PAX East 2013: Hearthstone Hands On


A few weeks before the start of PAX East 2013, there were rumblings of something being afoot. Blizzard Entertainment announced that they would be showing a brand new IP with their panel at 10 am Friday morning. Seeing something new from Blizzard, especially something new would be incredibly interesting, as there hasn’t been a new franchise from them since the introduction of Starcraft in 1998, an entire fifteen years ago.

Unforunately, hopes were a bit quashed when 10:00 came and it was announced that their new title would be Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a free to play online collectible card game. This may turn people off, but after having actually played the game, it has a good amount of promise. A gamer who has played a collectible card game in the past will feel right at home with Hearthstone, and it’s pretty easy to compare it to Magic: The Gathering, the benchmark of collectible card games. The main difference is that there is no land/mana system. Cards are cast and used with mana crystals. Each player starts a round with one, and gets an additional crystal with each additional turn, so each player gets one crystal the first turn, two during the second turn and three on the third turn. Crystals do not roll over, so the emphasis on the game is placed on card selection and use, rather than having a bad stream of luck where the player draws no lands, or only lands. Of course, there are cards that confer additional mana crystals.

The other major nuance of the game that separates it from its competitor is the role of the hero. in this card game, the hero can attack, and takes damage like a creature. The hero can also be equipped with weapons and armor which will temporarily add to their attack and armor, which can negate damage. There are also minion cards who have a taunt ability which force attacks to it as opposed to other minions and the hero. The matchmaking in the game will be strong, as this is something that Blizzard has a lot of experience in, with Starcraft 2 and the arena matchmaking in World of Warcraft.

Hearthstone will be free to play, with players able to play with pre-constructed decks immediately. Additional cards can be acquired either through battling A.I. opponents or online opponents, and booster packs will be available for purchase as well. Each booster pack guarantees a rare card for the player, and in an interesting wrinkle, Blizzard has created a crafting system with its cards – should a player purchase a card that they already own, they can disenchant the card into materials that then can be used to either upgrade existing cards or create new epic cards.

Actually playing the game was fun. The fundamentals were easy to pick up and some of the subtleties became clear in the middle of the first game without much guidance from the devs. My only regret was that my opponent figured them out before I did. With an initial library of 300 cards, how can you go wrong with free to play?


Blizzard is looking to turn this around to its fans quickly, with a beta available this summer and a release by the end of the year.

Hearthstone will be available on PC, Mac and iOS.


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