While I’ve maintained a lifelong absorption with video games, books, and film, there’s other aspects of nerdom that I have totally overlooked or clearly do not have interest in. Hobbies such as comic books, anime, fantasy football. I read Watchmen, I watched Akira, I gave a half-hearted attempt at finishing a fantasy season. They were mildly entertaining but just did not astonish me like a perfectly crafted sentence, enclose me like a perfectly framed wide shot, or crease my brow like a challenging but perfectly designed platformer.
This brings me to another hobbyist pillar: collectible card games.
When I was in grade school, Magic: The Gathering became popular and I begged anyone in my family to buy me a starter deck. My uncle eventually caved. What followed: A textbook example of the eager kid whose life depends on getting a new toy, only to abandon it shortly afterward. I lost interest in about five minutes. Keeping track of cards, having to buy new ones to stay competitive, the ponderously slow pace — nothing to a kid addicted to fast-paced NES/SNES platformers, a kid who could polish off Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms novels in three or four days tops.
And initially, my impression of Hearthstone was the same as that of Magic. A year-plus ago, I tried it only because I like all of Blizzard’s other games. It was fun for a little while and predictably I got bored. Card games weren’t my thing; least of all games that required you to fork out cash for merely the chance to get useful new cards. At least it was digital. I put it down.
Later, Blizzard added single player ‘adventures’ where you had to fight AI battles of card versions of World of Warcraft bosses. It was pretty fun. I did the daily quests in the normal game to acquire minuscule amounts of gold and buy the adventures without using real money (things like: win 2 games with rogue, cast 20 spells, destroy 40 minions). The game held my interest slightly longer this time.
And then something crucial to my investment in Hearthstone happened: It became available on mobile phones.
Now I could play Hearthstone between lifts at the gym. Waiting for people to attend meetings at work. On the bus. Waiting in line. In a house with a mouse, in a boat or with a goat, I would play it here and there, I would play it anywhere. Ahem.
It didn’t matter that I wasn’t totally engaged as I would be with other games. I can’t play those other games on the run (and most mobile titles are either repetitive timewasters or so involved you can’t really play them while mobile).
Just by completing quests regularly from my in-between-life-no-attention-span-twitter-generation-playing, I suddenly started accruing enough in-game currency to purchase card packs (or win them in a build-a-random-deck mode called Arena) that I could actually build decent decks. Suddenly, something clicked. Arcane Hearthstone lingo made sense. Tempo and mana curve and lethal and board control and value (I still don’t know what SMORC means). I began to be able to interpret what makes a deck good. I climbed the ranks and actually saw interesting play styles and cards. According to Blizzard’s in-game math, I’m a top 9th percentile player. /smug
But anyway, what is Hearthstone? It’s actually quite simple. You pick a class, one
of the nine original World of Warcraft classes — Paladin, Warrior, Mage, etcetera. Indeed, the whole narrative conceit of
Hearthstone is that our World of Warcraft characters are all sitting around a table in a tavern playing a card game whenever we’re not adventuring as them.
You build a deck of thirty cards. Every turn you draw a card. Each card has a mana cost it takes to play (you accrue +1 mana every turn in order to play those cards). The cards are either spells or minions. Spells perform various functions like slinging a fireball to do direct damage or freezing a minion or hero so they cannot attack. Minions each have attack and health values and can attack the turn after they are placed. The whole point is to kill the opposing hero (they each start with 30 health) before they kill you, or before one of you runs out of cards.
Cards are generally well explained and follow observable trends. Ogres attack the wrong enemy 50% of the time. Mage minions do various things when the mage casting spells. Goblins blow things up. There’s a few shorthand terms like deathrattle and battlecry and windfury, but they become clear with a minimal amount of playtime. Heathstone perfectly encapsulates Blizzard’s strategy of tackling a popular genre and making it more widely accessible.