Critical Chicken
FeatureTuesday, 23rd August 2016 by

I don’t understand Hearthstone

As the title suggests, I am shockingly bad at Blizzard’s popular card-‘em-up, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. In all seriousness, I’ve had my arse whooped so many times, it’s almost ridiculous. A lot of the time, I put it down to not having enough time to grind the matches, or not having enough good cards to make it in the competitive scene. I am also acutely aware that I might just not be very good at the game. I don’t have enough experience to know the difference between Yogg-Saron and C’thun (they’re both Old Gods, does that count?), nor why I should have played the taunt on turn three instead of the stabby-stabby minion. And don’t even get me started on Deathrattle cards!

A typical Hearthstone match in progress

But the biggest thing I don’t understand about Hearthstone? Why on Earth do I keep going back to it?

When faced with a game I’m just not very good at, I’m usually the sort of gamer that locks it away somewhere and never, ever thinks about it again. It’s easier than continually butting my head against a wall because it’s too much for me. And, coming from someone who’s put enough time and effort into Crusader Kings II to not be totally shit at it, it usually has to be a spectacularly hard or tedious game. It’s one of the reasons I put less than an hour into Ark: Survival Evolved before throwing it back at Steam in disgust. It’s why the delight of Dark Souls has never graced my gaming library. And it’s why the appalling design and poor art style of Gnomoria has sat dormant on my computer for far too long.

But for some reason, I keep going back to Hearthstone.

I’ve started playing Priest, which I understand from my brief and “What the hell are they talking about!?” looks at r/hearthstone, probably isn’t an excellent choice. It came after a huge amount of failed games as my usual class (Mage for the win!), and though I’m still not very good, I’m doing a hell of a lot better with some healing behind me than with chain fireballs. Despite having played the game on and off since it first came out, I’m still only on the basic sets of cards; if I try to play with a deck I make myself, it’s utter chaos and failure.

Hearthstone's automatic deck builder

I don’t know if this is because of Hearthstone’s mechanic of unlocking cards through card packs. I’ve always felt that Hearthstone has one of the fairest free-to-play models out there, but I can’t help but feel that if the game gave you all cards from the start, it would be a much easier thing to get into. It would be a steeper learning curve, yes, but there wouldn’t be as much… waving your arms around and not getting very far.

But, because Blizzard seems to understand that this is a problem for people with not much money or time to grind, they have given a solution: Tavern Brawl.

Tavern Brawl is the basic game, but with a new set of rules every week, which may involve a random, pre-made deck or self-made deck, an AI or human opponent, or even randomised mana costs (easily my favourite of the ones I’ve played). At time of writing, it’s a co-op, stabby-stabby bad guy mission. The entire system is a refreshing change of pace, and it allows players old and new access to every card in the game (depending on the rules of the Tavern Brawl). It turns the puzzle-style grind — and it really is a grind — of standard play into a tactician’s paradise. Ever-changing rules, adapting to the situation at hand, anticipating moves; it’s bloody marvellous.

The latest Tavern Brawl, at time of publication. Text in image: "Nefarian Rises! Join forces with a friend to take down Nefarian. Again. Anduin teams up with newcomer Morgi in this new cooperative Tavern Brawl!"

I’m still shit at it. Undeniably and unequivocally shit. But it’s so much fun, and it’s so exciting, that I just don’t care.

And it’s entirely possible that this, coupled with the game’s beautiful design, fluid movement, excellent portability, and the general all-round love, care and attention heaped on it by the developers, is what makes me, time and time again, bang my head against a brick wall to play it.

Concussion be dammed, I do love it so.