Hearthstone – Other Comments

The beauty of running a blog is that you can maintain a particular writing style consistently on a single source.  If I were to run around commenting on 100 posts, then it would be hard to get the subtleties of the message.  We’ve all heard the addage that most communication is non-verbal, so if you don’t get to see a LOT of writing from a person, then it’s hard to get the exact idea.  Wilhelm is one of my favorites for writing style.  If you only ever read one, then you’d miss half the content.

That big paragraph to say that I think that I suffer from the same fate.  Nearly all of my posts are based on a foundation of history of design and I tend to over/under-state quite a few details because the wheels have already turned in my head.  The comments from my Hearthstone impressions are quite evident of that.

So I opted to look for a bit more content from the interwebs and see what other people are saying.

  • Azuriel succinctly covers my main gripe with the meta
  • Tobold has a more optimistic approach to the same problem
  • WoW Insider’s Olivia Grace has an overview of some gaps (some that have been fixed since)
  • HearthPwn is the Curse-hosted gaming resource.  I think the top 100 ladder information speaks volumes about the game but that’s a separate post.
  • And the official forums are very positive (which is a first for a Blizzard game methinks)

This isn’t an exclusive list but simply some of the larger resources for taking a look at the state of the game.

My overall point with this is, and has been, that designing a well-balanced CCG is hard work.  It’s much more than the individual cards.  MTG has been doing it for 20 years.  The actual physical Blizzard CCG did it for about 5 before closing the doors, with varying levels of success.  One of my problems is that the system is not closed and balancing an open system is next to impossible.  Blizzard, as a company, strives to take complex ideas to the common masses.  Easy to learn, hard to master and all that.  They did it with StarCraft 2.  They missed the boat on Diablo 3.  The jury is still out on Hearthstone but once it hits open beta (next month), the game for all intents and purposes is considered launched.

Hearthstone the Third

So, this is going to be my last post on Hearthstone.  I’ve uninstalled the game, which REALLY says something about it when I still have Rift on my desktop and I haven’t played that in 6 months.

Raptr says I have 10 hours put in.  I’ve completed games in less time and normally I have a solid feel after 2.  I had rather high expectations from this game and the previous 2 posts sort of alluded to that.  I won’t lie to you, the game isn’t so much a disappointment as much as my expectations.

There appears to be two games within Hearthstone.  The first, the free to play version.  Similar to the older facebook games, where you had a limited amount of energy before you had to stop, this game is really only good in small bites.  Once you’ve completed your daily quests, there is absolutely no reason to keep playing.  This game lasts for as long as it takes for you to get your first legendary card (or epic/rares to compete).  This can take a month or more in the F2P game or….

The second game is the one supported by real world cash.  This gets you WELL ahead of the curve and also dictates the class you’re going to play.  These cards are so powerful that they completely shift the rest of the game.  I don’t mean a little bit either.  The difference between a basic set and having just a few rares is the difference between losing in the 3rd round and winning in the 2nd.  In fact, I am of the opinion now that most games are set by the 4th round and the rest is just finishing stuff up, with a few stragglers taking longer.  If you’re still playing at 10 mana, something is likely gone wrong.

Now, this might seems like it’s a bad thing and that’s not really the point. The goal of these posts is to give people some idea of what Hearthstone actually is, and to help set expectations.  I read a fair bit about the game before but I didn’t really grasp the whole card acquisition portion.  Without dumping a significant amount of money, there’s just no game.

The type of F2P game that I enjoy is one where the money buys you fluff or cosmetics.  I typically spend $30-50 dollars on those games (Neverwinter, Marvel Heroes, Rift, etc…) and it makes the game more fun.  Hearthstone has zero fluff.  Every penny you put in has a direct impact on your power.  That is not a business model that I enjoy or one I want to put more time into.

That being said, Zynga made bajillions on this business model and I don’t see why Blizzard can’t do the same.

Hearthstone Part Deux

So I decided to take a second, more in-depth look this time.  I read up on HearthPwn for a few tips on the Mage and Shaman as well.  The downside to this is that after your initial 2-3 quests, you have no money and therefore no new cards.  You get 10 gold for winning 3 matches (which is at best 50/50 when all your cards are crap) and it takes 100 gold to get a new pack of 5 cards.  It’s one of those inverted power curves.

Regardless of the progress mechanics, I figured I’d give it my best shot.  While I think the mage has a ton of strategy, my cards were giving me next to no chance of winning.  There was just not enough synergy to be found.  I decided to try my hand with the Shaman, who oddly enough, is one of my stable of characters in WoW.

The concept of a Shaman in Hearthstone is more or less the Shaman from Burning Crusade.  Your job is to build a team of as many minions as possible, buff them to the gills, then cast Bloodlust.  See, that card gives +3 to all attacks for each card.  Enemy heroes have 30 hit points, and the weakest of your cards has 1 attack (well zero for shaman totems), so you’re looking at a crap-ton of damage if you’re able to get 4 minions out.  And with a Murloc deck, this is someone simple.

Here’s the flow.  Get a deck of summon cards, that are cheap, ideally Murlocs.  There’s one that boosts ALL murlocs by 1 as well, which is part of the fun.  They are super cheap (1-2 mana) and your job is to stall until 5-6 mana with whatever other cards you can get.  Turn 5 comes around, you send out every minion you can and wait til the next turn.  By that time, you should hopefully have enough boost cards (Flametongue, Rockbiter or Windfury) to get some serious damage going.  If by chance you can get your hands on a Bloodlust (always have 2 in the deck), then the enemy is pretty much dead.

I was down 3-30 on a mage tonight, pulled out the above card drop and killed her in 1 round.   I don’t want to know how that feels on the other side.

The disadvantage to this deck and strategy is two-fold.  First, you have a fair amount of weak cards and boosts, which are not useful if the enemy can AE you or tank.  Second, you’re pretty much useless until turn 6.  If an enemy can get 3 minions out by then, you’re pretty much toast.

So it’s either I win in 1-2 rounds, late game, or I get my butt wiped on the floor.  If I can play Bloodlust, it’s a win, if I don’t get the card, there’s a 90% chance I’m dead.  An all-or-nothing approach isn’t super strategic.

The fact remains that I’ve only seen a small portion of all cards and that building a deck right now is extremely limited.   The only way to find more is to gamble on other cards.  I despise gambling.  I hate lockboxes as they are the plague on the game.  I understand that games of chance are important and RNG is important but the entire game is based on a foundation of lottery chances at specific cards that practically guarantee success.  It isn’t directly buy-to-win, but damn if it isn’t close.

Blizzard is going to make a pile of cash.

Hearthstone – First Impressions

Lucky me.  Free night with no overtime and no kids with a sick wife and I get an invite to Hearthstone beta.  Things are looking up!

I played some minor Magic way back when.  Even some of the Pokemon cards too.  I remember having fun but I don’t remember why I stopped playing.  I think after tonight’s session, I know why.

I live for spreadsheets.  I analyze everything, to the smallest detail.  I used to take great pleasure of making decks for different purposes.  Mathematically they were super sound.  Sure, you’d end up against someone who spent 2K on their deck and get wiped off the floor but by and large, things went well. Until.

You hit that streak of 4-5 games where absolutely nothing came out right.  And I mean nothing.  Where typical card games have a complex mana system, Hearthstone simply gives you 1 more every round until a cap of 10.  So round 1, you get 1.  Round 2 you get 2 and so on.   This greatly simplifies one of the more frustrating parts of other games where you have the cards but no mana.  Hearthstone somehow made the focus against smart play (since you spread mana around) and focused on luck of the draw.

I got a mage up until 12, a shaman up til 6 and played some warrior and priest.  On the whole, I did fairly well, even in the PvP matches.  The kicker was that it took 1-2 card pulls to make or break a game.  I get polymorph on his giant and I win.  He gets 3 “draw on heal” plus a lucky healing totem and he wins.  The game has been so simplified that skill has next to nothing to do with it.

So I tried something.  I played left to right, whichever card I had mana for.  I had no strategy, just left to right, see what happens.  You know what?  There’s no difference for the majority of the games.  There are a few where 1-2 cards played at the right time make a huge difference (minions, then minion boost, then bloodlust) and you need to pay attention but those are every 10 games or so. I mean, Windfury is great but not if all you have to play it on is Murlocs for 4 games straight.

PvE you get to pick the type of opponent, so you have an idea of their overall deck.  Priest is big on tanks, warrior on outright damage and so on.  That makes sense.  You can build a deck against that.  PvP however, it’s a random match.  A typical mage deck is going to get squashed by a hunter.  It would be nice to have some level of control on that or instead, just have random cards selected.  It just seems to remove the strategy, since each card is worth more.

Is Hearthstone good to look at?  For sure.  Is it fun to play?  If your cards come out half decent, why not.  Is it a keeper?  Unlikely.  I am in the skill portion where the cards are just not good enough to be competitive.  All my minions have 2-3 hit points and 2-3 attack.  The big guys come out and get killed in 1 round because the enemy has tanked their taunts.  My skill only comes into play once every 5-10 games and honestly, that has no semblance of fun for me.

If I can’t find a way to improve and it’s simply a battle against RNG, then I’m on to something else.  Going to have to take a much deeper dive…