A brilliantly-streamlined take on the collectible card game and a free-to-play title that doesn't bog you down in microtransactions
Officially speaking, Hearthstone is still in Beta, but with the game essentially finished and the ability to spend real-world cash on cards, we saw no reason to hold back on a full review
World of Warcraft and Magic the Gathering are two of the most successful games of all time – the former defined the MMO, while the latter did the same for collectible card games (CCG). Now, Warcraft developer Blizzard has taken its colourful fantasy world and created an online, collectible card game set within it, that game is Hearthstone.
WARM AND COSY
In the simplest terms, Hearthstone is a two-player, turn-based, head-to-head fight. Each player uses a customised deck of 30 cards, which he has picked from his own much-larger collection. Cards can be abilities, spells or minions, summoned to fight on your behalf. Each of these has a cost from 1 mana point for the weakest cards, up to 10 for the most powerful. You start with a hand of cards and draw a new one every turn. Cards are played to attack your opponent and defend yourself; each of you has 30 hit points and the first one to hit zero loses.
Here we play the Houndmaster, who will boost the Attack and Health attributes of any ‘Beast’ minion on the board
All of this is pretty much par-for-the-course for such games, in fact Hearthstone is refreshingly streamlined compared to some, with games lasting no more than 15 minutes a piece. This is because players don’t have to play cards to get mana, instead you automatically get one point to spend in the first turn, two in the second, and so on. This puts the emphasis firmly on the action from the off.
Things rarely get quite this hectic, but with two Shamans playing the board is likely to get flooded with minions and summoned totems to upgrade them
Since Magic’s success there have been innumerable takes on the format, both with real and virtual cards, but the sheer popularity of Warcraft shoves Hearthstone straight into the spotlight. And boy does it gleam in the limelight, with the company’s sumptuous production values being immediately evident. The game is played in a boisterous fantasy inn, the gameboard is surrounded by a variety of interactive dioramas, but it’s the cards themselves that really shine. Blizzard’s artists have really gone to town here, with each card being beautifully designed and illustrated.
You can spend quite some time crafting decks from your available cards
There’s a lot of cards too. At present there are 9 playable characters in the game, each of which fits to one of WoW’s character classes, such as Warrior, Priest, Hunter or Shaman. Each character has around 30 cards which are unique to them, their special abilities and allies, plus there’s a couple of hundred neutral cards that can be used by any character. From those cards you can design and save up to nine 30-card decks to take online and compete with.
The nine characters each have their own abilities and approaches, for example the Priest heals himself and upgrades his minions with spells, while the Hunter has direct attacks and abilities that boost ‘Beast’ type minions