Hearthstone Review: Free Computer Card Game Greatness

I love me some card games. I’m also a big fan of computer games. And last but not least, I’m a huge fan of free. Put them all together in one big glossy well-produced package, and you’ve got one happy Bryce. That’s just what it looks like Blizzard is up to right now in Hearthstone, a new free-to-play card game that just went to open Beta. (What does that mean? It means the real game isn’t released just yet, but you can play it in the test phase. They might make some tweaks to it, but you still get access early.)

I downloaded the game . . . Wednesday? I think that was the day. In any case, I’ve had a chance to put it through some test runs, and I have to say I’m very impressed, and the fellow gamers I’ve spoken to have been impressed, too.

This is a virtual collectible card game–like Magic the Gathering, except without the cardboard. You start by picking one of 9 different heroes. Each hero has a different unique ability and a selection of cards that only that hero can use. There are other cards that anyone can put in their deck. You create a deck based on the cards available to you, and you play against another person who’s done the same thing. The goal is to reduce the other person’s life total to 0 from 30. First person dead, loses.

Hearthstone is a pretty streamlined game. It’s not got near the learning curve of Magic the Gathering. Blizzard’s made a great tutorial that you play to begin the game, and by the end of it you should have the basics down pretty well. Of course, since this is a collectible card game, your deck can only be as good as the cards you own for it. But unlike Magic, Hearthstone lets you unlock cards, earn “money” to purchase them, or even craft cards on your own. Basically, you can play for free, although the option to skip the unlocking via paying money is always there.

Some things that I love about the game so far:

  • Ease of finding other players to play against–The game will set up a match for you at any time, against real players, and it usually takes no more than a minute or so. (I haven’t tried it late at night yet, but I’ve tried it at lunch, and it’s been easy then, so I can’t imagine it would be worse at night.)
  • The games are fast and fun. There’s some strategy involved, but it’s mainly just playing a game and having a good time.
  • There are “Quests” you can do to earn in-game currency. Beat a certain number of opponents. Kill a certain number of minions. That kind of thing. It’s a good way to always feel like you’re accomplishing something. Once you earn 100 gold, you can buy a new pack of 5 randomized cards. For 150, you can gain entry to
  • The Arena–sort of like drafting, you’re presented with a series of three cards to pick from. You take one and move on to the next selection. Once you’ve done that 30 times, you have a deck. You then use that deck to play against other people who have done the same thing. You can play with that deck until you get 12 wins or 3 losses–whichever happens first. You get rewards based on your number of wins. Worst case, you get a pack. Best case, you get FABULOUS PRIZES. So basically you’re paying 50 gold more to play a bunch and be in a more level playing field.
  • Spit and polish–This is a Blizzard game, and that means it’s really slick. You can play on PC or Mac. The graphics are great, the interface is intuitive–it’s a fantastic playing experience.

What’s missing so far? The big omission is the ability to play against friends. I’ve got some friends on, and they’ve been on at the same time as I have. But there’s no way to just select them to go head to head–it’s still randomized. That would be a nice switch, though I suppose people could game the system then to just keep beating themselves and unlocking free packs. Surely there’s a workaround, though. (It appears a feature I might not have been able to figure out yet? Or perhaps it was removed temporarily? Not sure–but from what I can see, when it’s available, they just have it be reward-free, which makes sense.)

Other than that, not much. I think the game’s pretty good to go. Once it’s out for iOS, that’ll be even better. Being able to play a slick game like this on computer or my iPad, for free–it would be ideal. Especially if they let your iPad collection and your computer collection be one and the same. But maybe I’m shooting too high now.

In any case, this is a game you should check out. Download it and play it today. Free! What more motivation do you need?

Anyone else already playing? What are your thoughts thus far?

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