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Hearthstone Review – Another Hand, Another Grand 'Ole Time

Ingredients: free-to-play, trading card game, Warcraft. Add in some other details to increase addiction levels as desired, remove most things that make online play scary and intimidating, and stir vigorously. Test on the huddled masses, altering the taste to the desired outcome before serving piping hot and ready to play.

Blizzard’s Hearthstone is a trading card game based on the company’s household-name franchise Warcraft. Free to play and incredibly addicting, Hearthstone combines an incredible amount of top-quality designs into one seamless game that will have you wondering where your life went four hours later.


It's time to duel!

It’s time to duel!

Like any trading card game, Hearthstone is tied to its card system. The game separates cards into 10 different categories: 9 of those are for each of the playable heroes, celebrities from the Warcraft universe and the last is comprised of cards usable by all of them.

Cards range from the usual spells and “minions,” Hearthstone‘s take on summoned monsters. The spells run the gamut from draw effects to damage and everything in between, but the game mixes in its own personality to keep things fresh. Little blurbs in the loading bars, Rennaissance-y music in the background, and a jovial Innkeeper set the atmosphere of Hearthstone.

Little details like the loading prompts and the music make you wish you were at a table in an inn far away sitting down to a game against a crafty goblin, ale in hand.

Little details like the loading prompts and the music make you wish you were at a table in an inn far away sitting down to a game against a crafty goblin, ale in hand.

With 30 cards per deck and no more than 2 duplicates of any one card allowed, Hearthstone forces players to choose wisely amongst the dozens and dozens of cards available to them. The cards themselves are gorgeous, each with its own original artwork (artists are credited too, a nice homage).

Aside from spells, Hearthstone gives each hero their own special ability. Useable once per turn and strategically indispensible, it shines as another twist on the trading card game basics to set Hearthstone apart.

Players start out in Practice mode which pits the player against the AI and allows them to unlock the different heroes and basic cards. Hearthstone would be incomplete without this mode, as the opportunity to test strategies out alone against the computer as opposed to a real-life opponent is invaluable.

Practice mode is a great way to test a deck, though the basic AI is a pushover after a few games' worth of experience.

Practice mode is a great way to test a deck, though the basic AI is a pushover after a few games’ worth of experience.

Hearthstone’s core gameplay mode is Play, a random matchup against a player of equal standing. Matches are either casual or ranked, and the player can opt to use a pre-constructed basic deck or a custom deck built out of the cards they have from any of the available heroes.

Giving Play mode a try shows that Hearthstone truly considers the player’s enjoyment as the top priority. Seamlessly finding available and eligible opponents, matches also enjoy the complete absence of a chatbox. Players can only use emotes to communicate such as “Thanks,” “Oops,” or “Well played.” Someone overusing them? Squelch ’em – the Hearthstone mute button. Turn time limit to keep things moving? Check. And if you want to play one of your friends deliberately, simply add their username and challenge them to a duel!

I've both kicked butt and received thrashings, but never once felt the victim (or benefactor) of foul play.

I’ve both kicked butt and received thrashings, but never once felt the victim (or benefactor) of foul play.

As this is a trading card game, building decks is a core part of the fun. Once all the available cards for a hero are unlocked, it’s easy to spend a ton of time creating a deck, testing the strategy in Practice or even Play mode, going back to the drawing board, and playing more matches for the sake of getting more cards.

Which, as this is a trading card game, is a huge part of building that perfect deck. Additional “packs” are purchased with either gold or cold, hard cash. Fortunately, getting gold isn’t hard thanks to daily quests and the permanent “win 3 Play matches, get 10 gold” mechanic. The game also tosses some freebies at the player early on to get them started.

What Hearthstone never devolves into is frantic card collecting. This is a game to play, first and foremost. There is no trading of cards, no purchasing of specific cards; the focus is always on giving players as much as they need up front to enjoy the game. Play always feels fair, even when someone drops a legendary monster on the field that they may have gotten lucky with acquiring.

A casual match between a warrior and a mage in the midgame stage. (I got spanked badly in this one.)

A casual match between a warrior and a mage in the midgame stage. (I got spanked badly in this one.)

The final gameplay mode is Arena. For a small cash or gold fee, players can build a 30-card deck by choosing each card from 3 random cards and throw it against other players who have gone through the same process. It’s a breath of fresh air from the standard Play mode, allowing players to focus on creating a completely new and random deck and testing it against others.

Arena takes away the possibility that your opponent dropped $50 on card packs and is loaded with rares. Each player starts on equal footing, and while it isn’t free the rewards at the end more than compensate.

Arena removes the chance that a player could have stacked their deck with purchased packs (I won this match).

Arena removes the chance that a player could have stacked their deck with purchased packs (I won this match).

The final mode of Heartstone is crafting. Non-basic cards i.e. those obtained in packs can all be broken down into mana dust. That dust can be used to create any card in the game; granted, the rarer the card the more dust required (and earned from its destruction) but it provides a great way for players to toss out duplicates and try to earn that card that would work perfectly.

This game thrives on fairness and enjoyability. Every feature is tooled to give as equal a playing ground as possible for everyone, from the one-mana-per-turn game mechanic to the multitude of powerful cards available to each player from the start. Even turn order in matches grants either side a unique advantage.

Players choose cards to mulligan at the start of each match. One player goes first, the second player is granted a bonus card and another bonus to compensate.

Players choose cards to mulligan at the start of each match. One player goes first, the second player is granted a bonus card and another bonus to compensate.

Card animations provide the icing on the cake. Monsters don’t come to life, but every card played is accompanied by a magical light show. Monsters growl their intent in uniquely voiced quips, and the sensation of watching the board erupt in flames because you played a card is immensely satisfying.

Hearthstone is accessible and fun. Even without purchasing cards it’s a very fun game to play and winning repeatedly is very possible. The game’s mechanics are easily learned, but combining them into a winning strategy is a complex and fun process.

See you on the board!

Final Breakdown

[+Addicting] [+Polished] [+Fair online play] [+Premium mode doesn’t lock out freebies] [+Variety of play modes] [+Challenging] [+Complex strategy] [+Matches play quickly] [+Free!] [-Paying for extra packs of cards will inevitably give a slight advantage over the freeloaders]

Superb Review Score

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