Since the debut of its beta version this January, the new addicting collectible card game Hearthstone has been gathering significant attention in the gaming community. With incredible graphics, sound effects, and enjoyable gameplay, it’s no wonder that this game has become so popular in the past few months. Hearthstone was officially released by Blizzard Entertainment in March, and is currently offered free of charge through the company’s Battle.net.
The gameplay features 1v1 battles in various modes. For each game, players can choose to assume the role of nine heroes, namely Mage, Priest, Hunter, Warrior, Warlock, Rogue, Paladin, Shaman and Druid. Each hero has a special power and a specific set of cards that are used during gameplay. After choosing a hero, the players build a deck of 30 cards, which they draw one by one at the start of each turn in a random fashion.
Half of the battle in Hearthstone is fought even before any cards are drawn. Building a strong deck is the first challenge presented to players. There are three types of cards: minions, spells and weapons. In order to play each card, a certain amount of mana must be spent; this amount is labelled on the top left hand corner of the card. Minion cards also show their attack and health points. Finally, weapons are equipped by heroes and can be used at any point in the game. Spells have a wide variety of functions, such as dealing damage, as well as “secrets” that are only triggered when the opponent commits a certain action, like drawing more cards, adding health or attaching to friendly minions. Some minions have special abilities that can make the game more complex. Overall, a strong deck includes cards whose special abilities can be played synergistically to achieve a magnified effect. For instance, if a minion has an attack equal to its health, playing a card that doubles the minion’s health would also double the minion’s attack, making it incredibly strong.
At the beginning of each game, the player holds a certain amount of cards in their hand. The player that goes second holds an extra card as well as a coin that can be used anytime in the game to gain an extra mana. Every player’s initial hand is drawn randomly; however, the players get a chance to discard or keep each card as they wish. The discarded cards are then returned to the deck and new cards are drawn at random.
Once the starting hand is chosen, the battle officially begins. During each turn, players gain an extra card and can take any action that is allowed by their available mana. Starting from turn one with only one mana crystal, players gain an extra mana crystal each turn. The players must not only calculate their actions based on what they can do with the mana available in this turn, but also take into consideration the amount of mana they can have for future turns. Each player’s hero begins the game with 30 health. The first player who successfully reduces the other player’s hero to 0 health wins the game.
The game involves a significant amount of strategy, considering that players must aim to use the least resources to deal the most amount of damage to the opponent. If a player kills an enemy minion with a weaker minion, then they have made a good trade. There are also “area of effect” spells that can deal damage to multiple enemies at once – a great move if you happen to find enemy minions lined up across the board. During a turn, there usually are many possible combinations of actions that can be played; the expert players are often the ones who can find the best combo out of all the existing ones.
But it’s not all strategy; the random draws in the game introduce a component of luck. A player can have the best deck and the most strategic moves, but if they draw badly, it becomes significantly more difficult to win. Hence, the best players are not the ones who are invincible, but usually the ones with the highest win/loss ratio.
To add to the fun, the game can be played in three different modes: play, practice and arena. In the “practice” mode, players can hone their skills without having to face a real opponent. Basic and expert bots are offered here, depending on the level of difficulty desired.
The “play” mode is further divided into casual and ranked modes. In the ranked mode, players are matched against components at the same level, but each win and loss is recorded. As players win more games, they rise in the rankings. In the casual mode, players’ wins and losses will not be recorded, but players may face opponents from any level.
In both the practice and play modes, players can build their own desired decks from their collection of cards. Besides the basics, cards are largely obtained from expert packs that can either be bought with in-game gold coins or with real money. Since the game beta release, rumours have spread of players who have spent thousands of dollars on expert packs. (Perhaps this is the reason why Blizzard can still offer the game to players for free.) Yet, no matter how good a player’s collection of cards are, the playing field is levelled out in the “arena,” where the available deck of cards is drawn at random regardless of what’s in the player’s collection. Here, players get to choose their deck one by one from a list of three cards. Since all existing cards in Hearthstone can be drawn, the arena mode gives players a great way to become acquainted with cards that are not in the player’s collection.
But what I have described so far seems pretty standard to a collectible card game. What makes Hearthstone stand out is its incredible graphics, awesome sound effects, and other extra stuff that makes it more than just the usual card game. First off, each card has amazing graphics that makes it a piece of art. In fact, right-clicking on each card in the collection reveals the name of the artist who drew the graphics along with a quote that is related to the name of the card, and which is generally worth a read. There are also many allusions to legends in the Warcraft world. One particular example is the card Leeroy Jenkins, named after the legendary WOW player. As each minion is played, there is an accompanying sound effect from another Warcraft game.
Though the game does not allow players to chat with one another directly, there is an option to communicate through emotes. The emotes convey simple messages, from greetings and thank yous to even threats. There is also an option reserved for “squelching” the most annoying opponents.
Sometimes players may find themselves waiting a long time for the opponent to finish their turn. That is not too much of a problem, since each corner of the game board has a small “scene” that players can interact with to pass the time.
Lastly, Hearthstone is a very easy game to learn, and this has attributed to its success among both old and new gamers. Even the most elementary gamers who have never touched collectible card games before will be able to pick it up within a few hours. The game features an awesome tutorial that goes over all the basics, and there aren’t too many rules to remember.
Altogether, Hearthstone is enjoyable, easy to pick up, and above all it’s free. So, now that it’s almost summer, what are you waiting for?