Thoughts on Hearthstone

I’d put off giving Hearthstone a real try for a long time. There were a few things I kept telling myself to keep myself from dipping my toe into the water of the most popular CCG:

  • Putting money into a CCG is a money pit, instead of an investment like a TCG
  • The game has to lack depth in order to fit onto a phone screen
  • The game has to have a lot of variance due to the word “random” on so many cards

Bickering with people over why the reserved list is bad for Magic / Legacy made me come around to the idea that my first point was kind of silly. The games I am playing for fun are not stocks – I do not need to treat them as such.

Putting some amount of money into something like Hearthstone every month is no different than going to see a movie or any other number of activities I spend money on just for enjoyment. Ultimately while Magic cards having cash value was nice sometimes, there were other times it was annoying when a card I really needed spiked in price or something else tanked in value before I could sell it.

The second point was a mix of what my gut told me had to be true, as well as second hand feedback from others who I knew had played Hearthstone in the past. Because of this going into trying Hearthstone, my expectations were low.

After having logged hundreds of games of Hearthstone in the last couple of weeks, I have to say this second point feels very wrong.

The best way I can describe what I found with playing Hearthstone is with a comparison to chess. It is a game that is extremely easy to understand the basics of, but leaves a lot of room for mastery.

I think the thing I have been enjoying the most about Hearthstone is how interactive the game play is. While Hearthstone does not allow you to play directly on your opponent’s turn like many Magic players are used to thinking of as interaction, the way the combat system is designed leads to many decision trees every game.

For those who are unfamiliar with the combat system – essentially every “minion” can attack other minions directly. This means every minion we play out can effectively be removal. Unlike Magic, the turn order in Hearthstone is fluid. This means you can attack, play cards, attack again, and so on until you have used all of your minions. All of this leads to lots of meaningful choices which I have been enjoying.

I feel this combat system really rewards you for proper “role” identification. Realizing when you are the beat down and when you should be trading your minions to clear the board is really important.

The final point about the game itself containing a lot of high variance cards, also feels like it was off base after playing the game a bunch. While it is true there are far more cards that contain the word “random” on them in Hearthstone than in Magic, many of these cards allow you to make choices to mitigate / reduce the variance associated with these cards.

When you combine the knowledge of being able to mitigate the variance of the random cards, along with the removal of resource variance, the ability to take partial mulligans and I honestly would not be surprised if the current Hearthstone standard format has less variance than most Magic formats.

Past the positive things I have to say about the game play itself, I also have to say the actual Hearthstone client is just A+ software. Blizzard is very good at what they do. Having a fun and interesting card game that plays well on my phone, tablet, and computer is great.

If you have been apprehensive about trying Hearthstone in the past and are looking for something fun to poke at on mobile like I was I’d encourage you to give it a try. Tempo Mage and Odd Rogue are both very powerful standard decks you can build for very minimal cost.