Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s Warcraft themed digital collectable card game, went live rather suddenly yesterday. There was a patch, a press release, and, hey presto, it was no longer in beta.
I suppose I should applaud Blizzard for not keeping the game in eternal beta, though that sort of behavior might have fallen out of vogue here in the post-Zynga world. Which is fine. I tend to at least furrow my brow severely at any game that is taking in money while claiming to be in beta. Or alpha.
I actually downloaded Hearthstone back in January after reading John Smedley’s praise of the game (and how it might get SOE to do something with its own 6+ year old Legends of Norrath collectable card game). But I did not actually play it then.
I think I launched the game and played the first step of the tutorial and then went back to something else.
Collectable card games are not really my thing. The last time I took a stab at one was at the height of my daughter’s investment in Pokemon, when she was watching the TV show, seeing the movies, playing the video games, and wanted to round out her devotion by playing the card game. Unfortunately, she only had me to play with and after a couple runs at it I declined to continue.
And while there are a number of reasons for my disinterest, high on the list was the general housekeeping . This is why I enjoy games on the computer so much, there is a machine that takes care of the details. Solitaire used to be a big deal for my grandmother, who used to play several hands of it every day after lunch. She would pour herself a Coke, light up a cigarette, and deal out a deck of cards to take another try at “beating the Chinaman.”
Apparently some mythical Chinese guy was you opponent in solitaire back in the day. My grandmother couldn’t explain it other than to say that was what her mother said when she was young. At that point we’re talking about somebody who was alive while Queen Victoria reigned.
Anyway, I was always fascinated watching her. But attempts to play myself were always ended pretty quickly by the mere effort of card handling. And the fact that, after all the work of shuffling and laying out the cards and then moving strings of them this way and that, cheating seemed like a reasonable step once you hit a road block that would undo all that effort. And once you start cheating you always win so there is no point in playing.
It wasn’t until the late 80s, when I found a good solitaire game on the Mac, that I actually enjoyed playing. And I enjoyed it because the computer took care of the annoying bits as well as the fact that cheating was no longer possible. I played a lot of it back then. And, of course, once Microsoft put a version in as part of Windows 3, it became a vast time-wasting obsession for many people. A couple companies I have worked for have specifically removed the game from all company computers, lest we fritter away the days playing solitaire.
(Meanwhile, my grandmother quit smoking a few years later… pretty much everybody in my family smoked when I was born and then gave it up eventually… which, in turn, ended her solitaire playing. The whole Coke, cigarette, solitaire routine was a tight knit package and she couldn’t have one without the other two.)
I am sure after that side-trip down memory lane (I miss my late grandmother), some CCG fan somewhere is tapping their foot impatiently, ready to point out that there are all sorts of digital versions of collectable card games out there that take care of the housekeeping chores… like, say, Hearthstone, which I have already said I downloaded and installed.
Which leads us to the other thing I am not too keen about when it comes to collectable card games: They are pretty much designed as vehicles to sell product.
I like playing card games. I have played cards all my life. I still enjoy solitaire now and again. My wife and I will play Gin Rummy at the kitchen table. For a good fifteen years a group of former co-workers and I used to get together every other Wednesday night to play cards.
And never once in that time has the United States Playing Card Company introduced a new playing card to the standard 52 card deck (plus two Jokers and that odd ball rules card that somebody always forgets to remove) that forced me to go out and buy little random packets of playing cards in order to stay competitive. Sure, there are some fancy decks, as well as the occasional pinochle deck that used to confuse me as a child. And I have quite the collection of decks with various casino logos on the back. But otherwise a standard pack of cards stands alone.
Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, beyond a certain point of play, Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon or whatever other big name CCG you care to name, are all about introducing cards over time to get people to buy new card packs. It is a fairly lucrative business as I understand it. I just have no interest in supporting it.
And the same goes for the digital versions, like Legends of Norrath and Hearthstone. Their purpose in the world is to sell more cards. Only you don’t even get nice physical cards to hold in your hand and, at least in the case of Legends of Norrath, they seek to replicate the whole “pack unwrapping” process in the most annoying way possible.
So Hearthstone, despite all the praise it has garnered, remained low enough on my list of things to do that it was pretty much untouched since the day I downloaded it.
And then Blizzard said, “How would you like a free mount in World of Warcraft?“
They certainly know which button to press. I will jump through many a hoop for a new mount. Pretty much my whole reason for grinding all of the factions in Mists of Pandaria is that Blizz was wise enough to give each faction quartermaster at least one mount you could buy, but only after you hit exalted. And I am not alone in that regard.
So I joined in with probably many other WoW players last night in learning to play Hearthstone. I managed to shamble my way through the tutorial, learning the game despite myself. It took me four tries to get past the Hemet Nesingwary part of the tutorial, which was trying to get you to contain your opponents minions. With Illidan Stormrage I managed to grasp the “go for the throat” message it was sending after only one failed pass.
And then it was off to face my fellow WoW players, all stacked at the bottom of the rankings in what seemed to be a pretty universal pile of poor players in it for the mount. Or such is my guess, because I managed to win the three games necessary for the mount in only four tries. The one time I lost I was matched up against somebody who, if they didn’t know what they were doing, they had at least gained more from the tutorial than I had. They were also the only person I played that wasn’t using the default Mage deck.
The other three though I beat simply because they made even more mistakes than I did. The most common mistake seemed to be to click the “End Turn” button before having your minions on the field attack. Must not click that button until you hear the “Job’s done” quip. The second most common mistake looked to be ignoring the opposing minions altogether in hopes of knocking out the opposition in a concerted attack. My last opponent made that mistake in spades.
He knocked me down from 30 to 15 in fairly short order and only then seemed to realize that my minions were going to do him in faster than he could hope to finish me off, in much the same way Hemet Nesingwary did me in three times. So I guess that segment of the tutorial worked. The coup de grace was drawing the six damage fireball card when he only had two points left and was already facing an unstoppable minion attack.
But more important that stomping my opponent was getting that mount.
Of course, at that point I left Hearthstone to log into WoW to see if my mount had been delivered. I had read a number of early complaints about people not getting credit for their three wins or not getting the mount delivered or some other sad story. But when I logged in, it was waiting for me in the mail.
Of course, I got it out and joined the other people running around and otherwise attempting to be “that guy on the horse” at the various congregation points in Azeroth. There were plenty of us. I wonder how many people got the “Hearthsteed” achievement that goes with the mount yesterday?
It isn’t a bad looking mount, all things considered. The effort spent getting was worth it, relative to many other mounts I have gone after. I certainly spent more time per mount working on the Netherwing faction.
An evening well spent, at least in my book.
But will I go back and play Hearthstone after this?
There is the question.
While I was fixated on getting my three wins, I did have fun playing against real people, even way down at the bottom of the skill level curve. My evening was well spent playing as well as obtaining.
On the other hand, Hearthstone is still well down the list of games to play right now with two other Blizzard titles, World of Warcraft and Diablo III ahead of it. So I suspect that, for the time being, I won’t be clocking much more time with Hearthstone.
At least until the iPad version becomes available. I could see Hearthstone as a very viable “away from my computer” game to play. And while a version for the iPad has been promised, there is no word on when we might see it. So Hearthstone might be idle for a while.
Unless, of course, the rumors about the Red Hearthsteed turn into something.