Blizzard's upcoming free-to-play virtual card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, was recently playable on tablets at BlizzCon 2013. We're used to battling with orcs, dwarves and gnomes of varying class types, but how do we fare when the clashes are in card form?
Blizzard announced that the game would be making it to iPhone, iPad and Android devices with cross-platform play. For a card game of this nature, this is a welcome feature. We expect that several friendships will be put on hold when the game goes live in 2014 on mobile devices. With the Open Beta coming soon for the PC version, now's a perfect time to check out the competitive card game and see what it's all about.
Hearthstone has you choose a Hero character at the outset. This Hero character determines the kind of deck you'll be playing with and the Hero Power available to you once per turn. Since I'm partial to the aural stylings of voice actress Laura Bailey, I opted for the mage, Jaina Proudmoore. Other characters in the game include notable favorites such as Hogger the Gnoll, Thrall the Orc Shaman and Hemet Nesingwary, the famous Dwarf Hunter who makes it a point to travel the world and slay the interesting beasts he finds along the way.
Once you've chosen your Hero, you get dropped into a game. Right off the bat, the whimsical music reminds you that, even though you're playing a Warcraft game, this game is meant to be a fun way to while the way the hours in between raids and the otherwise serious business of World of Warcraft. The interface is clean and almost cartoony, which is definitely in keeping with the traditional World of Warcraft art style.
Hero cards are located in the center with their Hero Powers located next to them. You can use these powers once per turn at the cost of mana. If you've ever played a card game like Magic the Gathering, or even just World of Warcraft, then you're familiar with the concept of mana and how you need it to cast spells. If not, just think of it as fuel that powers your spells. Each spell has a specific mana cost and can be played if you're able to pay that cost. The different between Magic the Gathering and Hearthstone is that mana is generated at a rate of once per turn, without the need to hope for cards that give you mana, a la Magic the Gathering's land cards.
You draw three cards at the beginning of the game (four if you're playing second), and get to choose which of the cards to get rid of if you don't like your hand. If you can play a card, now would be a good time to do so. But usually you'll have to wait until you have at least two-to-three mana to be able to put a card into play, depending on the mana curve (the mana cost distribution), of your deck. Once a character is put on the field, it has to wait one turn before being able to attack.
Card types include beasts, humanoids and spells. Each character card that you can put on the field is called a minion and has an attack power and a life total. Once that life total hits zero, the card is destroyed. There are cards that can buff these numbers up, so knowing card synergy is important when you want to bolster your offense. There are cards with special abilities that activate on the field, such as minions with Charge that don't have to wait a turn to attack. There are also characters that have Taunt, which make it so that enemy minions have to attack it. Getting a bunch of these is integral to soaking up damage, since minions can attack your Hero directly. Once your Hero's life points hit zero, you lose the game.
Even at this early stage of the game's life, it's looking to be a fun distraction. We can't wait to have it on our phones and tablets, able to do battle with our friends on PCs. The cards are pretty simple and easy to understand after a few turns in battle. The fact that it's not as complicated as a game like Magic the Gathering is a boon and should help lower the bar of entry, especially considering the fact that it will be free-to-play. Just think of it as a Magic the Gathering Lite, starring some of your favorite Warcraft characters. Now to count down the days until the Open Beta and then the eventual launch on PC.