I’ll preface this by saying that I played a pretty solid amount of Magic: The Gathering back in college. Well, college and a small period of time right at the start of middle school when my fellow planeswalkers and I would gather in the library before class and play using our middle school grasp of the rules. However, I’m going to count college as the more significant time due to the fact that when I was thirteen, I barely had money to spend at the movies, let alone on an expensive and self-sustaining hobby. Actually, looking back on it, I didn’t have that in college either, but I was way better at making pasta and rationalizing at that point in time. This doesn’t make me a connoisseur of CCGs in any way, in fact I only can say that I’ve played MTG in any sort of long-term capacity, but I’ve seen and sampled others and I hardcore respect the level of strategy, artwork, and immense replayability that they boast. CCGs offer a unique type of fun that can only come from a strategy game where you select all your pieces, plan how they will synergize, then test them against the strategy and wits of another player. Not to mention the random aspect of having to pull from a shuffled deck, and all of the frustration it can lead to.
Hearthstone, which I’ve just recently given a second chance, appears to understand what is fun about card games and even goes a step further on a few accounts. What is especially interesting about it for me, however, is not the card combinations, or the flavor of the cards, or even the complex meta game (all of which are pretty much comparable to every other card game out there), it’s the way that Hearthstone capitalizes on the advantages that it’s medium offers. What I mean by this is that it brings certain mechanics to the CCG formula that would be otherwise unwieldy or impossible to bring into the real world, and it brings them in with hilarious and fun results. First and foremost in the random number generator. I didn’t actually notice it until it was pointed out by a friend, but Hearthstone makes use of a lot of random effects: from the coin flip at the start, to certain spell or minion abilities, to the mechanic for building an arena deck. It plays on and increases the level of unpredictability on a match by match basis, while being very sure not to stray too far into Mario Party territory. Even if it does get ridiculous at times, it simply is adding onto the randomness of drawing from a shuffled deck; the heart of the cards, or the luck of the draw, or whatever it is you want to call it. It also serves to increase Hearthstone‘s accessibility to new or casual players (like myself), while adding a new and interesting facet to how CCGs usually work. Apparently it’s a very polarizing aspect about the game, with some players loving it and others hating it. I think it’s an interesting way to change up the CCG format, and makes a lot of room for unique play. Then again, it hasn’t really, really, screwed me over yet.
Hearthstone also does something that I absolutely love. It limits what you can say to you opponent to a simple chat wheel. This seems like it would be a bad thing, but honestly, it’s one of my favorite things about the game. The only things that you really need to say to your opponent in a round are “Hello” and “Good Game,” and at least for me, everything else stresses me out. That’s not to say I think that all games should be without interfaces for communication, and talking with your opponent can lead to finding a new friend (although, most of the time not.) This sort of low-key communication just seems to fit so well with the feel that Hearthstone goes for, both in it’s flavor and it’s design. Duels feel more like friendly bouts rather than fights to the death for the fate of the universe, and they seem to carry the same stakes. Losing a game isn’t the end of the world, they’re fast, breezy, and generally fun regardless of the outcome. That being said, the whole paying for expansions and booster packs with real world money tends to take the wind out of my sails in most situations, and Hearthstone is no exception. That’s more of a personal preference however, and honestly how actual CCGs work anyway, so as someone who has spent an embarrassingly large amount on printed pieces of card-paper, I really don’t have too much room to talk.
Good gaming, ladies and gentlemen!