Hearthstone: Another Blizzard Masterpiece, Inconceivable!
Hearthstone was the result of a small group of veteran game developers at Blizzard Entertainment (makers of mega-hits World of Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch, and Starcraft). Rather than relying on large teams of fifty or more, they formed Team 5, a small group of fifteen game development veterans, and charged them with coming up with something different...something unlike anything Blizzard had never done before. The team started work in 2008, and after multiple prototypes, they released their free online collectible card game to the public in 2014. After only three years they now have over fifty million players, over four times as many as World of Warcraft at its peak. And while the game is free to play, there are a variety of in-game microtransactions available to players. Blizzard’s venture continues to pay dividends, raking in over twenty million dollars per month.
While originally it was only available on OS X and Windows, it has since been ported to iOS and Android, with cross-platform play available. The game challenges players to put together themed decks of thirty cards, centered around nine possible heroes with different core powers. There are currently 1054 available cards, which are gained via leveling up your heroes, completing challenges, crafting, and purchasing card packs. At this point I have played the game for about three months, and have held firm to my resistance to purchase any microtransactions. Nonetheless, I have collected roughly one-third of the total cards, and my heroes range in level from 15 to 31. The game itself starts each hero with thirty health, with the winner being the player who knocks their opponent down to zero or less health first. I play the game predominantly on my iPad, although I will play it on my computer from time to time. The iOS version of the game scored a 93/100 on Metacritic, and is in my opinion the top game available for the iPad. It boasts extremely high quality hand-crafted graphics, elegant animations, an intuitive user interface, and high quality audio (although I typically play with the volume off).
And while all of this is great, what I particularly like about the game is that at its core it really is a sophisticated one-on-one math challenge. Each minion card has core offensive and defensive statistics, as well as a number of possible bonus abilities. There are also a variety of spells you can cast, and it is not simply a quest to find the “best” cards, but rather to find the best combination of cards, cards that work together synergistically. The top players have constructed some very clever decks, and it is both in the construction, as well as the execution of tactics during gameplay, that ultimately determines your fate. And as there are no twitch elements (in Starcraft, for example, top players are measured by the number of “clicks per second” they can execute during gameplay), Hearthstone is the closest you will come to a pure Princess Bride style “Battle of the Wits.” To keep track of your progress, the game infuses a player ranking system, rewarding players after each month-long season based on how high up the ladder you climb. It also boasts a more casual “Tavern Brawl” mode that is a little more rompy, and exposes players temporarily to new and rare cards. Overall Hearthstone is absolutely rock-solid, and Team 5 certainly succeeded in creating Blizzard’s “next big thing.”
Dr. Anthony Betrus