Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Watching Hearthstone

I watched Hearthstone streams all weekend. It was the third most popular game on Twitch at most points, which is a pretty popoular game to watch. Of course this is just because people can't access the beta - I think most of those watchers would be playing instead if they could.

It is too early for me to say this, but Hearthstone is far-and-away the best of the lot when it comes to digital collectable card games. If I could play it I would be going nuts.

First of all, it's got the asynchronous thing, which makes games take far less time to play. Secondly, it's got the best resource system I've seen so far - it may sound simple, but just having one more mana each turn than you did the last without having to dedicate cards to it works brilliantly.

But the system for limited play is just plaing brilliant. You make a deck by repeatedly being given a choice between three cards. The three cards appear to always be the same rarity, so you aren't making non-choices between a bomb and a bear - although I'm sure there are tons of non-choices if you actually know what you are doing.

Once you have a deck you can play by going into a queue. When you accumulate three losses you get prizes based on how many wins you had. I think you also stop if you get to nine wins.

Because there is always a constant tournament running for everyone to join in you never have to still and wait for a tournament to start. The queue to find an opponent may not be instant, but it's a lot faster than waiting for a round to end in Magic.

The game also has a crafting system instead of a trading one. You can think of it as trading with the house. Because the house takes its cut you get a "bad" deal. On the other hand, you can trade a hundred worthless commons for the legendary card you wanted to fill out your deck with, so you can't really complain about unfavourable exchange rates. In Magic there is no number of truckloads of commons you could trade for a playable mythic, or any mythic, or pretty much any uncommon.

In fact, in Magic there are probably many people who would prefer to give you the uncommon you want for nothing rather than take whatever commons you could offer in trade. I once tricked someone into taking ten thousand commons from me and then refused to take them back.

There will never be a "Magic killer" in tradeable card games, but this game is going to attract a lot of attention, and I can't wait to start giving them my money.

As usual, the thing that really bothers me is people. People have already decided which classes are the best and which are the worst, and what decks win and what decks don't, and what cards are overpowered and what cards are unplayable. But another great thing about a digital card game with random queues and a communication system based entirely on preset emotes is that I can just pretend there are no people.


  1. I actually think the mana system is not great. Always hitting your land drops contributes to games playing out the same way. It was true in VS System (probably the least of its flaws) and it was true in the WoW TCG. "I will be able to play this 5-drop on turn 5 every game I draw it" is a huge limiting factor.

    It's probably a bigger blow to constructed, though. WoW limited was a lot of fun. I'm eager to try Hearthstone, but I doubt they will be getting my money.

  2. In other games the solution to allow you to play a resource every turn was usually to allow you to play one of your cards face down as a resource. That meant both getting a resource every turn *and* having a significant amount of card selection. Hearthstone doesn't do this and so games will be less samey.

    I also think having an ability that can be used for the same resource every turn puts more decisions in the game. Lastly, I think a huge part of the problem for games being the same as one another is really just overpowered cards, and this is true in Magic as much as it is in another card game.

    When there is a four drop that is better than all the other four drops so everyone always plays that four drop on their fourth turn, I can see how that's pretty boring. When the only way to respond to the best two, three and four drop is with a particular five drop then you feel like you might as well be flipping coins.

    Magic will always have more variety thanks to having two extra decades of cards, but Hearthstone games - even matchups between identical heros - seemed to have a lot of variety.

  3. Well, you sure make it sound like a game I want to try!