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Hearthstone Pt.2: Actually About Hearthstone

Hearthstone Pt.2: Actually About Hearthstone

Last time I was giving you the background info on my experience in the world of CCG's. Now it's time to get into the nitty-gritty of my first few weeks with my hands on Hearthstone. This second entry ran longer than I expected. I was going to break it up into a few more posts, but didn’t want to only talk about Hearthstone for weeks. If you’re into Hearthstone, strap in. If you’re not into it, this is the last Hearthstone only post for a bit.

The Themed play boards are a nice touch. This is the Stranglethorn Vale board.


I was pleasantly surprised when I first booted up Hearthstone how much polish had gone into the little things that make the game engine look great. When moving cards over the playfield they have physics assigned to them so that they sway as you move them back and forth, as well as casting a shadow onto the playfield. It shouldn't be any surprise since this is a Blizzard game, but it's pretty unprecedented in the Digital CCG arena. Most of the graphics for games like Ascension and MtG: Online are very workmanlike, only there for the utility of playing the game.

The Tutorial:

The first games are a decent enough walkthrough, and if you have any experience playing card games you'll likely pick it right up. They introduce the mechanics of the game one at a time, and don’t flood you all at once. One thing that I realized is that I don't recall them ever taking a moment in the tutorial to explain what "The Coin" is, and what the point of it is. Though I'm sure a lot of you don't have beta access, and those that do have figured this out, I'll make it plain:

The Coin is given to the player who goes second. It gives you an extra mana crystal on demand at any point in the game. This can help offset the fact that the first player is always responding to what you play with more mana than you had.

Since I'm on a self-imposed research ban, I'm going off instinct when I say they must have felt like they needed something to offset the imbalance of power created by going first. It does a really good job of this, and the more I play the more I feel like it was an elegant solution to the problem.

Let's Talk about Mana crystals

. I'm just calling it Mana from here on, because it's shorter, and you know what I mean. In Magic the Gathering, as well as quite a few games, there is some expendable resource you have to use in order to pay for cards in your deck. This creates an issue where the cards you've included in the deck to pay for the other cards can not show up when you need them, or show up in overabundance. Both of those are tactically terrible situations. The way that Hearthstone handles Mana dictates the way the game is meant to be played. You don't need to worry about clogging your deck with cards to get mana, it's just a given. Some classes (I'm looking at you Druid) have cards that augment their Mana supply, which is really powerful because of it's ability to disrupt the standard rhythm of play. For the uninitiated, in Hearthstone Mana Crystals fully refill every turn, and you gain one new crystal per turn until turn 10 where you're maxed out. In practice I've seen very few games last until turn 10, because as you get into the later turns the high amounts of mana flying around will often allow whichever deck is better equipped, or getting better draws to pull ahead.

[Photo Credit:Oliver Hallmann]

Since it's digital you're saving so much money on sleeves! (and no one needs to know I suck at shuffling.)


The Deck:

The deck size is about half of the normal amount of cards you encounter in a CCG deck. It plays much faster, and can have only half as many cards. Overall, it feels a lot like a draft deck, in that you really need to focus on your Gimmick really well if you're hoping to win. It doesn't leave a lot of room for cards that are only situationally useful. When deck building I found that I had more success sometimes only including a single copy of a card. This goes against everything that I learned from years of playing MtG. In an effort to maximize opportunities you'd usually always include the maximum number of copies of any card in a deck. Again, this is based on not reading any outside strategy advice and feeling it out as I played.

The Classes:

Each class seems to have enough differing strategies open to it to keep things interesting. A lot of people are falling into comfortable rhythms, which is to be expected, but there is more than one path to victory for each of the Classes. There are some matchups that feel a lot like a hard-counter, but as time goes on I am sure there will be methods developed to deal with these difficult pairings. I've personally played a lot of the Mage, and I think the Mage class skill has a ton of utility. A lot of the other class skills are more situational, whereas the worst I can say about the Mage skill is that you should probably have something better to be spending 2 Mana on.

They've already made UI changes to the deckbuilding, so I expect it's going to get more tweaks.


Deckbuilding:

Steamrolling seems to be a really important strategy for a lot of classes. Since the resources in the game increase steadily, it’s really important to make sure the cost curve of your deck not only covers the whole range, but isn’t clogged with cards that cost too much to be useful early, or cards that are too weak to be useful late game. If at any point you’re not using all the mana you have per turn, you’ve giving your opponent an advantage. It might not lose you a match, but you really need to reassess what you’ve building toward if it happens all the time. Not having a play on turn one and two means you’ve neglected your early game, which I think is the worst time, since you’ll have to try to play catch-up all match.. Going second can help by allowing you to use the coin for a 1 mana bump, but that takes away the option to use it later to change the match momentum. I am 100% sure that Blizzard has gotten a ton of feedback on this already, and don’t expect this to be the case when out of beta, but the deckbuilding aid is really confusing. It shows you 3 cards from your collection, and has you pick one over and over until your deck is filled with what is ostensibly well mana-curved selection. It doesn't explain anything about why you’d make certain choices over others. Sure, you can go find deckbuilding advice all over the internets (I assume), but I expect they will shore up this part of the game somehow to better explain deckbuilding to newbies.

Till Next Time,
Fuzzy

[Black Forest Cake Photo Credit: Mikel Ortega] [Unfrosted Cake Photo Credit: Nancy Von FancyPants]

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