Hearthstone is a new “collectible card game” from Blizzard based on its popular MMO World of Warcraft. That’s in quotes because it’s actually a computer game with no real cards involved. It runs on Windows and Macs, with mobile versions supposedly coming Real Soon Now. Its format will be familiar to anyone who has played games like Magic: The Gathering; you use a resource (“mana”) to play cards that summon creatures and cast spells in an attempt to reduce the enemy’s life points to zero. You get a small number of “basic cards” when you are assigned a “deck”, each of which is based on a WoW player class. (Death Knights and Monks are not represented…I expect they’re being saved for the inevitable expansion.) Which deck you get at start appears to be random. When you defeat another player who uses a deck you don’t have yet, that deck is unlocked for you and you get its starting allotment of basic or “Free” cards. As you play a deck you will gain “experience” with it and eventually “level up”. Doing so will gradually get you the rest of the basic cards. “Expert cards”, are found in “packs”. These packs can be bought with “gold” you earn by winning games and satisfying daily “quests”, which are tasks such as “win two games with a Rogue or Druid deck” or “kill X many minions”. You can also, of course, buy packs with real money.
And therein lies the rub. Cards from the upper levels of rarity (Rare, Epic and Legendary) are waaaay more powerful than Free or Common ones. If you’re playing against someone tossing lots of rares at you while you’re still using basics you are going to get hammered. While every pack is guaranteed one card or Rare or better quality if you’re only opening the packs you can earn for free you will (at least for a very long time) only have a scant handful of those cards. There is a system for “disenchanting” cards into “dust” that can be used to craft other cards, but as you can expect it takes a lot of cards to climb up the food chain. You get 5 dust for scrapping a Common card; it takes 100 to craft a Rare. A Legendary card takes 1600 dust…with an expected 120 dust per pack (100 for the Rare plus four Commons) that’s going to take a while. Needless to say in the short time I’ve been playing since the game went live I’ve run into players with decks loaded with Rares and multiple Legendary characters, meaning they must have spent more than a little cash buying cards. This makes Hearthstone very much a pay-to-win game. If you’re not going to spend money on it (I’m not) then expect frustration.
A few quick impressions I’ve picked up, which are just my experiences after a few days of playing:
- First thing you do in a match, mouse over the enemy character, right click it and select Squelch. Most players don’t use the emotes but the ones that do tend to be spammy, and there’s no point in waiting to find out.
- The game is currently offering WoW players a free mount for winning three matches, so if you’re a WoW player you may as well drop in to get it.
- Also, WoW players familiar with class abilities will have a good idea of what kinds of tricks to expect from the various decks. Mages, for instance, have lots of direct damage while Hunters have lots of cards that play off Beast minions.
- As is usual in these games speed kills. Don’t go planning some elaborate multi-turn master strategy; it’s not going to happen.
- However, since mana increments every turn, it is pretty likely that you will get to play high-cost cards. Don’t be afraid to put them in your deck; just don’t overdo it. Mousing over the deck’s name in the build screen will show you a histogram of your decks’ mana costs.
- The Hunter and Mage decks in particular seem to be particularly cheap, in the derogatory sense that they can become very powerful very quickly. Hunters have many cards that combo with Beast minions and it’s not hard to build a deck with nothing but Beasts. Mages have access to lots of minions that boost spell damage. Both also use “Secrets” that are triggered by your actions, making it possible for them to react to your moves on your turn. Hunters also have the only card I’ve seen so far that can disarm Secrets.
- Mages also have a card that deals 10 damage at once, plus any boosts. Since you start with 30 health that’s a lot; if you’re low at all facing a Mage you are subject to getting shot to hell without warning.
- Minions without special abilities are pretty much useless; only include them as last choices.
- Kill every minion you see as soon as possible. If you don’t it will get buffed up or used in a combo and you’ll be sorry.
- Corollary: do not expect your minions to live long. Don’t buff them until you’re about to attack with them.
- Some pairings are especially problematic. E.g. in a Hunter versus Warlock game the Hunter can use his personal power to deal 2 damage per turn to the Warlock, whose own ability costs life points to use, as do many of his own cards. This means for the Warlock the clock is really ticking.
- Once you run out of cards you will take an escalating amount of damage every time you’re required to draw one. This can allow defensive decks like Warriors some ability to win by turtling, so keep the pressure on them.
- Otherwise, I stick to the advice of a great man: “Rove your assigned airspace, sight the enemy and shoot him down. Everything else is rubbish.”