Blizzard released Hearthstone on iOS last week. It’s pretty much pounded the last nail into SolForge’s coffin for me.
It’s an elegant game with several good points going for it. The overall mechanics are straightforward, and they’re introduced one by one in a detailed tutorial that has a ton of personality. There’s a great deal of tactical complexity in the totally free order of actions in a turn and the reliable presence of a Hero power. Low-cost cards remain relevant all game. I find it easy to notice play mistakes and learn from them (unlike in, say, SolForge, to bring up another digital CCG). Also unlike SolForge, the huge player base makes it easy to find opponents of your own skill level. (I have about a 60% win percentage in Hearthstone with almost no added cards, compared to under 10% in SolForge after over three dozen boosters.) Finally, it’s polished to a ridiculous degree, like everything Blizzard makes.
How does it work? In a nutshell, take Magic and:
- Remove mana colors and land cards. Instead, on round N you automatically have N mana to spend.
- Remove blocking. Let the active player directly attack either the opponent or his creatures.
- Remove the Attack Phase. Each creature attacks individually and at any time during the turn.
- Remove tapping. With no blocking and no activated abilities, it isn’t needed.
- Make creature damage persistent.
It features only synchronous play but it’s still designed for strict turns. You never do anything when your opponent is up — you don’t decide how to block, you never pick targets for her effects, and there are no reactions.
To fit it into the Warcraft universe, every deck must specify a Hero with a class-specific special ability that costs 2 mana and can be used once per turn. Decks must be exactly 30 cards and be comprised only of cards that match the Hero’s class or are classless.
You can field constructed decks against live players or an AI for free. You can also pay in-game currency or real money to enter a pseudo-draft tournament with varying rewards based on your win count. You don’t get to keep your draft deck, but you are guaranteed to get at least one booster as a prize no matter how poorly you fare.
One thing the game isn’t is “generous with free cards”. (Not that it necessarily should be, mind you — they have to make a profit somehow.) SolForge has a standard reward package of one random card or booster plus almost half a booster’s worth of in-game currency, and you can easily get three of these packages per day. In comparison, Hearthstone only gives out entire packs (or the currency equivalent) for a few one-time achievements. Accumulating one booster’s cost in Gold from repeatable actions requires completing two to three daily goals (each of which means playing multiple games, sometimes with specific decks) or winning thirty PvP matches. Particularly egregious is the fact that each Hero has five fundamental class-specific cards that can only be attained by repeatedly playing that Hero to raise its level. That’s roughly 15 games per Hero, multiplied by 9 Heroes… And you can’t get around this last bit with real money.
Other games I’ve dipped into lately:
- Skulls of the Shogun: a game of troop-scale tactical combat with a highly stylized, cartoony Japanese feel.
- Viscera Cleanup Detail. Imagine a raging firefight between Space Marines and Mutant Bio-Xenomorphs through a futuristic science facility. Imagine the poor schmuck who has to clean up the mess afterward. Guess what? It’s afterward. Here’s your mop. Don’t forget the ceiling.