Yesterday at PAX East 2013, Blizzard unveiled their first free-to-play game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. The upcoming title is a digital, collectible card game akin to Magic: The Gathering Online, but designed to be easy to learn and accessible to a larger audience. The game is currently being demonstrated on the showroom floor at PAX, and I was able to play it a couple of times yesterday afternoon.
When starting up my first game, I expected to find Hearthstone confusing because I’ve never played Magic: The Gathering or any other strategy card game (e.g. Pokémon TCG, Yu-Gi-Oh!) before. I am vaguely familiar with some of the terminology of MTG, having spent most of my life around hardcore players, but I don’t really know the rules or how the game is played. That unfamiliarity didn’t seem to get in the way of Hearthstone, though. Within two turns I understood my resource system, and also how to play and use cards. By the fifth turn I felt like I understood all the basic mechanics of combat. Then, by the time my seventh turn came around, I was cursing paladins for being overpowered and itching to play another game.
I credit my ability to quickly grasp the mechanics of Hearthstone to the game’s animations. The animations do so much more than making the game visually interesting, they make it easy to understand. For example, cards that are exhausted for the turn display “zzz…” as a sign they are resting. Also, when a paladin plays his Divine Shield card, an actual golden bubble appears around the protected card and stays there until it’s destroyed. Everything in Hearthstone is really obvious, and that’s great because it allowed me to focus on my strategy from the very first game I played. It’s not like StarCraft 2, where I spent months just trying to understand and control the game; with StarCraft 2, I’d been playing nearly six months before I was able to apply any strategy beyond “build stuff.”
After losing my second game (though not as badly as the first) I started to realize that I really wanted to build my own deck. I kept seeing my opponent play cards that I wanted to use, while my own deck seemed to be filled with junk that only staved off my inevitable demise. A lot of that was probably bad luck, but given the opportunity to build my own deck I’d definitely take a different approach to whatever stupid Anduin was doing. (Did I mention I irrationally hate Anduin?)