Summon warriors and defeat your opponents in a simple but challenging card game.
PC Release: March 11, 2014
By Ian Coppock
This has been quite a month, has it not? We created a hero to save the world of Warcraft, and got pretty bored in the meantime. We embarked upon three epic quests across the galaxy to stop it from being destroyed by Amon. Hell, we even took up arms as demon hunters to stop Sanctuary from getting set on fire. Engaging in so much battle is thirsty work, so let’s take a seat, open some beers and settle down for a basic card game.
Hearthstone is a little card game featuring creatures and worlds from the Warcraft universe. I’ve never reviewed a card game before, but I will do my best, because despite my unfamiliarity with its genre, I quite enjoy Hearthstone.
As with Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone doesn’t have much of a story. There are a few practice rounds where you play as Jaina Proudmoore, a human sorceress, but most times you’ll be pitted against human players. Hearthstone is a game that strikes a rare balance between being simple to understand, and difficult to master. Such games are, in my opinion, almost always good games.
Hearthstone is a one versus one card game employing some concepts that are endemic to card games in general, and others that are entirely novel. Players begin by selecting a class of hero to anchor their game. The type of hero you pick can have a bearing on the cards in your deck, but you can also use a pre-assembled deck that operates independently of the hero you choose. Each player starts out with 30 cards.
The overall gist of the game is simple: both you and your opponent’s hero characters have 30 life points, and whoever kills the enemy hero first, wins. Heroes are not represented as cards, and stand separate from the main playing area, but they do have abilities that allow them to attack your opponent. Jaina Proudmoore, for example, has a fireball ability that you can use to damage your opponent’s hero directly, or the monsters they’ve summoned to battle.
Generally, cards in a basic Hearthstone match can be divided into three categories: minions, spells and equipment. Minions are monsters that you can place on the field to wage war against your opponent, and each one has an attack value and a health value. The attack value is the damage dealt to an enemy’s health, which you can deal out in one fell swoop or in several attacks, depending on its strength.
Spell cards are single-use cards that allow for an instant effect. Typically this is damage to the enemy hero, but you can also use them to react to a player’s card. You can’t interrupt an enemy’s turn, but you can play cards that automatically respond to their actions when your turn comes up. Equipment cards can be used to enhance your minions’ stats, or give them special abilities. Each turn, you’ll receive a mana crystal that you can use to power your creatures. The more turns go by, the more mana you get.
Hearthstone‘s core goal of killing your opponent’s hero is not hard to understand, but there’s a surprising amount of complexity that goes into fielding your minions and using spells. There’s an additional challenge element in deciding whether to use your hero’s power on the enemy hero directly, or to help your minions out in their own battles. It’s similar to the real-time strategy game dilemma of whether you can finish your opponent early on, or have to dig in for a drawn-out battle.
I appreciate that Hearthstone bears consequences at each stage of the game. Depending on your strategy, you’ll want to bulk up with monsters and spells in the early game in case you need them, prepare for a drawn-out match throughout the mid game, and then deploy any hidden cards or secret weapons toward the end game. I tend to employ a strategy similar to the Gwent mini-game featured in The Witcher series, where I hold a few heavy-hitters in reserve unless my opponent is being extremely aggressive, extremely early. That’s my best advice on playing a sustainable round of Hearthstone.
Hearthstone is much more similar to physical card games than I’d anticipated. You start out with a pretty basic deck of cards, and can get better cards by winning tournaments or buying booster packs at the in-game store. I’m generally not a fan of micro-transactions because of developers’ tendency to turn them into a “pay-to-win” mechanic, but in this context it makes sense.
A few of the players I’ve talked to have played Hearthstone since its inception, and their decks are proportionately badass. As I mentioned up top, Hearthstone‘s rules are pretty easy to understand, but there’s an intricacy to minions and spells that even after many matches I’m still trying to nail down.
Because it’s just a card game, Hearthstone‘s visuals are simple without being ugly. Most of the interfaces look cartoonish, but I think the same can be said of most Warcraft games. I appreciate that Hearthstone contains subtle references to older Warcraft games, including the “job’s done” peasant soundbit from Warcraft III. The illustrations on the cards are beautiful, and consistent with the high-fantasy theme that Blizzard goes for with Warcraft.
Hearthstone is not an emotionally riveting epic, or one of the narrative-rich games that I try to find and review, but it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. It’s free, so there’s no reason not to grab a buddy and at least try it out. If you wish, find me at Art as Games on Battle.net and I’ll be happy to sit down and play with you.
I’m quite bad at it, so don’t be bashful.
You can buy Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.