I got into a couple of Betas recently, and I can talk about one of them (the other has an NDA as long as my arm). So here’s some thoughts on Hearthstone.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, in case you somehow don’t know, is Blizzard’s Warcraft-based online card game. It’s in closed beta currently, and going into open beta in the next month or two. When it launches, it will be free to play.


Hearthstone’s basic mechanics are similar to Magic the Gathering’s. You have mana you use to summon minions and casts spells, which you use to try and reduce your opponent’s health to 0. Your deck’s type is based on your class, which is represented by a famous figure of that class in Warcraft lore. There are currently 9 classes, covering the 9 base classes from WoW’s vanilla release. Certain cards can only be in your deck if it is the right class. Warriors can put Cleave in their decks, Hunters get Arcane Shot, etc. Each class deck also has a Hero Power, a 2 Mana ability that they may use each turn.

A pleasant change from Magic is that mana in Hearthstone is not typed or played; all cards use the same generic mana, and each player’s mana pool automatically expands by one each turn. It’s simpler, and you can’t lose a game just by not drawing the mana you need.

The tutorial, tooltips, and AI Practice mode make picking up the game pretty easy, even for newcomers to card games. Every player starts with the Mage deck you unlock other classes when you beat them. You can do this against other players in the matchmaking Play system, against AI in the Practice mode, or just have a friend who already plays concede 8 matches to you (as mine did). Between unique cards and hero powers, each class plays differently, and you can find one to suit your play style with a little practice against the AI or against friends. As in WoW, I find myself a Hunter. Dealing lots of damage with beasts and shots is familiar and fun.


Which brings me to animations and art. This is Blizzard we’re talking about, so of course the game is pretty. They’re taking advantage of the fact that this is not just a card game but a video card game. Minions come up off the table and slam into the target of their attack. Spells erupt in magic or shoot exploding arrows. You don’t count tokens or move enemies into the discard when you attack. Things explode and break when you hit them. Sound effects and voices straight out of WoW accompany each card played. Everything you do has weight and feels satisfying.

This is Blizzard’s first foray into free to play and portable games (iPad, iPhone, and Android versions are all in the works), and it’s pretty great. The purchase model is pretty simple, you buy cards packs. The more pack you buy at once, the cheaper. You can also buy a pass at the Arena, Hearthstone’s form of a Draft. You pick one of 3 randomly chosen classes, and then choose one of three random cards until you have a full deck of 30. Then you play against other people that have done the same. The more you win, the better your prizes (cards, packs, gold, materials for crafting), lose three times, and your run is over. Both card packs and Arena runs can be bought with Gold, which you earn from winning matches or completing your daily Quest (destroy 40 minions, win matches with a certain class, etc.).

I haven’t spent any money on it yet, but we’ll see if that lasts. I managed to hold out for a year on spending any real money in League of Legends, but Blizzard already has my info from when last I played WoW. I won’t even have that time putting in the credit card to resist. Their trap is well made. And if they do end up letting you unlock Hearthstone cards in WoW, I don’t know if I can resist the synergy of two siren calls like that.

As I said, Hearthstone goes into open beta in the next month or so. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of card games and/or Warcraft. There won’t be a wipe between Beta and official release, so there’s almost no reason not to give it a try.

If you’ve been keeping up with Hearthstone news or are already in the beta yourself, sound off in the comments, do you like what you’ve seen/played?

Also: Nerf Mages, Flamestrike OP.