I never had that much experience playing card games growing up. Well, over 20 years ago, I remember playing a lot of Quests of the Round Table with friends. It was a King Arthur/Camelot based card game for 2-4 players. I had a grand old time, and I recall we modified the rules sometimes to suit our needs, as a bunch of 5-year-olds are wont to do. The feel of cards in your fingers; the excitement of drawing a high-impact card, peering at your opponent over your hand. Combining monsters, weapons and heroes in battle –it was all a great way to have fun and pass the time.
It wouldn’t be until about 15 years later that I played card games again. A good buddy of mine started introducing me to Magic: The Gathering. I remember learning it was a bit tricky, but I had a good time. Sadly, he moved away later, so I never continued playing.
Cue Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which was released in early 2014. I follow game news, so of course I was aware of the game’s existence but, though I had it downloaded and installed, and meant to make a “hearthstone impressions” video for the MGC YouTube channel, never got around to it. So many other games were dominating my time it just passed my radar.
Towards the end of 2014, I finally opened up Hearthstone. The welcoming tavern owner and the infectiously cheerful music were quick to pull me in. The tutorial did a good job of introducing me to the mechanics and I was soon on my way, attempting to blast people with Jaina’s spells and enjoying the card draw power of Warlocks.
An experienced friend helped me craft some initial useful cards, such as the Abusive Sergeant which is a great card for a lot of play styles, and I was soon flooding the board with Zoolock and continually adjusting my Mage decks to see what worked. The “easy to learn, hard to master” aspect of the game was enticing and kept me playing and learning.
While the RNG can be extremely frustrating sometimes, I have learned to work around it as much as possible by making consistent decks. The thrill of drawing a great or much-needed card is still present, as is the excitement of playing it. While you can’t slap it down and grin at your friend (or opponent) in triumph the way you could at a table, many cards have amusing quips or special effects when played. Of course there will be games where either player will lose due to sheer bad luck, but overall the cards you put in your deck and the plays you make will determine the match’s outcome.
Another thing I love about Hearthstone is just how quick it is to play. Only have 10 or 15 minutes? Maybe on a work break or just need your “game fix”? An average match of Hearthstone takes about 10 minutes, sometimes less. After sinking thousands of hours into MOBAs which normally demand much more of your time per match, Hearthstone is very refreshing. And even if you have to abandon a match, it’s not a big deal. Just hit that concede button and be on your way. You aren’t affecting anyone like you would in a team-based game, which makes having to walk away from it guilt-free.
While it’s easy to lookup what is known as constructed decks online, you can also just have fun making decks yourself. I tinkered around with making a 100% stealth minion deck for Rogue and pissed people off because they could never target my minions unless they attacked. These sort of cheese decks won’t let you climb past a certain point in ranked mode, but they aren’t meant to. They are meant to be silly and fun, and succeed in doing so. If you don’t want to risk your precious ranks in the ladder, you can always hop into Casual mode and try whatever you want without being penalized for losing.
You can also, of course, spectate or challenge your friends. I will often be in my voice server with a few friends as we spectate each other’s games, offering advice or tips. Otherwise we gleefully challenge each other with new decks, or put ourselves in the hands of the RNG gods by hitting “new class” and leave, which will autofill all 30 cards for you. You can even do an arena-style challenge by using the deck-builder which will lets you pick 1 of 3 cards until you have 30. Tavern Brawl adds further options with often crazy brawl rules being implemented.
While Hearthstone (and other digital card games) lack the physical experience of games such as Magic: The Gathering, they do have a lot of built-in convenience. You don’t have to carry cards around with you, and you can play anywhere you have access to a computer or smartphone. Crafting decks is obviously a large part of any card game, and Hearthstone makes that easy. While some people complain about only having nine deck slots, I find this to be plenty. Basically you can carry around nine decks with you at all times, and modify them quickly and easily as you like. Maybe I want to change my Face Hunter to a Midrange, or my Tempo Mage to a Freeze. Card categorization and search makes this all a breeze.
I don’t play Hearthstone every day of the year, but it’s always there when I want it to be, and it’s easy on-demand fun on my computer or in my pocket. That is, perhaps, what I love about it most of all.