Saturday, January 04, 2014


Thanks to the generosity of one Richard Hill, I have access to Hearthstone.

First things first, its a really fun, solid game. The animation is lovely, its simple, and fun. The actual game itself is engrossing and smart, and there are lots of good choices to be made despite the simplicity of the concepts available to you.

The financial model... I'm less happy about. CCGs are notorious for the amount of money you need to spend on them to be able to produce a "good" deck. Hearthstone is no exception. You only get 5 cards in each deck, and the best cards have very low drop rates. You can theoretically destroy existing cards to get "dust" which can be used to buy cards you don't have, but thats very expensive. I don't know how much money one would have to spend to get all the available cards, but I imagine it would be thousands of pounds.

Of course, theres no obligation to spend any money, or even much money. You do start with a reasonably large set of cards, and can unlock more through playing. Indeed, through the process of playing the game you will get gold which will allow you to buy more cards. My problem with this is that this set of cards is fairly dull. At the moment my problem with "play" mode, where you use the cards you own to build decks is that you are allowed a limit of 9 decks for the 9 characters, each with their own play style. This encourages the idea that there is a "correct" version of each deck. I find this idea a bit less fun. The reason I've always liked deck building in Magic the Gathering is that I'd see some fun looking cards which go together, and try to build a deck with them. Hearthstone doesn't have that yet, so I'm reduced to just honing various decks, which I find profoundly less fulfilling.

My favourite mode is, perhaps unsurprisingly then, arena, where you get to choose one of three cards. This is a bit more of a level playing field, although, because you do have to pay to enter, and you do get rewards from winning, there are clear random elements. The three random cards you choose from do vary in quality, and there are some times I feel I've got a good deck not because of my choices, but simply because I was given better cards from selecting in. This mode is clearly meant to be drafting in magic, but in that randomness is much lower, because you choose from the same pool everyone is selecting from.

What I think I'd like for the release version of hearthstone would be a paid version, where I paid a certain amount up front, and got a larger playset of cards, and the opportunity to play a free version of arena, with limited or perhaps no rewards. Sadly, I'm not sure this is something Blizzard would do. Free to play games are such massive cash cows they don't want to limit themselves to the amount of money they'd get from just charging a normal value for the game, instead they want so squeeze all the money they can get from the addicted players of the game, who want just one more card....

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