Welcome back! This time we are talking gameplay, more specifically Hearthstone’s gameplay. If you haven’t read the last article, I’ll be a nice guy and link it for you here. 😀 So lets get down to business, now I’ve decided to go the overview route rather than full on in depth guide… if that’s what you are looking for then I’ll be honest and suggest you keep on looking. Also full disclosure, I’m still new to the game and do not claim nor pretend to be in any way an expert. With that said, lets get started.
Hearthstone features three game modes, Play Now, Practice and Arena. Practice is exactly what it’s says, you pick one of the 9 heroes, each with their own pre-made starter deck and then you pick another hero to battle against. The other hero is controlled by AI and comes in beginner and expert difficulty modes. You can also build your own decks to battle against the AI. Practice mode usually doesn’t count towards Daily Quests objectives and yields less XP than playing against human opponents.
Play Now is the meat of the game, you click a button choose from the pre-made starter decks or from a list of your own and then you thrown right into matchmaking.. 20 seconds later your in game matched up with a player that in theory should be of similar skill level. Play Now comes in Ranked and Unranked (default) modes. Unranked still tracks your wins but obviously you don’t move up the Ranked ladder. I’ll be honest, I’m not big into Ranked play… in fact I haven’t touched it yet so I can’t speak it on completely but just know it’s there if you like that style of play.
Last is the Arena, arguably Hearthstones claim to fame and really it’s only unique game mode. So the Arena is tough to describe, basically you enter and are randomly given 3 heroes to choose from… then you have to build a deck of 30 using random draws of 3 cards. Basically each turn your given 3 random cards and can only pick one… then you get 3 new ones, the process repeats until you have 30 cards. You HAVE to take one of the 3 each time. Once you have a full deck the goal is to win as many games as possible before you lose three times… the more you win the bigger your reward at the end. It’s a great mode because it’s a lot like sealed decks, you can’t buy an advantage by getting better cards… it’s completely random for you and your opponents which cards you get. This makes it a lot more skill based as in theory you should have equal cards and equal lack of experience with your decks. So what’s the catch? Why would anyone play anything else? Well the Arena currently requires a $1.99 fee to enter each time… but you are guaranteed a pack of cards ($1.50 value) even if you three strikes and out without a win. You can also use your free gold from Quests to enter but it’s still kinda annoying that one of the best features of the game is locked away.
With that out of the way, lets talk gameplay. Hearthstone decks consist of 30 cards, no more and no less. Every deck starts by picking 1 of the 9 heroes… each have their own unique hero power, they all cost 2 mana and each do something different. For example Jaina the mage can spend 2 mana each turn to cast fireball… it’s does 1 hp of damage to whoever you choose. They also each have class cards only useable by them. The rest of you deck is built using common creature and spell cards useable by any hero. So you build your deck, you press play and boom you in game. If you go first you start with three cards… you can choose to discard each of them for new cards or keep them. If you start second you start with 4 cards which again can be discard for new cards. You also get a 0 cost “gain one mana crystal until the end of the turn” card for going second. In both cases you draw on your first turn. Each turn is capped at 90 seconds.
Both players start with 30 HP, the goal of the game is to reduce that HP to 0… currently this is the only way to win. If you run out of cards to draw you automatically take damage each turn, 1 HP, 2 HP, 3 HP etc until you die or finish off your opponent… it’s rare a match comes down to this though. So how do you deal this damage you ask?
With creatures and spells of course! See the image above, each creature has a mana cost (top left corner), an attack rating (lower left corner) and HP (lower right corner). Creature and Player HP can be regenerated via spells and effects but otherwise does not regen each turn. You get one mana crystal per-turn up to 10 max, spells can temporarily increase the limit but it can’t be permanently increased… you’ll instead draw a card. All creatures except ones with “Charge” suffer from the typical “Summoning Sickness” aka they can’t attack the first turn they are played… unlike most other games though there is no tapping and all your creatures (minus ones with stealth) are open to attack regardless if you just summoned them or not. This adds an extra layer of complexity as you need to account for the opponent killing your creatures before you can even use them… it also unfortunately especially early on usually turns the game into cat and mouse… the one with the most creatures down wins.
To help counter this the game features blockers or creatures with “taunt” as they are called. They suffer from the same summoning sickness for attacking but can still block regardless, the downside is you don’t get to choose who you block and when they are in play your opponent can only attack the taunt creatures you have on the field. This eliminates some of the more advanced strategy of defensive play. Like most card games Taunters can’t block spells so be mindful of that. Taunts can attack and still block, so don’t be afraid to use them on offense. The game also features a big number of board wipes, creature killers and damage dealing spells to help turn the tides… the only real downside here is at least to me it seems your decks will likely end up fairly similar as you must have these spells and taunts to deal with the opponent’s creatures. One thing to note currently there is no hand control cards beyond a few copy cards… if you have no idea what I’m talking about, consider yourself thankful and don’t worry about it lol.
Last thing I want to note on gameplay is creature cards do not protect the player from harm, only taunt cards do. One of the main strategies of Hearthstone seems to be the balance between damaging the opponent’s HP and eliminating his creatures on field so he can’t eliminate yours… it can be easy to focus on one or the other too much and find yourself overwhelmed.
Overall Hearthstone is a very fast paced card game, it’s super simple to play and arguably difficult to master. Some of it’s efforts to speed up the gameplay may ultimately be the games undoing but with a great following already and a stable company behind it nothing says that game can’t adapt over time. I for one am looking forward to the future of Hearthstone, it’s very polished even at this early stage and while I don’t like all it’s design decisions they’re definitely off to a good start.
If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments section, I’ll do my best to answer them.