Monday, April 28, 2014

Heartstone: Do Not Start

Do not start playing Hearthstone.

Blizzard's entry into the online CCG market is exactly what you would expect.  They steal the good ideas from other CCGs, remove the shitty parts, and take your money.  Sure, they say Hearthstone is Free to Play.  But is it?

Is it really?

The Free to Play model works thusly:  You start with a basic deck, and play against the AI.  As you level your deck (Yes, there is leveling) you unlock new cards, and other heroes.  Through the free tutorial stage you can unlock most of the basic cards, and every hero class.  In MTG terminology:  You unlock precons by playing the computer.

Once you feel comfortable with your precon, it is time to play real people.  Win three games against real people, acquire 10 gold.  Gold can also be acquired through completing quests, such as 'Win twice with a rogue deck'.  These daily quests reward around 40 gold.  Once 150 gold is collected, it's time for Arena.

Arena is like MTG draft, but not as shitty.  First, you pick one of three possible classes.  Then you assemble your deck by selecting one of 3 cards 30 times.  Choose one of three commons, then one of three uncommons, then one of three rares, on and on until you have 30 cards.  With this drafted deck you face real opponents, until you lose 3 matches,  and then receive gold, dust, and card packs based upon your results.

This is the basic structure of Free to Play Hearthstone:

1)  Play constructed matches to acquire gold.
2)  Spend gold to play Arena.
3)  Win arena games to unlock packs of new cards, and more gold.
4)  Use the new cards to enhance your constructed deck.
5)  Go to 1.

If that sounds a bit tedious, that's ok; because it is designed to.  You see, there is also the option of purchasing packs, or paying $2 to play arena matches.  And, hey, why not drop $2 to play arena?  If you win 9 games, you'll have enough gold to play another round!  Oh shoot.  You only won 3 games?  That's too bad.  You know, if you pay another $2....

That's how they get you.

You may have noticed in all this that I have not mentioned mana or resource cards.  Well, there aren't any.  Each player has a total of 10 crystals that act as mana.  On round one you get one crystal.  On round two you get two.  Up to ten crystals.  There is no mana screw.

This, for me, is one of the selling points that puts Hearthstone ahead of MTG.  In Magic, there is the possibility of getting hosed by resource denial, and so decks need to be constructed with this in mind.  In Hearthstone, you know that on turn five you will have five mana.  Decks can be designed around a reliable, stable mana curve.  RNG exists in card draw, rather than card draw + resource access.

Another perk of Hearthstone is that everything is digital.  By this I mean that if someone finds a way to abuse a particular card, that card can be modified.  It's keen in the "Hey, let's make skullclamp cost more" sense, but shitty in the "I just dropped $x to build a deck around this exploit they have patched."

This is the point at which we get into the argument over whether spending $60 on digital cards is dumber than spending $60 on, say, WoW or LoL.  And while it is true that you do not *really* have those cards, you also do not *really* have those LoL skins, or WoW gear, or whatever.

Oh yeah, crafting.  You can disenchant cards into dust, and use that dust to build specific cards.  If you acquire a bunch of Priest rares but want to play Warlock, you simply disenchant the priest cards and build the specific Warlock card you want.  There is no way to buy specific cards.  Rather, you buy packs to disenchant to build specific cards.

Finally, I have to say that Hearthstone is pretty damn balanced.  It has the predictable aggro, combo, control metagame.  What's nice is that a viable deck can be constructed in any category for relatively cheap.  After a week of free matches you ought to be able to build one of the free decks through a bit of luck and some dust.  Numerous people have made it to Rank 1 without spending any money.  It is simply a matter of winning.

That is the basics of Hearthstone.  It's a Free to Play CCG with two play modes, no mana screw, and a reasonably balanced metagame.

Do not play it.


Ok.  Actually?  You should totes be fucking playing this right now.  Why are you not playing this?  It's like Magic, but free.  And there are trap cards!  And it's on iPad.  And it will be on Android soon!  So you could sit in the bathroom at work and grind arena matches on your fucking phone.