Hearthstone and Comparing Games to Hearthstone
If you haven’t yet heard of the most popular online card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is an free-to-play collectible card game created by Blizzard Entertainment. By The Numbers: Most Popular Online Games Right Now, an article by Jeremiah Paul places Hearthstone as the second most popular online game with over 50 million players logging in every month and the most popular E-sport to watch. The overpowering presence of this game overshadows every other online CCG and has suffocated many other card games to the status of “like Hearthstone”. This has led me to wonder whether or not this is a good thing. Does comparing every card game merely place Hearthstone higher on it’s throne?
The Problem with Short Reviews
There is an extent to which comparison is good and bad. Comparing games as if you can only own one of them or like one is going to replace the other is not a healthy way of reading games. It is important not to ask “Which is better?” but “What does this game do differently than the other?” People have different preferences and identifying varying elements of a game help players understand why they like a certain game. Hearthstone is often compared to other card games because it is popular and more people will know what Hearthstone is as opposed to a game like Spellweaver. In fact, when Hearthstone came out, it was first compared to Magic: The Gathering, a physical card game that has won Best Collectable Card Game of the Year and is played by 20 million people worldwide. It is fine to reference another well-known game, but many shorthand game reviews will label games as “Hearthstone with less rng” or “nice alternative to Hearthstone” which may address one problem with Hearthstone but doesn’t address other problems and strengths inherent in either game. General gameplay is described, but not the details that make the games different, and it’s the details that make players choose one over the other. Why play a game “like Hearthstone” when you can just play the original? The answer depends on what makes Hearthstone a good game and what are some of the weaknesses.
What Hearthstone Struggles to Do
An important concept to know about all card games is that the goal of every game is to increase your chances of winning. No matter how good the cards are, no deck has a 100% win rate. The key to winning more games is how the deck is played. How fun a card game is often revolves around this concept. Every card game has an element of randomness due to the luck of the draw. When making a deck, it is important to consider when a card will be good to play and not adding too many situational card. This alongside smart playing of the deck leads to increased win percentages. Hearthstone, however, is infamous for the numerous collection of cards with the word “random” in the text. This element of the game is hard for players to play around since random can range from a 1/1 game loser and a 7/7 game winner. Unlike a random card being generated by the computer, card draw can be manipulated by the deck building process. Although it is possible to play with or against many of the random effects by calculating every outcome, Blizzard doesn’t always correctly judge the power of a card until it has seen play. A high variance card pool and the value of even one extra damage to a minion can determine the outcome of a game and leaving the fate of a long hard fought battle to a 50% coin flip or even a 5% coin flip can discourage competitive players.
Another weakness of Hearthstone is the infrequent changing of cards. Although many cards are designed purposefully and improve the health of the game, a couple of poorly designed, overpowered cards can destroy the game’s appeal and further broaden the possible random card variance. Despite numerous complaints, it takes around four months before Blizzard adds new cards, and they generally make changes to older cards around the same time. This results in certain decks having a significantly greater win percentage than others, and, as a result, players will play more of one kind of deck than another should the meta support it. The conclusion is a lack diverse decks in what becomes a stale meta. Players want to play with and against multiple fun decks and it is hard to motivate oneself to play the same game for four months if every game is played exactly the same. On top of the stale meta problem, Hearthstone gives few rewards for reaching the highest rankings. Once a player reaches the highest rank, they get a card back and that’s it. The rankings reset every month which discourages ranked play since minimal reward is offered.
What Hearthstone Does Well
Despite these complaints, Hearthstone is still an amazing game with many loyal players and a highly competitive scene worldwide. Much of its popularity comes from Hearthstone’s relation to other Blizzard games (World of Warcraft in particular), but it also possesses many features not seen in physical card games or other online card games. Multiple game modes including ranked, casual, solo, arena, and tavern brawl provide players with a variety of options to choose from and switch between. As an online game, it also boasts the advantages of quick matchmaking, turn timing, mobile play, and computerized deck searching and shuffling. Arguably the greatest quality of all, Hearthstone is free-to-play. A top-tier Magic deck can cost as much as $600 dollars so being able to form a top-tier deck in a similar game for free is a huge selling (or playing) point.
Gameplaywise, Hearthstone uses a system of mana so that every turn, players can play more powerful and numerically more cards. Compared to Magic, which uses cards to produce mana, deck building and the length of games differ greatly. Hosting nine unique classes, Hearthstone provides a multitude of potential deck types but limits decks to the cards from only one class. This can stifle creativity to some extent, but allows for a more diverse pool of cards that could produce overpowered combos should two classes been able to mix. Every hero also contains a unique hero power that usually complements the deck type and doesn’t cost a card to use. This adds to the strategy by getting value out of the hero power to save other cards for later and not falling too far behind on a bad hand. Also, despite the uncompetitive nature of randomness, such cards are fun casually and willingness to accept luck as a factor that goes two ways in the game will help any potential players enjoy the game for what it is, faults and all.
By featuring daily quests that refresh at a set time, it is simple to complete quests everyday at anytime since a full 24 hours is offered before the next refresh. Other games that offer a daily bonus refresh dependent on the previous missions completion fall into the pit of forcing players to play at the same time everyday if they wish to optimize currency efficiency. On top of the daily refresh, up to three days of quests can be saved and done at the same time. This means a player can log on every three days and still receive the same amount of quest gold. As with many other free games, it will admittedly take a while to build a top-tier deck and learn the game, but once started, it is hard to stop playing this game.