Blizzard games always draw me in. I’ve already written about Diablo III a couple of times, but I’m no stranger to their other big IPs — Starcraft and Warcraft. I played quite a bit of World of Warcraft back in the day and before that, I enjoyed playing Magic: The Gathering (much to the dismay of a coworker of mine).
What the hell am I getting at? Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is Blizzard’s latest game that mixes the lore of World of Warcraft with classic deck-building gameplay. It’s free to play (grab it here) and so far, in my two hours of play, I’m really enjoying it.
Hearthstone is a deck-building game, much like Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh. The only other deck-building game I’ve played is Magic, so I’ll be making a lot of comparisons to that. Everything in the game, from the creatures to the spells to the character classes, come from World of Warcraft. Mages can cast Polymorph and Arcane Intellect, Priests know Shadow Word: Pain and Power Word: Shield, etc.
Any deck you create is tied to a hero, which map to one of nine character classes from World of Warcraft. You start off with only the Mage, but the other eight can be unlocked by winning against either an AI or another player who is using that class. Each class has a small subset set of cards that can only be used by that class, like Shamans using totems or a Warlock casting Shadow Bolt. You then fill out your deck with cards that can be used by any class. Heroes also have their own powers unique to them and can equip weapons, allowing them to attack directly.
Now that you’ve got a deck, it’s time for battle. Each game starts off with 30 life and 1 mana crystal. At the start of each turn, you gain another mana crystal until you have a total of 10. There are no different colored lands like in Magic — just a single mana pool that fully regenerates at the end of every turn. Everything costs mana, whether it be summoning minions, casting spells, or using your hero power.
Combat is where Hearthstone and Magic differ on a few very important levels. In Hearthstone, if a minion attacks, it can defend in the following turn — there is no concept of tapping. Minions also don’t regenerate their health after each battle. If a minion with two health takes one damage, it’s health is down to one permanently. Most importantly, I think, is that there is no real defense in Hearthstone. When attacked in a game of Magic, you decide which of your creatures, if any, will absorb the attackers before letting them hit your life pool. Hearthstone throws that all out the window and lets the attacker decide where each point of damage is going.
Minions have a slew of abilities that can turn the tide of battle. Battlecry, for instance, triggers when a minion joins the battle. Taunt is the only ** real ** defensive ability, at least that I’ve seen so far, which forces that minion to be attacked before damage can go anywhere else.
As a free-to-play game, Hearthstone has to bring money in somehow. Buying new card packs is that somehow. You can buy packs with gold, which is earned by completing daily quests or winning matches, but you also have the option to spend real money. I’ve only played for two hours so I’m not sure just how necessary it is to buy cards. Here’s hoping the answer is “not very.”
All in all, Hearthstone is pretty fun. I like World of Warcraft and I like deck-building games, so it’s right up my alley. And hell, it’s free. If any of those things interest you, go give it a shot.