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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

A Warm Welcoming to CCG


Let it be known and written in the history books that on March 11th 2014, Blizzard has launched a new gaming franchise! Despite sharing and leveraging content from the Warcraft series, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a new and original gaming franchise. Like how Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy and Mario Kart 8 franchises borrow content but not gameplay from one another, Hearthstone is Blizzard's newest franchise, a CCGCollectible Card Game. Just like traditional tabletop TCGTrading Card Game or CCGs, Hearthstone is a video game that has you construct a deck to be used for competing against AIArtificial Intelligence or other players, and their constructed decks. Since Hearthstone is a video game all of the complex rules and mechanics that would otherwise burden a player in a traditional CCG is automatically handled by the computer.

For those unfamiliar with traditional or digital CCG games, here is a brief summary of what a typical match between two players is like. Each player takes turns playing cards from their hand, which were previously drawn from their constructed deck. There is usually a set of resources that each player must manage which constrains the number of cards each player can play for a given turn. In Hearthstone resources like mana crystals, hand size, and minion positions must be properly managed in order to achieve effective and cost-efficient plays to ensure a victory over your competitor. The capabilities and mechanics of how individual cards affect the state of the game vary, but all cards in a CCG help the player get closer to claiming victory over their opponent. Some cards in Hearthstone are "minion" cards that you can summon onto the game board as a non-critical combatant. Other cards classified as "spells" can be used to directly damage an enemy character, draw additional cards, or heal your hero. As with most other CCG games, victory is accomplished when your opponent's hero has had their HP Health Points reduced to zero or less.


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
One of the many interactive Game-Boards that a match of Hearthstone will take place on.

A Tangible Digital CCG


One place where earlier digital CCGs struggled, and some modern iterations like SolForge, is its ability to simulate the physicality of playing a non-digital CCG. Hearthstone solves this problem through its polished presentation. Nearly all game-input is handled through the mouse, or touch-screen on iOS devices. As you hover your mouse or finger through the various cards or "hero powers" that are either in play or in your hand, the game conveys these actions to your opponent and vice versa. It is this information that allows hearthstone to successfully simulate the physicality of playing against your opponent as if it were in-person. Just like playing against a person face-to-face, an observant player can study which cards their opponent is spending most of their time reviewing, but not playing. Despite the fact that the opponent's card remains concealed, a skilled player could make an educated guess of the identity of this card that the opponent has yet to reveal and play. The accuracy of these guesses can be improved by using other information about the game world, ie: available mana crystals, opponent's hero class, etc. With this information a skilled player can formulate a strategy on how to best execute their upcoming turns.

Another important part of this tangible digital presentation is the card animations and added graphical effects. Each minion that is played onto the board goes through a well-designed graphical animation transformation. These cards transform from an in-game card to an in-game minion pawn piece that requires physical space on the game board to occupy. In addition, every minion has their own unique auditory emote when being summoned onto the board, attacking, and dying. The robust rules and mechanics of different card effects are also presented in a physically visual way. Many well-known card games like MTGMagic: The Gathering have a rule that prevents newly summoned creatures from being able to attack the turn that they first come into play. This MTG rule is known as "summoning sickness", and it exists in Hearthstone as well. However, in Hearthstone a visual cue of float 'Z's animate from the newly summoned minion, indicating the rule of "summoning sickness". It is through this expertly polished presentation that Hearthstone embodies the non-digital CCGs that you remember growing up and playing against your friends with.


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
The visual effects and sheer polish of Hearthstone further enhance the excitement of executing game-winning combos.

A CCG For Beginners


For causual and hardcore gamers alike, learning how to play a CCG for the first time can be a daunting task. However, Hearthstone has managed to create a genuinely fun opening-tutorial that walks you through this process without over or under-whelming the player. This opening-tutorial is presented as a collection of escalating final boss battles. The first of these battles has most of the complex mechanics of Hearthstone disabled. As you progress through the tutorial, additional rules and mechanics of hearthstone are incorporated into the challenge. By the end of the tutorial, the player is equipped with a near-complete understanding of Hearthstone's complex rules and mechanics. Part of the fun of these tutorial challenges is that the AI opponents have uniquely scripted, and very comical, dialogue exchanges with you throughout the tutorial match. For those familiar with the characters of the Warcraft universe, you'll be all the more entertained by these exaggerated personalities.

Hearthstone is one of the few F2PFree-to-Play games that perfectly balances earned rewards/unlockables and paid content/unlockables. As a newcomer to Hearthstone, you automatically start your collection with all Free/Basic neutral cards unlocked. In addition, all class-specific free/basic cards can be unlocked, quickly, just by playing any match-type of Hearthstone with the desired hero class. As a newcomer to a CCG, this relieves you of the need to purchase card-packs in order to build up a minimum collection of cards to start playing in constructed matches. The ability to immediately construct a deck from a starting pool of free cards in your card collection is one key example of F2P done right.


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
For the Arena, you get 30 randomized picks of three cards. Select carefully, and be mindfull of your mana-curve.

Another example of how Hearthstone gets F2P right, is by allowing players the opportunity to earn/unlock any piece of in-game content without the need to spend a single cent. Players are presented with daily quests, and other one-off rewards, that they can complete for an in-game currency reward called gold. Gold can also be earned simply by winning ranked or casual Play matches. As the player earns gold, they can then spend their gold to purchase expert card-packs to add to their card collection. Gold can also be spent for entry into the Arena, which guarantees an ever improving final reward based on the player's final arena win count. Over the coming months and years Blizzard will be adding additional content to Hearthstone, first announced expansion Curse of Naxxramas, which can be purchased with real money or earned gold. The option to purchase new content, expert card-packs, and arena entry with real money or earned in-game gold is an ideal F2P system that allows newcomers a flexible means of experiencing this CCG. Players can spend real money to reduce the time and effort needed to play the arena or acquire expert card-packs. While players with financial constraints have the ability to earn access to the aforementioned content with a modest amount of effort. In either case, you will be having loads of fun doing so.

As a newcomer to any CCG, playing against an opponent whose deck is filled with rare and "over-powered" cards can be demoralizing. With Hearthstone, players are still subject to this type of confrontation, although to a lesser degree. However, Hearthstone's Arena Mode is a fantastic way for newcomers to experience playing with these rare cards without having to invest long-term effort or money to acquire them. For $1.99 USDor 150 Gold you can select one of three random heroes, along with constructing a 30 card deck from 90 pseudo-randomly prescribed cards. You then battle against other online opponents, whom are also using an arena-built deck, until you have either lost three matches or achieved 12 wins using this deck. There is a significant incentive to getting as many wins as possible during an arena run, since the end rewards get increasingly better. Most importantly, newcomers and Hearthstone veterans must both use the arena deck that they constructed, for that particular arena run, instead of however many cards may or may not exist within their card collection.


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
The cost of Gold to enter the Arena is just right. The cost of real money is a little high.

A CCG For Veterans


After playing CCGs for over 20 years, I have experienced the many typical nuances that can decide matches purely on bad RNGRandom Number Generator. For CCGs that utilize cards to develop a player's resources, unlucky RNG can result in a card-hand that is either completely void or exclusively full of these resource cards. For MTG the term mana-screwed is used to describe a starting hand with an unfavourable number of resource producing Land cards. Another nuance of CCGs is the use of penalized mulligan rules. Since the starting hand in moderate-to-large sized decks, 60 cards or more, can seal a win or loss for the player; being able to mulligan is critical to acquiring a favourable starting hand. In most standard formats of play each time a mulligan is taken the player reshuffles their starting hand into their deck and draws a new starting hand that is one card fewer. If RNG is not in your favour, you can often end up losing a competitive match before the first turn even begins. When it comes to either of these issues, Hearthstone has provided the most reasonable answer.

The primary resource to be managed and spent to play cards in Hearthstone is mana crystals. The great part about this resource is that it always accumulates, gaining one additional mana crystal at the start of each of your turns. This removes the need to include resource building cards as part of your deck construction. In nearly all scenarios of Hearthstone you will likely be tied for total mana crystals at any given turn, which makes eliminates any possibility of being mana-screwed. Hearthstone's implementation of mulligan is equally reasonable. Instead of shuffling and redrawing all cards in your starting hand, Hearthstone allows you to select any number of cards in your starting hand that you would like to keep. Then you are able to redraw a fresh set from only the cards you did not want in your starting hand. This type of mulligan is allowed only once per match, and has no penalties if used. This ensures that both players are equally able to fetch their ideal starting hand without suffering substantial penalties if RNG is not in their favour.


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Completing daily quests ensures that you can eventually purchase additional expert packs or Arena entry without having to spend real money.

While on the topic of RNG, Hearthstone has a feature that allows acquisition of specific cards in the event that opening expert card packs are giving you to many duplicate cards for your collection. This feature is known as card crafting. Card crafting allows you to disenchant extra, or unwanted cards for some arcane dust. The varying rarities of cards have differing arcane dust crafting costs, and disenchanting returns. Card crafting effectively gives you the opportunity to fine-tune your constructed decks without having to purchase a large quantity of expert card packs with the hopes of getting the exact card(s) you need. An added bonus to this card crafting system is that you are granted a full arcane dust refund, for a period of time, whenever a specific card has been changed or rebalanced. This critical feature is a welcomed alternative to the typical trading system used in other CCGs for acquiring specific cards.

A CCG With Issues


Despite all of the polish and simplicity of Hearthstone there are some glaring faults, and a slew of missing features. As you start to invest some time into the game you'll come across unique scenarios where the order of triggered event execution is near-impossible to predict. In these instances Hearthstone's hiding of the underlying execution of game rules and mechanics can lead to frustrating results. In one example two Sylvanas Windrunner cards kill each other off while another minion remains on the board. There is no logical method of determining which Deathrattle effect is going to trigger first and end up seizing control of this minion. However, if a Sylvanas Windrunner and a Cairne Bloodhoof kill each other off, the Deathrattle from Sylvanas Windrunner will trigger first before Cairne Bloodhoof's. This lack of a defined order of operations can be found with other triggering effects like a hunter's explosive trap and misdirection combo. Being unable to predict the outcome of certain triggered event combinations has lead to a few frustrating misplays.


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
WOW, I get that much dust for disenchanting 8 expert packs worth of cards!

Hearthstone lacks some obvious Multiplayer features that come standard in other online-only games. There is no built-in option for spectating a match between two other players. It is near impossible to watch another player. This hampers or prevents a subset of other capabilities like coaching a friend, streaming a tournament, or even being able to reviewEx: train for ideal play execution one of the prior matches that you have played. The ranking system does little to convey meaningful information regarding placement, until the legendary rank is reached. However, once Legendary is reached, further comparative details on how the numerical ranking is calculated should be made available. Perhaps the most inexcusable is the inability to lookup a listing of the currently top ranked players. The omission of team and free-for-all matches, although not integral, has prevented many of my veteran CCG gamer friends from playing. This lack of a robust set of online multiplayer features makes Hearthstone, an online-only game, feel like an excluded experience; an experience that, given its online-only requirement, yearns to be shared.

The remainder of issues that I have with Hearthstone are balancing issues. First, and most importantly, the arcane dust costs of crafting and disenchanting cards needs to be rebalanced. In its current form you are refunded 25%, or less, of the initial cost to craft a card. When the majority of duplicate cards that'll be disenchanted is of common rarity, you are pressured into hoarding these duplicates with the hopes of a future balance change giving you a better refund rate. To further compound the issue, the crafting cost at each increasing stage of rarity is at least four times greater than the rarity stage before it. This massive disparity gap for crafting costs at each stage of rarity needs to be narrowed, while also increasing the refund amount. It is awful to watch over 30 expert card packs' worth of cards get disenchanted, just to craft a single legendary card. Other balance changes, to individual cards, is also needed. These changes need to ensure that 25+ out-of-nowhere damage scenarios can be potentially avoided. I am confident that Blizzard will eventually address these individual card imbalances. Sadly, however, it is likely that Blizzard will never fix the arcane dust crafting and refunding cost balance issues.


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
WOW, I am nowhere close to having enough arcane dust to craft a legendary card.

A CCG With Longevity


Blizzard is known to provide ongoing support for years after they have released a new game. Just a month after Hearthstone's PC launch, Blizzard announced the first planned mini-expansion to the game, titled Curse of Naxxramas. This mini-expansion will arrive sometime this summer, and it is highly likely that it will not be the last. With 30 new cards planned for its staggered release, the current meta will dramatically change just before it starts to become stale. Blizzard has gone on record informing that many other features will eventually be added to the game, beyond what is promised from Curse of Naxxramas. I can only hope that these eventual feature updates will address the issues mentioned above.

The eSports community for Hearthstone is growing at an incredible rate. Each week there is always a Hearthstone related event being broadcasted with professional gamers, commentators, and/or internet personalities keeping you engaged and entertained. The Hearthstone community have proven their dedication to supporting this game through various tips, deck-building guides, statistical analysis, and other supportive websites. Even Blizzard is offering official support of casual and hardcore tournaments. If you want to play Hearthstone in a traditional CCG fashion, just lookup nearby Hearthstone Fireside Gatherings on Google. These Blizzard supported events provide an opportunity to meet and compete with other avid Hearthstone gamers. For the best-of-the-best Hearthstone players, Blizzard is hosting a major world tournament at Blizzcon with a prize pool of $250,000!


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
On average, not even this amount of expert packs will get you a legendary card.

Hearthstone is one of the few games around to strongly appeal to casual and hardcore gamers alike. It is also one of the few games that offers an experience which could transform a casual gamer into a hardcore one. These past several months have been a blast. Hearthstone has become my primary game recommendation for casual and hardcore gamers alike. Since the game is F2P there is absolutely no risk in giving this game a try. I bet you'll even be surprised by how quickly Hearthstone becomes your number one goto game, just like it has become mine. Hearthstone has kept me actively engaged for several months, and I see no reason to stop playing for months to come.

Review Scoring System: 64-bit
Sub-CategoryBit AllocationBit SignificanceValue
Gameplay2 bits2^623 out of 3
Multiplayer3 bits2^594 out of 7
Features3 bits2^564 out of 7
Innovation4 bits2^5212 out of 15
Control6 bits2^4651 out of 63
Value6 bits2^4055 out of 63
Graphics16 bits2^2458,326 out of 65,535
Audio24 bits2^013,925,088 out of 16,777,215
Total0xE4CC F7E3 D6D4 7AE0
(In Base 10)16,486,824,893,830,429,408
Out of18,446,744,073,709,551,615
Potential Achieved89.3753%
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