Today I decided to finally try Blizzard's new WOW spin-off, Hearthstone. The game is, for the most part, free to play. And it took hardly any time to download and install. It seemed worth it to take the game for a spin, at the very least. But I find myself enjoying the game already - perhaps it is just the sort of game that I need to help me break my dry spell? Well, I'm not quite sure about that yet, but I did get in a couple of hours of playtime with Hearthstone today.
For anyone who isn't sure what Hearthstone is, it's an online collectible trading card game featuring characters and mechanics from the Warcraft (particularly World of Warcraft) universe. It is different than the existing, real-world WOW TCG.
The game revolves around the concept of 'Hero' cards, special cards which function as your commanding player character during gameplay. Your hero has hit-points and their own special ability that they can use during their turn. Each of the game's heroes represent one of the WOW classes, with the exception of Monk and Death Knight.
It goes without saying that my first thought was to play as a Mage, since that has become my go-to class within the last couple of years. But you don't really choose your starting class, or have any option whatsoever - you just begin the game's tutorial with the mage deck unlocked from the start. The mage Hero is Jaina Proudmore.
I was a little disappointed that you start as a mage, since that means all new players are mages and have some experience with the class. Indeed, more often than not I found myself running into other players who were also using Jaina. At the same time, I started off with my favorite class, so that was a perfect start for me.
During battle you want to keep your hero alive and defeat your opponents' heroes. You steadily gain mana each turn, enabling you to use more powerful cards to help you defeat your opponent and protect your own hide. The two main types of cards are minions and spells, minions being monsters and spells being single-use cards.
I have yet to see if other classes play differently, and I'm not sure how all of the other Heroes' abilities change gameplay. But I have the basic jist of how to set up a decent deck and play against people.
I'm still not sure if I have what I would necessarily call a 'favorite' card yet, There are a few different contenders. But one type of minion card is key to playing this game, and you will want to have a few in your deck no matter what - Taunt cards.
Taunt cards play just like a tank character would in WOW. They protect your hero from taking direct damage, and force most attacks to target the taunt cad itself. This is important, since without taunt cards you are often free to choose whether to attack your opponents' minion cards or their hero.
During my time with Hearthstone so far, I completed 2 or 3 quests and unlocked the Druid and Warlock classes. I customized my deck about 4 times. I won a few matches, I lost a few matches. I think it's safe to say that I kind of like the game.
Indeed, when I think about the still rather small number of trading card video games on the market, in particular the successful ones, Hearthstone easily sits amongst the better part of the bunch. It's reasonable to say it could become the most popular online TCG of the times.
Hearthstone got me thinking a little bit about video game card games, and what makes them better than regular, physical card games. Or, in general, what makes video games better than board games.
I think the main thing is, the automatic computation. In Dungeons & Dragons, you roll a couple of dice to determine... Damn near everything. How much damage you deal, how much damage you withstand, if your attack even hits, if this happens or that happens. In a video game, those variables don't matter so much because they are taken care of so much more efficiently.
Imagine what it would be like trying to role-play a game from another genre, like Super Mario Bros. That would be boring and pointless as all get-out. Trying to roll a dice to determine where Mario lands when he comes down from a jump. Trying to roll a dice to find out exactly where a moving enemy would be on any given level in relation to Mario, to determine if Mario gets hit, squashes the baddie, or lands neutrally beside it
It is far too much math to compute without a computer and analog controls. And its mind-numbingly boring. There is only so much you can do with dice and board games. Video games enable us to perform much more complicated physics and other equations in real-time, in the software, without any need for the player to give tedious bits of information a second thought. That is what makes video games great, and sets them apart from board games, I think. That's the advantage of video games.
Of course, I think there is something to be said for board games. For one thing, while it is possible to damage cards and bend them out of shape in person, you can pick up a deck of cards and play a game anywhere - versus where electricity or a power source is available.
Board games provide a greater level of thinking and problem-solving for the player, which is good now and then. They also, in the case of games such as D&D, provide a great opportunity for players to use their imaginations a bit.
I don't think I could ever completely write off board games because I have played Monopoly before... And plain old boardgame Monopoly beats the pants off of digital, electronic, video game Monopoly any day. It just can't compare, because part of the greatness of that game is the tense, human moments interspersed with the gameplay. Making deals, deciding what to do with your properties, even bending and changing the rules altogether if your feel like it.
So I think video games have their strengths, but they still can't replace every other interactive gaming experience. They can't replace playing with friends and family, and they can't replicated the look, feel and smell of a board game and its pieces. And sometimes, it is nice to keep things uncomplicated.
Getting back to the main topic, I think TCG can really benefit from being made into video games. Card collecting is an expensive hobby, and it is also time-consuming to sort through cards and arrange them into display sheets, and master the game. Video game TCGs are probably a surprisingly value-filled alternative to the original format. And you don't have to worry about bending or ruining your favorite rare card when you play the game with it, or finding the space to keep binders full of cards.
Hearthstone, likewise, seems like a smart idea and potentially a great new game from Blizzard. When the game was first announced I didn't fully get the appeal, now I think I do. Blizzard is becoming the go-to company for the "everyman" version of niche game genres. The everyman MMO is WOW, the everyman RTS is StarCraft, the dungeon-crawler is Diablo 3 and the TCG is Hearthstone. It's fast to download and play these games, and you're guaranteed good online service and a respectful level of quality with their games. For most gamers, Blizzard and Battle.net is a hub for a variety of games with that Blizzard and WOW flare. And it just makes sense.
Since Hearthstone is free, I think I will keep playing it for now, when I feel up to it. Maybe it will get boring once I get most of these basic cards, I have no clue, but to me this is already a decent little game. For years I've always wanted to play a great, quality online TCG. Blizzard has just done a much better job of making that goal easy for me to accomplish, than the other developers.