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.