My "Murloc Deck" about to go to work
My “Murloc Deck” about to go to work

Finally — FINALLY! — got into the Hearthstone beta last night. I’ve been looking forward to this game since… well, probably since I stopped playing Wizard101. Deck construction was always the part I liked best about that game. Always having that perfect card available. Welcoming additional players in my circle because the more enemies, the sweeter the victory.

That was all training day stuff compared to Hearthstone, though. Though not up to the complexity of severely tactical games such as Magic: the Gathering, there’s still quite a lot of depth. I’ll have to get my son’s take on it. He was big into CCGs back in the day, Yu-Gi-Oh mainly.

I thought I was the only one in my circles who hadn’t got into the beta, but apparently there are still one or two people who aren’t already playing it, so —

Your avatar on the game board is a Hero, one of Norrath’s notable nameds. I got started off as the mage Jaina Proudmoore, leader of the Kirin Tor and ruler of Dalaran. Heroes from the other normal WoW classes may be unlocked by defeating them in practice battles. I didn’t see newer classes such as Deathknight or Monk, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t show up soon. Both showed up in the tutorial, after all — the Deathknight in the person of Illidan himself.

Blame the terrible game designers!
Blame the terrible game designers!

Despite the warning, Illidan was a pushover…. IN THE TUTORIAL. The AI players have a bit more bite in the practice game. And when it’s time to meet other players…

Based on the Hero’s class, they have innate powers they may cast. Most of the time, though, they’ll be playing cards from their carefully constructed decks.

Each turn, you earn an additional spell gem, up to the maximum of ten. Every card has a cost to play, which takes a certain number of spell gems. At the start of a match, you’ll only be able to play weak cards, but by the fifth turn, both sides will be bringing considerable firepower onto the board.

Cards are divided between minions and actions. Most minions are general cards that may be played by anyone; the actions are generally associated with the hero you’re playing. Minions cannot attack on the turn they are played, unless they are one of the ones that can. Like M:tG and other CCGs, certain cards can change the rules. Once active, they can attack either enemy minions or the enemy hero (based, again, on which other cards are in play).

The game ends when either hero’s health falls to zero or below.

My mage/murloc deck — the one I made when I saw how many murloc minion cards I’d earned — is designed to bring a large number of low level cards out near the start of the game to bring the enemy hero’s health low as soon as possible, while using mage abilities (sheep, freeze, frost nova and the like) to keep their minions out of the fight. This breaks down if the fight lasts too long, or the enemy hero can heal, but — it’s just my first day. I’ll shake the bugs out.

Winning matches wins you additional cards, experience for your hero (who gain more cards as they level to the maximum of ten), and quest completion which gets you even MORE cards. And then there are the achievements. If you’re lucky, you’ll earn some of the rarer cards which are key to winning matches against other players.

When the cash shop opens, you’ll be able to buy more packs, each with the chance of a rare that you need. You’ll be able to trade and sell these cards as well. Neither the cash shop nor the auction house were enabled last night.

More on Hearthstone as I get more experience with it. Players have said that Hearthstone has gotten them playing World of Warcraft again, but I remember too well what playing WoW is like. Completing quests solo in empty zones, and dungeon finder groups where nobody talks except to tell you how you screwed up.

Hearthstone and the League-of-Legends-ish Heroes of the Storm are the vanguard of Blizzard’s new F2P gaming strategy. With the era of monolithic games like its own World of Warcraft ending, keeping people in the setting they’ve spent a decade building is the best way to take their considerable intellectual property into today’s emphasis on casual gaming.

Bringing the Blizzard reputation to bear in existing genres, such as MOBAs and CCGs, is no more than they did when they rewrote the MMO rulebook with the original World of Warcraft, or redefined rogue-likes with the original Diablo. Blizz has the good will of tens of millions current and former WoW players as their ambassadors into these new games, and every indication is that they will conquer at least the online CCG world with Hearthstone.

Heroes of the Storm verses League of Legends, though? That’s another battle.

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Web developer for a Connecticut-based insurance company that's over 200 years old! Also a bicycler, a blogger, a kayaker, and a hunter of bridges.

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