Preview: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Warcraft is an interesting franchise for Blizzard Entertainment, in that it seems to be the original entry in almost every genre that they expand into (sadly, Blackthorne and their DC Comics related games did not spawn more platformers). From the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans marking their debut in strategy games to World of Warcraft becoming a massively multiplayer online gaming sensation (as well as the unreleased Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans which was poised to bring Blizzard into the adventure gaming space), the fantasy universe has brought the developer to the forefront of the gaming industry with its blend of rock solid gameplay, wit and rich narrative universe. What has historically united the disparate Warcraft entries are their scope as games about epic journeys by larger than life heroes and villains in a battle for the fate of their respective worlds.

As a result, the latest genre foray by Blizzard into the online collectible card game market has been surprising to say the least. It is a space with few entrants but also a dominant player in Magic: The Gathering by Wizards of the Coast which has established itself as the preeminent developer of fantasy card games for adults (as CCGs such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh are designed for a very different audience). Built by a team that at one point comprised only 7 team members, Hearthstone is an attempt by Blizzard to combine their rich fantasy narrative with a faster, simpler set of collectible card game mechanics that feels fun and fast paced.

The game breaks down into a 1 on 1 duel between 2 players that stands out by streamlining the main combat mechanics down to allowing attacks against whoever and whatever you want (with the exception of creatures empowered with the Taunt ability). Every hero and creature on a given side can attack any of their counterparts on the opposing side, facilitating a focus fire style attack that progresses through games much faster than games such as Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers. Hearthstone also stands out by simplifying the resource management into a standard increment every turn with an eventual 10 slot cap that prevents mana/land/other resource cards from becoming a distraction from the myriad of creatures, spells and artifacts in the various decks. Each hero character has their own set of base and advanced cards that can be earned by completing battles, as well as an online store that sells packs either with in-game gold or real money purchases. Blizzard does a good job of keeping the new cards flowing to players who wish to avoid micro transactions with a steady stream of daily challenges as well as the option to dispel unwanted cards into dust to be converted towards more packs.

The game is designed around rapid fire decisions and short sessions per game, which can easily be played around other experiences: a growing number of casual and professional game streamers will play a quick round of Hearthstone while their other featured game is loading between matches. With plans to release mobile and tablet versions as well, the game has an opportunity to proliferate very rapidly and bring a lot of new fans into the Warcraft universe (and by extension, the rest of Blizzard’s library of games).

Maybe it shouldn’t work…but it works. Hearthstone is a fun, fast and fresh take on an addictive genre that has an opportunity to turn its fresh genre updates and a broad platform launch strategy into becoming the next massive hit for Blizzard and their legion of fans.

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