You're probably thinking, "Action? Hah. The closest card games have ever gotten to action was the grisly paper cut massacre of 1912." But actually, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft keeps quite a brisk, effects-packed pace. Ice and fire sing down from on high (or at least slightly above the coffee table), and monster slabs snap, crackle, and pop en route to shattering to the winds. Turns, meanwhile, go by in a flash - at least, when players who know what they're doing are trading heated strategic blows. See for yourself via a full Shaman vs Mage match after the break.
Sure, the shoutcaster was pretty middle-of-the-road, but the actual match was entertainingly back-and-forth, not to mention encouragingly tactical. Hearthstone also strikes me as a nicely straightforward game (at least, as far as basic rules go), and it seems to do a nice job of straddling the line between Warcraft and TCG knowledge bases. The basics of creature summoning and who you're actually trying to damage are pretty reminiscent of Magic: The Gathering, and I also saw at least one card type that had quite a lot in common with, er, Yu-gi-oh.
But what really struck me was how similarly the Mage and Shaman played to their respective WoW classes. Thrall relied heavily on totems, Windfury-imbued multi-strike blitzes, and heavy hitting weapons, while Jaina used polymorph and froze creatures in their tracks to mitigate her deck's general lack of defense. And then Thrall turned the tide by downing a legendary archmage with a buffed up sheep and a totem with rage issues. Because card games, basically.
I like it. Truth be told, it's been years since my waste-soaked, junkie-like TCG heyday, but I still have a soft spot for solid-looking ones. I worry that Hearthstone might end up slightly lacking in the depth department due to how exceedingly to-the-point its basic mechanics are, but maybe that's not such a terrible thing. There's room in this world, I think, for more TCGs that are about staying light on your toes and quick on the draw.
Hearthstone will be out later this year, but you can sign up for the beta right now.