Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is one of the most addictive games I’ve played since World of Warcraft. Participating in the beta since before the account wipe, I still couldn’t stop myself from playing even though I knew that my progress would be lost. As power escalates throughout a match, it is easy for any player to think they still have a chance to pull out an upset so long as they can draw the right cards, and this relentless optimism makes Hearthstone one of my favorite games of 2013.
Hearthstone is a collectible digital card game announced by Blizzard earlier this year. The basics of the game have remained unchanged since PAX. Two players square off with decks of thirty cards. Those thirty cards include a variety of spells, weapons, and summonable minions. Each player has thirty health, and the first one to drop to zero loses. Mana pools grow from one to ten incrementally each turn. Each player chooses a class, and that class defines which cards can be used. The classes are the nine original WoW classes: warrior, shaman, rogue, hunter, warlock, mage, paladin, druid, priest. The game is simple to learn, and there’s a six match tutorial that introduces players to the mechanics before they can jump into the greater pool.
Some of the features finally playable in the beta have been the Arena (previously dubbed the Forge) and the crafting/disenchanting. In the Arena, players build their thirty card deck one card at a time. After selecting one of three classes they are then given a choice of one of three cards for each slot in their deck. Because the cards are chosen through this method, it is possible to build special decks that don’t adhere to the normal deck construction rules like having only two of any given card – if the player is offered a card multiple times while selecting, the player can have as many of the card as they choose. Also, rare and legendary cards can sometimes appear in Arena decks. The end result is that players can craft decks that play differently from the normal competition, and opponents need to be wary because anything can be coming in Arena.
The goal in Arena is to win as many times as possible before accruing three losses. After the third loss, the deck is retired and you win prizes based on how many wins that deck achieved. For a single win or less, players will get a pittance of gold, some arcane dust (for crafting), and a pack of cards. For six or more wins, players will get a significant amount of gold, arcane dust, and multiple packs of cards. Recently, single cards started appearing as Arena rewards as well. Arena costs $1.99 or 150 gold to enter, so you’ll want to make every game count. Nothing stings more than getting disconnected from the servers and suffering a loss knowing that the resulting forfeit cost real money.
Gold is earned not just from arena matches, but also through completing quests. Quests are given daily, and a player can have up to three active at a time. Quests have instructions ranging from “win 2 games with a priest or a warlock” to “destroy 40 minions”. They generally reward forty gold, although some quests with longer missions can reward more gold by requiring additional wins, such as “win 5 games as a warlock or shaman” for 60 gold. Also, for every three victories, players are rewarded ten gold. In general, it should take about three days’ worth of quests to earn the 150 gold needed for arena.
Gold can also be used to buy packs of cards. Single packs of cards cost 100 gold, but packs can be bought in greater numbers with cash. Two packs cost $2.99, 7 packs cost $9.99, 15 packs cost $19.99, and 40 packs cost $49.99. Each pack contains five random cards, with at least one card guaranteed to be rare or better.
Since some cards will be for classes that you may not play, and you may receive more than the two copies of a card that can be used in any deck, the method for removing excess cards from your collection is disenchanting. Each card can be disenchanted into arcane dust, and arcane dust can be used to craft cards that you haven’t been lucky enough to find yet. Most cards cost forty arcane dust to craft, although more powerful cards may cost 400 arcane dust, with the legendary cards costing a whopping 1600 arcane dust to create. Disenchanting those same cards will only grant 5, 100, and 400 dust respectively. This at least gives players a way to build the decks they want, mitigating poor results from the randomly generated card packs.
The general of cycle of Hearthstone is to compete in Play mode, acquiring gold through victories and quests until you can enter Arena, at which point you battle to earn the packs of cards for building your decks in Play mode, so you can do better and enter Arena sooner. Blizzard definitely knows a thing about their addictive cycles. Games usually only take about ten to twenty minutes, so it’s easy to keep thinking “just one more hand,” only to find yourself on the wrong end of 4:00 am on a weeknight. Games can be especially vicious as I often find myself wearing my opponent down to around five health, and then running out of cards to play as I am vulnerable and eventually defeated. While that may be a sign of poor deck construction, it also can be attributed to just drawing the wrong cards, and the expectation that the next hand will play out correctly is an enticing one.
While the mechanics are simple, the gameplay can take a while to master, and some cards have ways of playing together that may be surprising. For example, as a warrior, the whirlwind spell damages all minions on the board, even friendly ones. I often find myself casting the ability when the opponent has multiple low health minions on the board while I have one or two stronger minions (with more than one health.) Warriors also have a spell called Rampage that gives 3 health and 3 damage to an injured minion. So after inflicting one damage upon a fresh Kor’kron Elite, I would then cast Rampage, turning the card from 4/3 (damage/health), to 4/2, and then to a powerful 7/5. The Kor’kron Elite also has charge, which means that while most minions need a turn to rest when summoned (so they cannot attack until their second turn on the board), minions with charge can attack immediately. To be able to wipe several enemies away while throwing a 7 damage minion at your enemy can be a game changing play, and it’s just one example of why Hearthstone is so much fun.
One of the reasons Blizzard wiped the beta data was to institute a patch that not only rebalanced some of the cards, but it also allowed them to improve the server infrastructure for the next round of beta invites. Since then, multiple waves of invites have gone out in North America and the EU. Applying for the beta can be done through your battle.net account. Given that the game will be free-to-play, and the marketplace is fully functional in the game, it shouldn’t be too long before the beta phase is complete. If anything, that announcement could easily come at Blizzcon on November 8th. Blizzard still holds the keys preventing the masses from jumping in the game, but the restrictions have been reduced. This game is too much fun to have limited participation, and anyone who enjoys competitive card games or the Warcraft universe needs to opt-in so Blizzard can get them a Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft beta key as soon as possible.