Hearthstone seems like the casual game born with all the right stars aligned, a step into the WoW universe that combines familiar characters and atmosphere with addictive (and somewhat competitive) gameplay. Though it's still within beta at this moment many of the core features gives an incredibly positive impression on what's to come in the final launch, but just in case you've never heard of Blizzard's next "˜installment' on the Warcraft franchise here's a small taste of the future digital Collectable Card Game.
Hearthstone, like many other digital card games, tries to keep the gameplay easy to learn but with layers of complexity as players progress. A single deck consists of 30 cards with only two of the same card allowed per deck. Additionally each deck is guided by a single class that provides an ability which can be used once per turn, with pools of cards divided based upon what class they're intended for. Players select their character/class, and can either use a pre-constructed deck or create their own using the cards they've earned. Each player has 30 health, and the first person to reach zero loses.
At the start of the game each player gets access to mana crystals (starting with one) that slowly increase in supply as the rounds go on, up to a maximum of ten. Spells, creatures and the class abilities all cost mana, so the game is essentially one giant resource juggle around which order you'd like to cast everything. Players only get one card per turn as well, and three cards to an opening hand, which means that it can be fairly easy to run out of cards in your hand if your deck isn't built properly.
Certain spells affect the battlefield immediately while others can be used to enchant creatures or deal direct damage. Creatures are incredibly varied and provide buffs or additional actions depending on how they're played, what they're placed next to, what's been damaged or has died during the turn, and so on. All of this adds in addition to the constant pressure of having a very limited resource to play cards with in the first place. Making sure your deck has any unnecessary cards trimmed from it is extremely important.
It's not enough to simply create a deck that has a dozen or so damage spells and randomly assembled creatures, Hearthstone is a game that implores you to do more and will punish you for not putting the time and energy into building a creative deck. But then again that's the whole fun of it.
Players earn new cards by either spending coins gained through winning matches or completing quests, or by spending real money to buy digital packs. Each pack has a chance at a rare card, which of course gives incentive to purchase more packs. Far more enticing than simply buying packs of cards is the Arena mode, which gives players a random assortment of cards to create a deck from and challenges you to win as many games as possible. The more you win the better your prize, until you've lost three times (which then calculates your overall stats in exchange for rewards). Arena can either be paid for with 150 coins, or again a flat buy in of 1.99.
As of now the variety that each deck/class brings to the table is impressive, and as you continue to unlock more cards the choices available only expand further. A player running a mage deck can build around turning small spells more powerful through buffs, or defensively to protect themselves until large creatures can be summoned, or instead use their class to splash in devastating board wipe while filling their deck with creatures that complement one another in various ways. It may take a few tests to find something that works, but the process of trial and error is incredibly satisfying.
Being a game firmly grounded in the Warcraft universe everything from the artwork to the voice acting literally oozes a fanboyish love of the franchise. Uninitiated will appreciate the voice work put into the game so far, but it's clear that to draw the most satisfaction from the CCG one must be involved in some form with the MMO.
The characters are all torn from the world and are immediately recognizable as to what class they represent. Most cards have some sort of tie-in or reference to the world design that range from simple nods to zones, quests, or NPC's to pop cultures references. A great example is the card Raid Leader, who yells "˜Handle it!' any time he's cast as a throwback to one of the greatest (or worst) displays of leadership against Onyxia of all time. This sense of humor bleeds into every part of the game, from the loading screens to the flavor text, which really just makes the game that much more enjoyable.
Overall Hearthstone is shaping up to become an incredibly fun, addictive, and most importantly rewarding game to play; and though the beta currently does have a few balance issues between the class/card selections you'll be hard pressed to find another CCG running so well right from the start. Keep an eye out for more coverage on Hearthstone as we lead up to the eventual release, including a final in depth review on the latest entry in Blizzards design repertoire.