Hearthstone review

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The world of online collectable card games is expanding, with a lot of new ones in various pipelines. One such game on the way to our computers is from our friends at Blizzard.

Hearthstone is their soon to launch online CCG. It’s been in beta for a while, now open beta, and it is a very well constructed version of the genre.

For those with no idea what CCG is, basically you play 1v1 with a deck of cards you construct out of the ones you own. Each card is either a champion you play onto the board, a spell (which can do all manner of things like kill an enemy champion, or buff one of yours, etc) and weapons for your hero to equip.

It’s turn based, and each go you can attack with your summoned champs and cast any of the cards in your hand that you have enough mana to afford. If you have equipped a weapon for your champ they can attack as well.

The aim is to batter your opposing hero, each starts with 30 life and you knock the enemy’s health down using spells and champion attacks.

Turns have a short time limit, so you don’t need to worry about your opponent holding the game up. Player conversation is limited to a few pre defined phrases, so you don’t need to worry about abuse. The game mechanics are simple to grasp, but difficult to master, and the card combinations already available open up some interesting deck themes you could build for, like charge decks (champions can attack the turn they are played), divine shield decks (champions ignore the first hit on them), wind-fury decks (champs can attack twice a turn) and/or spell decks (just blow the enemy hero away with massively buffed fire balls!)

The full card intricacy of say Magic The Gathering (which is available online in case you don’t know) is not currently available in Heartstone, but they’ll be adding new cards all the time and so the deck options will keep growing – and the current set of available cards in the open beta are sufficient for you to build for a theme.

Of course you’ll have to buy/win a lot of cards to have enough to be able to build a deck that’s not just a collection of your best cards, but instead uses synergies between cards of the same type.

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Perhaps the best thing about Hearthstone and why it’s a good CCG is the game mechanic – you might think there’d be very little difference between CCG in the way they work, but you’d be wrong. Little changes to the rules on say, how your resources accumulate, can make a huge difference to the gameplay. There’s a lot online CCG out there already and more and more are being released, but they’re all going to have to compete with Blizzard’s excellent attempt at the genre – here’s why.

It’s fair, as fair as these games can be. The person going 2nd get’s a good buff for missing out on the first turn (draws an extra card and another specific extra card that you can play for free for one extra mana). The resource generation is completely equal, you get 1 more mana than you did the turn before, and overall the system of champions, spells and hero equipment works really well and is great fun.

Balance between the different heroes (who each have specific cards only a deck for that hero can use) is a hotly contested topic, with accusations of certain cards being over powered a constant event on the forums, but this is true for all card games, and if you had to compare I think you’d have to say Hearthstone is one of the better ones for overall balance.

Also it’s based on the WoW universe, so your hero’s are the major classes you can play in WoW (priest, shaman, hunter etc) and this all helps give it a more familiar fantasy setting than if they’d made up a new world for the game to inhabit. Sounds unimportant? Well yes it is, but go over to Poxnora, which is a different type of CCG (in that it has a board you move your played champs around on), but see just how much you don’t care about the fantasy world they’ve invented for that.

So if you like CCG and want to try one you’ve not played before, or if your new to the genre and are looking for a place to lose your CCG virginity, Hearthstone is the place for you.
But on the other hand, there’s one big reason why you should hold back.

CCG, both online and in the real world, are the perfect example of play to win. Hearthstone is no exception. Yes you can earn new cards without paying any money, quite a lot of them to be honest, but regardless, at some point you’re going to be destroyed by someone who’s thrown £100 at the game and has a set of cards you can only dream about.

Because of this CCGs can, at a first glance, look like they’re only for the completely mad – people willing to throw lots of money down a unending hole. Hearthstone is no exception to this, at first you wont notice, you’ll enjoy playing each different hero class and unlocking the specific cards for that hero, and doing all that will consume a lot of your time – spent happily either battling the computer or other players at the same deck level as yourself – but inevitably you’ll get to the point where unlocking more free cards is a real grind, and you’ll be looking constantly at the little shop option where you can throw money at virtual cards.

Let’s be honest, I’ve spent my hard earned dosh on stuff like this in the past, and if you look at it as say, money spent Vs time spent playing, maybe Hearthstone and the others are value for money, but damn it can be a lot of money, especially if you hunger to be the best and defeat the other best players.

But wait, all is not lost as Hearthstone has got a unique game mode to combat this a little, and it links into game balance as well.

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The Arena mode is a pay to enter system where you play without using your bought cards, instead you randomly build a deck to play with, picking your 30 cards one card at a time from a random choice of 3. It’s a great idea, meaning you can compete on a equal (all be it somewhat luck based) footing with all other players. Depending on how well you do, you will then get a reward once you’ve lost a total of 3 games, and these rewards, even if you do fairly badly, are close to what you could have bought if you’d spent the entry fee on cards in the shop.

You can also earn the entry fee by completing daily missions, such as “get three kills while using a Paladin deck,” “Kill 40 minions” etc etc, or you could just spend that fee on more card packs instead.

So that’s good, and it does mean you could play forever and never give them any money. Of course the shop button is always there, looking at you, tempting you, and you will crack!

To summarise, Hearthstone is one of the best online CCG i’ve tried, give it a go, but have your credit card ready coz it’ll win in the end.

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Foxyblaster

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