it, simple, and easy fun 5 minute game sessions. Also there is prize money cups for it link to nationalesl.com

    when this goes mobile it will be huge.

  27. Dances to Podcasts says:

    “By being accessible in this way Hearthstone opens itself up for the kind of sneer that’s already darkening plenty of online discussion.”

    Surely RPS commenters are better than that.

    • jrodman says:

      The thing is it’s perfectly possible to point out that it’s comparably shallow without destroying the conversation. It’s true! It’s just not a game-breaker.

  28. Crabtipus says:

    I think it has the potential to be really fun, but the amount of RNG in certain places can be really frustrating. I know Blizzard’s data for going first says otherwise, but in my experience going second is a huge advantage– being able to mulligan 4 cards instead of the 3 first player gets gives you much more control of your opening hand, which more or less makes or breaks your game. Certain decks *really* can capitalize off The Coin, since it counts as a spell and a regular card, so Combo and anything that gets buffed from spell casts works quite nicely with it. I feel like the player who wins the coin flip should get to choose to go first or second.

    I’m also not a fan of all the cards with RNG properties, I thought coinflip mechanics in TCGs were pretty much universally reviled.

  29. Frank says:

    Um, where’s Ms Khaw with our bargain bucket? Isn’t that a Saturday thing?

    • Bugamn says:

      Heads will roll!

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Indeed, though my Saturday was somewhat diminished by the absence of a cute thing in a bucket to ponder.

  30. MonkeyPunch says:

    When I first heard about Hearthstone I was quite excited and started watching games of people who were in the closed beta etc.
    One day I stumbled across Might and Magic Duel Of Champions. I thought I might as well try it to tide me over until Hearthstone’s release.

    Now that Hearthstone is available… I don’t play it or indeed care much for it because I find it quite shallow and somewhat lacking compared to the MMDoC.
    MMDoC might not have the same kind of polish as Hearthstone but the core game is way more entertaining to me.

  31. Mhorhe says:

    Heavens forbid someone makes an easy-to-get-into fun CCG. It’s filthy I tell you, FILTHY! If I’m not keeping 5 excel tables, 3 compendiums and a card encyclopedia nearby, it’s not CCG.

    Hearthstone is slick and streamlined. It’s easy to play casually. It’s easy to play without paying anything. It’s FUN. At the same time, I’d say that the inner workings of complexity are clearly visible. Obviously it’s not MTG.. but then, let’s give it a decade and see how things look then.

    More to the point, I don’t understand why excessive complexity beats streamlined. We’re talking about games as a means of enjoyment, not life accomplishments!

    Comparing it to MTG is.. MTG, to my humble knowledge, has been around for a tad longer, hmm? The comment complaining how Hearthstone cards are more expensive than MTG ones was highly amusing. What does a Black Lotus cost nowadays?

    Comparing it to Duel of Champions is much more fair. Alas, Duel of Champions, in spite of being around for a bit by now, has a few negative points that really spoiled the experience for me. Balance has never at any point been good, after, what, 4-5 expansions by now? The gap of efficiency between basic easy to obtain cards and their rare variants is far larger than in HS. Similarly, and most importantly, it’s quite hard to enjoy the game without paying up – because it’s a lot harder than HS to accumulate currency for cards. Finally, the level of polish cannot be compared.. All in all, Duel of Champions is without a doubt a solid game and a more complex one than HS, but with its own issues that I personally find a lot larger than HS’ issues.

    Many of the comments here seem to have been made with little to no experience of the game. “The game is the same no matter what you play and who you play” No, no it’s not. At entry level, obviously everyone has more or less the same basic cards, and the minions overlap but.. Warrior plays completely different than Shaman who plays completely different than Priest who plays completely different than Warlock.. “The game is expensive!” Not quite, basic cards are surprisingly effective and you’re allowed options enough to buy cards without real cash. “The dwarf is scottish!”.. Uh, okay.

    All in all, I find myself in agreement almost point to point with the Wot I Think. Give the HS a try, will you :) roll hunter!

  32. Loque says:

    I don’t like few things:

    + Anonymous (no names, no friends, nothing)
    + Random opponents only
    + No chat/dialogue, just few generic “Greetings, I’ll crush you, Oooops” emotes
    + No trading, at all. Just crafting (expensive)

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      There are names. Left hand side of the screen.

      EDIT: Oh, and Friends too (bottom left)

    • AngoraFish says:

      All of which are perfect selling points for me. No nerd-rage. No obsessive monitoring of trade markets and card values. No crap AI. Just beating the crap out of nerd-ragers… bliss!

  33. d32 says:

    Please please, dear Anyone, tell me: Is there a great SINGLE player computer CCG somewhere to be found? Other than “Shandalar”…

    • Fiatil says:

      Etherlords 1 and 2 are both quite fun! I wish more people had played them, the multiplayer is nice as well.

  34. Harzel174 says:

    Why does every discussion of Hearthstone have to devolve into banner-waving for everyone’s favorite other online CCG? If you prefer more complex mechanics just go play those. I’ve had a lot of fun in Hearthstone these past few months and I don’t give two hoots over simplicity or hardcore-y-ness.

    Perhaps that’s because I don’t find Hearthstone to be all that simplistic, and I feel a lot of jabs stem from the (until recently) stifling small community. I’m already starting to see unconventional tactics in the ladder, and Arena throws a lot of expectations right out the door. I find the whole thing to be more akin to poker than a chess match. Small decks and low strat variety mean you can expect certain cards in the ladder each time, yes, but there’s no guarantee said cards are in your opponent’s hand… or that you’ll even have your best cards available. A lot of people seem to throw up their hands and cry RNG rage at this point, but I feel like the puzzle/skill factor here is performing when you don’t have the best possible hand or deck, which is further exemplified with Arena. Playing your opponent, mulling over simulations of what cards they might have based both on popular strats and what you’ve already seen, dealing with the unexpected, taking risks and either paying the price or winning the prize… this is what Hearthstone is about. And it’s what I enjoy.

  35. animal says:

    I just figured out yesterday (after many many games) that you can interact with the background four corners while playing.

    Hearthstone reminds me a bit of the SC2 Custom ‘THE Card Game’, which was pretty awesome when played 1v1.

  36. AceJohnny says:

    Hearthstone is the ultimate “juiced” game. To “juice” a game is to add animations and effects that don’t alter the gameplay, but make it generally more enjoyable. This video by indie developer Grapefrukt superbly demonstrates this by taking a boring arkanoid clone and turning it onto something that would make Popcap (or Blizzard) proud. Did you notice you can click on elements of the board decor while you wait for the opponent to play to trigger animations, keeping you entertained as you twiddle your thumbs?

    Hearthstone has done an amazing job at making every boring detail of the game shiny and juicy, making for an instantly addictive product.