To start, I’ll state some of my previous Blizzard history … I did play World of Warcraft for many years back in the day. However, by always changing my character, I was never the highest level among my peers but I definitely saw more of the classes than most. I was also a huge fan of the Warcraft RTS games which introduced me to the franchise, and I still hold them up as probably the best RTS games I have played and are definitely my favorite games in the genre. Why am I telling you this? Well if you were unaware, Hearthstone uses the same lore as that of Warcraft and while having knowledge of the characters is in no way essential, it can help to make the game that little bit more special and memorable, especially if you have played both the RTS and MMO versions, like me.
Like any good card game that you can just pick up and play, there is not much of a long story here. While the game may be based on Warcraft there is no attempt to link it into some grand quest for power or revenge and indeed the opening scene jokes that this is just a game meant to be played in the pub between friends and foes alike. The beauty of this is that you can dive in without any prior knowledge of Warcraft. While watching me play, my brother decided that he liked the look of it and started playing practically straight away. He has very limited knowledge of the Warcraft lore, but it doesn’t matter, and it has in no way stopped him from stealing a cheeky win from my clutches.
Hearthstone lets you choose from a variety of base class characters, again taken from Warcraft, and the classes are very obviously WoW picked. Most noticeably for me was Thrall as the Shaman and Jena Proudmore as the Mage. Each class has its own special ability that they can use as well as class specific cards that can be unlocked and collected. The class system seems to be pretty well balanced but there is a definite advantage to mastering a particular class rather than going for an all rounder. Come across a Hunter who has mastered playing the right cards to improve his beasts and you will have a bloody hard time about it. The ability to create your own custom class decks can also help you to refine your character’s play style and while cards in the game are randomly drawn from the pack, you can stack the deck with multiple cards (if you have them) to increase the chance of the right ones popping up.
I like to think about the gameplay as Chess with pictures and numbers, so not like chess at all … but each player has a deck of 25 cards over the course of the game and depending on who goes first, will either start with 3 or 4, the player who starts second will receive a bonus mana card as well as an extra card. Each player also has a mana bar that will increase by 1 after each turn up to 10. Mana is needed to play your cards as each one will have a mana value. For example, an elf with 1 attack and 1 defence is just 1 mana, so I can put that out on the first go, but a troll with 3 attack and 4 defence costs 4 mana, so I will have to wait until I can play it. By working out how much mana you have to play with, you can determine how much you can do in any one turn and using this effectively can really be the key to winning, that and getting lucky with the cards!
On top of all this, Hearthstone has a graphical style that makes the card game pretty to look at and also keeps it in tune with the Warcraft franchise. You can tell that you are playing a blizzard game and with different boards to play on that include scenes from the Warcraft universe, you can not really forget what this is based on. I have played the game on PC, Mac and also the new iPad app and I can say that it looks and works flawlessly across each platform. Hearthstone does require you to have and be signed into your Blizzard Battlenet account, but this means that your progress will translate across all platforms making it a million times easier to pick up and play.
Overall, Hearthstone is a fantastic game to have on your computer or tablet, to pick up and play as you feel. If you want to sit down for hours you can do or you can squeeze in a quick game at lunch before heading back to work. The best part about it is that the game is free to download on all platforms so there is no reason not to check it out, at least. New cards can be unlocked while playing or alternatively you can purchase packs ranging from £1.99 to £70. While it is unreasonable to think of spending a silly amount of money, this game has led me to justify paying around £12 so far and I have definitely got that value back through increased playtime.