Hearthstone: This kiddie pool sure has a lot of leaks

More observations as I roll my face across the iPad ‘playing’ Hearthstone:

Just like MtG (or basically most card games of this type), Hearthstone is a major Pay-4-Power game. Epic and Legendary cards are silly strong, and as soon as you see someone drop a few on you in a game, you might as well take your participation trophy and move on (unless of course you also have a stacked deck). The fact that you can’t trade cards further pushed Hearthstone into a wallet-warrior game, because smart trading can’t help you catch up; only grinding or cash.

Speaking of participation trophies, Hearthstone has a few major design flaws in its setup. For one, having a bot automate conceding ranked games for you is amazingly effective. You still get XP for your ‘effort’, and you don’t lose anything. Plus, should you run across another concede bot who goes first (roughly 1 in 5-6 games for me currently), you get a free win to grind towards the gold card/character rewards and the 3-win 10 gold reward.

The whole ranked setup is also a bit of a joke. The only reward is at rank 20, and you can’t drop below rank 20 once you get to it. Also you can’t lose progress while working towards rank 20, so that auto-concede bot will eventually (surprisingly quickly) get you to rank 20. At rank 20 things are an expected mess. Concede bot farmers aside, you will also run into a whole bunch of ‘smurf’ decks just looking to smash people, again because Blizzard designed the system to not only allow, but actually made it incredibly easy for them to sit at that level. Safe to say a solid 50% or so of ranked games aren’t competitive (generously calling any relatively even deck game of Hearthstone competition here).

The game is perfect for ‘playing’ while you do something more interesting, because during your opponents turn whether you are looking at the screen or not doesn’t matter; you can’t do anything anyway. On the surface this is just boring while you wait with nothing to do, but go a bit below the surface and this is actually a major, major removal of interesting decisions and strategy.

In MtG you had to always be aware of the status of your opponent. How many cards they have, how much untapped land they have, how much land could they potentially need to use during your attack phase based on the creatures they have out, etc. None of this exists in Hearthstone.

If it’s your turn, whether someone ends their turn with 10 crystals or 0 doesn’t matter. Whether someone has 10 cards in hand or 0 doesn’t matter (overdrawing aside). They can’t have tapped or untapped creatures. There is no regen they need to pay for. No creature abilities they need to pay for. So many tactical player decisions are gone. Not your turn in Hearthstone? Nap time!

Regeneration is one creature ability completely missing currently, as is its counter bury. Flying is another, as is landwalk (landwalk would be impossible since Hearthstone only has one type, not five like in MtG), so is first strike. So are any player-active abilities beyond on-summon stuff. The game does have a whole bunch of dice roll abilities; such as one creature who randomly deals 3 damage to anyone; friend or foe. Sure you can attempt to limit the randomness by having fewer potential targets, but that critical creature you need killed who has one hitpoint might still be standing if Hearthstone randomizes the card not in your favor and decides the damage is all going to go to heroes rather than that card. Super fun when that happens, and a silly amount of cards are designed with such randomization.

Then there are just more general problems. For instance, there are a TON of board-clear cards/combos. A ridiculous amount honestly. On top of this there are even more single-removal cards, and of course none of this can really be countered since when it’s not your turn, you just sit and spin until it is. Imagine if every deck in MtG had 10 copies of Swords to Plowshares (but without the healing aspect, and the card destroying everything) and you get a decent idea of what I mean.

This leads to basically only playing enough cards to gain board advantage, but not ‘too many’ to lose card advantage when the inevitable board-clear happens. Game after game this is the pattern, and because Hearthstone has so few real patterns, it’s just boring. Arena is again a bit better, but only slightly so, and Arena is (or should be, anyway) like the ARAM to the real meat of ranked/SR, to bring this into LoL terms. Imagine if ARAM was the only interesting/balanced version of LoL? That’s Hearthstone in a nutshell, except if you removed 99% of the needed ability from actually playing ARAM and gave every hero a 1m damage Karth ult on a 30sec cooldown.

It really is not only a shockingly shallow game, but a basically flawed game as well, not just by Old Blizzard standards, but just general game design standards. If this was an SOE or EA product, it would still be a sub-par effort from those studios. For Old Blizzard? This is Ghost/Warcraft Adventures, only released instead of rightly aborted.


About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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20 Responses to Hearthstone: This kiddie pool sure has a lot of leaks

  1. Carl says:

    The bots that are used mostly rush you down with many small value cards…works quite well for them.

    Never heard of auto-conceding bots and I fail to understand why they would exist.

    Many people (myself included) auto-concede regularly because we don’t want to get higher in the ladder. For me, it is because I started the game late and didn’t pay real money, so my deck is usually poor. Others who have lots of good cards auto-concede just because they don’t care about the ladder and they just want to face-roll newbies in the lower bracket.

    • SynCaine says:

      “Never heard of auto-conceding bots and I fail to understand why they would exist.”

      Its the fastest way to gain XP.

      Also an effort-free way to earn gold (when you go second and the other side insta-concedes)

  2. dynaform says:

    if you are worried about losing to epic and legendary cards make a zoo deck and faceroll your way to legend. It does require naxx cards so if you want to play totally free I guess you are screwed.

    I enjoy the game for about an hour a night and if I’m bored of the standard decks I do ridiculous crap like try to win with magma rager as the key piece of the deck. New cards next month should mix things up quit a bit.

  3. Azuriel says:

    You’re reaching again in a few bizarre ways.

    The fact that you can’t trade cards further pushed Hearthstone into a wallet-warrior game, because smart trading can’t help you catch up; only grinding or cash.

    I can’t imagine how you would “trade smart” in a game where you can craft exactly the card you want. It’s difficult to imagine a less grindy card game given how you don’t need to rely on randomness. But maybe you prefer the $400 MtG decks necessary to be competitive?

    Safe to say a solid 50% or so of ranked games aren’t competitive.

    Ranked games at Rank 20? Uhh… okay. Have you tried playing any games higher than that, or are losing to the concede bots?

    The “missing” MtG mechanics largely wouldn’t make sense in HS, or would end up ridiculously overpowered. What use is Flying when there is no Block step? Same with Trample. First Strike is probably inevitable at some point, but it would be crazy powerful. Lifelink could work, there are already Deathtouch creatures, and Hexproof exists in a fashion.

    • SynCaine says:

      Yea I’d take $400 via up-trading vs grind-rolling a math tax crafting system, but to each their own on that one. Some enjoy CoC, others enjoy Farmville. Different tastes.

      I’m ‘losing’ when I’m concede rolling the way Blizzard intended me to play until I gather enough overpowered cards to really play. Of course, that then gets me into the 5-deck meta at the top, which sounds super interesting, so I can’t wait for that!

      And yea, flying and trample don’t make sense in Hearthstone because the entire decision structure around those skills was removed. That’s the point of the post.

      • wopz says:

        As if CoC was a complex game, come on SynCaine… You are losing credibility here: Your blind journey to Archeage, your unfair critiques to HS, your continuous praise to CoC…

        Some games are designed to be complex: MTG, SC, EVE, etc.

        Other are designed to be simple and accessible: HS, CoC, WoW, etc.

        Being disappointed because a game that was designed to be simple is not complex is not very smart.

        • SynCaine says:

          You don’t have the slightest clue about CoC do you?

          It’s ok, but just be honest.

        • wopz says:

          Not sure how to comment here, no reply option appears below your answer.

          I was playing CoC before you started blogging about it. I think I stopped at around TH9 or 10. It is a fun simple game. It requires little time investment and works around a set number of units, base layouts (if you want to optimise ofc), and defences. The updates are nice and add some new elements to an otherwise relatively simple strategy.

          I don’t think you can argue that CoC is a very complex game. Once you understand the basic AI of your troops and design your army accordingly, it is a matter of executing it.

          The interactions with enemies are static (no reaction from the other player) and the surprise elements are limited to what troops are in the clan castle.

          You find some whales but mostly you find similar layouts with similar defences.

          I do know the game and I enjoyed it but it is not a complex one.

          Is it one of the best of its type? Yes.

        • SynCaine says:

          Just have to keep replying to the above, threading is limited to reduce format squish.

          Did you stop playing prior to clan wars? Because outside of clan wars (and I guess top-end trophy pushing), I would generally agree that CoC is on the simpler side (though still miles ahead of championship level Hearthstone in terms of the number of interesting decisions to make) if you just want to progress and builder higher level stuff. Eventually on a long enough time scale you will get there, though playing smart and making good decisions will still go a long way.

          But in clan wars? Sorry but the game is as deep as games get, mobile or otherwise. Even TH9 vs TH9 attacks are incredibly complex when you have a solid attacker vs a solid base, and TH10 is yet another level from what I’ve seen.

          Designing a base to counter the various types of attacks is filled with interesting decisions, which then get revised after each attack replay (using a copy/paste base from the internet isn’t smart as its easy to counter).

          Reviewing a base to attack and then putting together an attacking force is filled with interesting decisions, and then actually executing an attack is a good mix of twitch skill, reactive decisions making, and applying game knowledge on the fly.

          Then of course there is the entire clan management aspect, battle planning a war as a clan, and all of the fun social aspects of watching a war in progress and chatting about it in real time.

          The beauty of the game is if you just want to casually build a base and sometimes attack another, you can do that, for free or otherwise. But that’s just the very surface of it. At the deep end (50vs50 clan wars of mostly TH10 bases) things are truly crazy to a level that, right now, even I have a hard time grasping.

          And like I said above, at its deepest level, championship Hearthstone has about as many interesting decisions to make as one makes during a loot raid at TH7. At it’s average level its the first level of a goblin map.

  4. carson63000 says:

    Surprised we didn’t get a series of posts about how Hearthstone was the shining light of the next generation of card games before getting this hatefest, like we did with Rift and Archeage.

    • SynCaine says:

      Or like you did with SW:TOR, Aion, FreeRealms, GW2, Landmark, etc, huh?

      Plus its not like Rift and AA have a common thread, with both games starting as something and then… something happening to them.

      Naw, blogs would be far more interesting if everyone was just gray neutral about everything and never changed an opinion when games change.

  5. Matt says:

    This leads to basically only playing enough cards to gain board advantage, but not ‘too many’ to lose card advantage when the inevitable board-clear happens….Arena is again a bit better

    But the first sentence describes arena exactly. It’s constructed where the strategies differ depending on deck composition. Freeze mage, for example, plays very few minions and lots of spells, same with Miracle Rogue. Zoolock, on the other hand, plays tons of minions and only 2-4 spells, mostly disregarding board clears. Board clears are not what they used to be anyway, with all the deathrattles around.

    It’s arena which has less depth, which doesn’t mean it is less fun.

    As for legendaries, they only become strong in the late game, when you run out of removals. This is mainly because late game minions are lopsidedly of the legendary persuasion. Basic players are stuck with ogres, stormwind champions, war golems, etc., or running an aggro setup as those are cheaper. But while an ogre will get the job done, it can’t kill Ragnaros by itself. In any case, if someone is dropping legendary after legendary on turn 10+, that’s what their deck is designed to do and you don’t have much chance unless your deck is similarly oriented.

    But legendaries aren’t op in and of themselves. Strongest card in the game is probably savannah highmane, a hunter rare. And the most hated card is undertaker, a 1 drop (though rag gets honorable mention).

    Finally, the reason you can’t trade is because it is F2P. Just make some extra accounts and trade with yourself. Not to mention the inevitable Chinese gold farmer abuse. Maybe you can put that in your grand list of “reasons why F2P sucks”. :)

    • SynCaine says:

      “It’s arena which has less depth, which doesn’t mean it is less fun.”

      Just going with my personal definition of fun, this is the core of the problem I have with the game. Playing non-Arena feels formulaic, regardless of what the formula might be (zoo vs freeze or whatever). Far too many turns in each game are ‘basic’, in that little to no thought or decision making is needed.

      In Arena at least I find this is less the case, if only because everyone is playing with a less-than-idea deck (though even here seeing what hero you are facing gives you a really good hint at which cards they might play, but that’s partly a current issue with the card pool being so limited.) Plus having some stakes to each game, as limited as it might be, gives a reason to at least pay attention and try.

  6. Lorne says:

    Syncaine’s post is not a hatefest. He explains his issues with the game, gives examples from the game itself and then compares it to a game which he contends gives a better experience, again providing examples. That’s the essence of intelligent criticism.

  7. cirdanx says:

    Pretty much sums up my experience with hearthstone. I stoped playing because it lacks depth, and even though i was playing for a long time, i never got the cards i wanted or needed out of packs, and the dust to card ratio is stupid.

    I wish there would be a good Magic client with a good business model. Magic Online doesnt do it for me, i would like to see something more like Duels of the Planeswalker. But sadly that won´t happen -.-

  8. tithian says:

    Zoo Warlock, Shockadin and face Hunter call BS on your first paragraph, all three are cheap ass decks that easily smash face all the way to legend, with no/litle (i.e. 1 or 2) Epics and no Legendaries.

    I have a feeling you’re conveniently ignoring all the points that contradict your opinion.

    • SynCaine says:

      The definition of cheap here (only 1-2 epics/legends, a large number of critical rares) is debatable. Its not like you can put that deck together and have it really work after the first 50 (100+?) games you play unless you spend.

      Plus if you specifically grind towards one of those decks, destroying all other cards to craft faster (which of course is dumb), you are now locked into just one (very boring) deck. (And lets please stop pretending reaching legend in Hearthstone means anything)

      Not sure how that contradicts anything I wrote. Sure, once you have played a ton of games and have a lot of the better cards, you can put together a faceroll deck that auto-pilot wins more than it loses. Yay?

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