Given that the Bears are a couple months away from Free Agency, we’re distancing ourselves from Christmas, and the only other thing going on is the Blackhawks chugging along in preparation for another potentially awkward playoff run, I woke up this morning with a hankering to write about Hearthstone.
Hearthstone, for those not aware, is a digital card game where you use heroes from the World of Warcraft (a game I’ve never played), using minions and spells to gradually (or very, very quickly) take the enemy player’s health from 30 to 0. The game has been available on Windows/OS/iOS since 2014, and I’ve been playing regularly since about 6 months after its release.
For context, I used to be hopelessly addicted to Magic: The Gathering, and if you’re still reading I don’t need to explain how that game works or what it is. I was obsessed to the point of stealing, and got hooked on that game at way, way too young of an age, especially considered I had no income or any sense of financial responsibility. All I knew is that I wanted/needed cards.
I lied to get cards. I stole to get cards. I don’t know how much I poured into buying/trading cards from Harrison’s Bicycle Shop, but I did a lot I’m not proud of, to say the least.
I kept all the MTG cards I owned in a Van’s shoebox underneath my bed in the basement for years, and within that box were probably 15 or 16 decks and a couple hundred other cards. Our basement was prone to flooding, and sure enough I went into my bedroom after one very rainy night to find my Van’s shoebox halfway drowned, all the cards within, all the cards I lied and stole and broke myself to acquire, all ruined.
It hit me very hard that I had spent all that money on paper. Colorful, entertaining, but ultimately fragile paper.
(This can be somewhat ironic considering I’ve spent several hundred dollars on board games over the last 15 months or so, but let’s not think about that…)
Since Hearthstone has come out, I’ve gained an appreciation for some of the smaller things that the game has to offer:
- No physical cards – I can’t leave them in a box in the basement where they’ll get ruined!
- Has a system of game gold and “dust” which can be used to respectively buy packs or craft cards. Neat!
- Has daily quests which don’t usually ask a lot (at least these days) and give me more gold. Hooray!
- Games are typically short, lasting anywhere from 5-15 minutes, so I can play a game or two and move on to something else.
The other stuff that is fun about Hearthstone and keeps me playing are the perks of it being digital:
- Each card enters play, attacks, and perishes with unique audio cues, and sometimes spectacular animations. It’s awesome to play Nozdormu and see the game board aswirl with wind-blown desert sand, or see the entire board (and other already-played cards) shake with the entry of King Krush, or watch Brann Bronzebeard swing down from a vine into the field of play. It’s flavor like that which makes the game pleasing to the senses.
- Unique deck archetypes are available that can’t really happen outside of the digital realm. The two most currently popular ones are the “Reno” (REpeat NOne) where particular cards will trigger powerful effects if you have no duplicates in your deck; the other being “Patches,” an intensely obnoxious early-game coup where if you summon a pirate, Patches (a 1/1 charge minion) enters play and immediately puts you or your enemy behind.
- Unlike MTG or other similar ilk, I can play a game and come back later or the next day. I don’t have to drag my decks around with me and dedicate a block of time to playing the same person/group of people.
For all that, there are some drawbacks:
- The current game modes kind of suck. Ranked mode is a grind to reach “Legend,” which takes HOURS/DAYS/WEEKS of grinding, repetitive play, and once you reach a certain point you only see the same few decks (more on that later). Arena costs gold (or money) to enter, and you draft a deck from random/often unfortunate selections of cards. You then match up against players who got infinitely luckier than you did, and often you don’t get your money or gold’s worth back from the experience. Tavern Brawl is a weekly event with a specialized format that rewards you a Classic pack after you win. These are only fun (to me) for a half hour, and while I’m glad they’re around, there’s rarely enough incentive to keep playing after the first win.
- The development team of Team 5/Blizzard rarely communicates with the fan base. They’re working on this (finally!) so this complaint could be void here in a few weeks, but considering the frothing nature of the fan base (more on that later too), it’d be awesome to know more about not only how they cultivate and test their ideas for new cards, but also how they see the future of the game. The Hearthstone experience has been virtually the same for years now, and the developers are fairly taking their time working on this, but it often doesn’t feel like they care or are actually considering the stale nature of the game modes a problem because they simply don’t communicate often enough. That will hopefully change very soon.
- The fan base can get really, really annoying. I love reddit and appreciate the passion and zeal of online communities, but like everything else at that level, objectivity and compromise are often abandoned in favor of either universal praise or belligerent outrage. It’s just a bit of a drag that is affecting our culture as Americans, not just limited to the silly community obsessed with a digital card game, but I digress…
- Netdecks are a huge, huge problem, and we are all guilty of this. Let’s talk about this in paragraph form, actually.
NETDECKS ARE AN UNAVOIDABLE PLAGUE
The game releases expansions and adventures several times a year, putting new cards in circulation and removing others from “Standard” format, and several weeks afterward there is a new “Meta” to deal with. Essentially 1-4 powerful decks are finely crafted and honed within days of release and very quickly you’ll see virtually those very same 1-4 decks every time you play in Ranked.
It’s only slightly better currently, but for the majority of 2016 if you queued into Ranked mode, you would run into Midrange Shaman 80% of the time. Not an exaggeration. Previous broken Metas included such poisonously powerful decks like Patron Warrior and Secret Paladin.
Once these decks are perfected, the bulk of the community plays with them almost exclusively in order to achieve the highest winrate. This has gotten so bad that I’ve had to take months off from the game in order to let Team 5 nerf/patch the broken cards in order to salvage the meta, and they’re not known for their expedience. I’m not the only one who gets this way about the game.
This problem ultimately can’t be avoided, as it’s up to the community to try new things and forsake their bloodthirsty desire to win by trying inventive decks that, win or lose, are routinely fun. As so often happens with any competitive game, a lot of players don’t play to play – they play to win, and if they don’t win? They blame the game, and/or they turn to hate speech to salt the earth afterward. It’s unfortunate, but understandable to an extent.
Understandable because, like every card game like this, skill only goes so far – you need good luck. Luck with your draws, luck with the random nature of card discovery, and luck with all of the mechanics the game offers that doesn’t just hand you the win. Team 5, to their credit, wants the heart of Hearthstone to be casual, RNG-driven fun, and at the end of the day I think there’s a great allotment of players who don’t care about winning or losing so much as enjoying the experience. It just needs a lot of help with its game modes in the future to save what’s halfway down the path to an overall terrific game.
Anyway, if you have some disposable income and want to give Hearthstone a whirl, give it a shot. I know it’s “Free To Play,” but honestly you’ll need at least $250 to invest initially in buying packs to swell your collection to an extent where you can win a few games and create enough interesting decks to keep you amused.
Did I mention that you’d need money to enjoy this game? Because if I didn’t, I’m going to – this game isn’t for people looking for free stuff. You can play this game for free if you’re EXTREMELY dedicated and patient, but there are maybe only handfuls of people with that kind of temperament and dedication to make it actually work.
Anyway, I’ve gone on for a couple hours now and my coffee is getting cold. I’m going to queue up and play a game or two real quick and …
…dammit. Another Pirate Warrior. Screw this game.