Problem Machine

Hearthstone: Because what Magic really needed was F2P mechanics

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I've been watching a couple of youtubers play this and just recently got a beta code myself. Anyone else here playing?

 

Despite the snarky title, I think this is actually a really elegant approach to boiling Magic down into a fast-paced game suitable for synchronous play online. Most games don't last more than 10 minutes, and though the complexity and nuance of Magic's first-in-last-out stack are sometimes missed, there's still plenty of interesting decisions to make, both while building a deck and when playing with it.

 

I just had my first arena game and went 7-3, which I'm proud of, but is totally and absolutely not the main reason I started this topic.

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i've been too lazy to sign up for the beta, but am vaguely interested. when is it supposed to launch for reals?

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I dunno if they've said yet. They seem to be going for the DOTA2-style long beta / soft rollout strategy that seems to be all the rage nowadays, so it probably won't be a big change when it happens.

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Isn't Magic already essentially a free to play game, except you have to buy into it? I kind of feel f2p owe a lot to Magic and its money vacuum.

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So you're saying it's F2P, except it's not... free... to... play?

 

Okay, I guess that kind of makes sense despite being completely nonsense. It is actually entirely possible to build decks in Hearthstone without putting in any money at all, though -- though, definitely, putting money in will get you a stronger deck faster, with a little bit of patience and cleverness you can make do with the starting cards. Similar to TF2, where if you want stuff the easy way you can throw money down, but patience will get you what you want eventually.

 

One particularly interesting point: You cannot sell or trade cards. Perhaps once-burned-twice-shy in Blizzard's case?

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Well, Magic is a card game and it wouldn't make sense to actually give out physical starter decks. But otherwise it's similar to F2P games, there's no one product you can buy that'll give you the complete experience (unless you play Cube, I guess?). So I suppose a F2P video game version makes a lot of sense. I just hadn't made the connection between why I don't play Magic and why I don't play F2P games before, I just don't like how they are monetized. Anyway, I didn't know this was Blizzard. It's actually pretty interesting, especially if playing it is not very expensive.

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I love this way of having an almost open beta, but not quite, so that when the game finally launches and I get to play it too, I'll be facing tons and tons of really experienced players and I'm sure to get my ass handed to me constantly. Does wonders for my irrational debilitating fear of 1v1 online games.

 

As for the game, it looks fun. I will definitely try to try it.

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Blizzard is known to have pretty good matchmaking, so you'll probably start hitting 50/50 pretty quick once the system figures out where to place you.

 

Basically, the way the F2P stuff works is that you normally get gold at 10 per 3 wins or 40 or so if you do a quest, which reset sporadically and are mostly conditioned on winning as one class or another. 100 gold will buy you a pack of 5 cards, 150 will buy you an entry into the arena. The arena is a set of games where you draft a deck out of a set of random cards, where one-by-one it presents you with three and you pick whichever you want until your deck is complete: In arena, you (as far as I can tell) always win at least a pack of cards, so the marginal cost is just 50 in-game gold. You can win up to 9 games and lose up to 3 before your arena run ends, and your prize gets better the more games you win. If you win 7, you're guaranteed to get enough gold to pay for another arena entry.

 

If you run out of gold and don't feel like playing enough to collect more before buying boosters/entries, you can pay for them, at I think $2/pack or $3/arena... so about $1/50 gold. Personally I don't intend to pay, since I always like seeing how well I can do without dicking with any premium stuff in games like this, and from that perspective I don't find its presence particularly onerous.

 

Oh, and regarding no trading/selling, there is actually a crafting system: If you have more than two of a given card (the max you can have in a deck), you can destroy the spares to create an all-purpose crafting material to make other cards you might want. That way you don't end up having to grind packs for an eternity just to get that one card you need.

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If I hate MTG (and I do, though I don't begrudge anyone for disagreeing with me), what are the odds I'll like this?

 

I intend to give it a shot, either way, but since I don't have access to the beta, all I can do for now is pontificate.

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The production values, for a F2P card game, are through the damned stratosphere here. Professional voice acting for a tutorial is ridiculous.

 

That being said I'm really, really not impressed by the game's depth so far. But maybe that's just because I'm still in the tutorial. Still, I can immediately sense that not being able to "block" enemy card attacks on you with your creatures is a lesser mechanic than being able to do so. As is the way in which you gain mana. You don't even need a mathematical proof to know that the game is less complex because you gain mana at a fixed rate rather than as an interactive and strategic part of the game.

 

Which is all too bad, because I really like how you have to pick up and physically drag cards onto the field to play them. But like so many of these F2P online "card" games they took Magic and just made it less interesting and less complex. Considering I'm enjoying Netrunner a lot right now what I'm looking for is just the opposite, something MORE complex than Magic.

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I guess that depends on why you hate MtG?

GOOD POINT YOU HAVE THERE

 

I hate how you can be screwed by RNG (though it's rare, it does happen, and is incredibly frustrating when it does). I hate random chance in general in competitive games. Obviously, any card game is going to be subject to this, but the degree to which it affects things can vary greatly. So, basically, how often can that happen in Hearthstone, and to what degree?

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The production values, for a F2P card game, are through the damned stratosphere here. Professional voice acting for a tutorial is ridiculous.

 

That being said I'm really, really not impressed by the game's depth so far. But maybe that's just because I'm still in the tutorial. Still, I can immediately sense that not being able to "block" enemy card attacks on you with your creatures is a lesser mechanic than being able to do so. As is the way in which you gain mana. You don't even need a mathematical proof to know that the game is less complex because you gain mana at a fixed rate rather than as an interactive and strategic part of the game.

 

Which is all too bad, because I really like how you have to pick up and physically drag cards onto the field to play them. But like so many of these F2P online "card" games they took Magic and just made it less interesting and less complex. Considering I'm enjoying Netrunner a lot right now what I'm looking for is just the opposite, something MORE complex than Magic.

Assigning creatures to block, as a concept, has been replaced with the 'taunt' special ability: As long as creatures with taunt are out on the field, your opponent can't choose to target attacks at anything without taunt. Rather than simpifying, I think this primarily streamlines the game by maintaining an absolute border between players' turns that doesn't allow any out of turn actions which could kill the pacing of the game and make it more difficult to intuit. On the same basis that you can declare that not being able to block is, uh, a 'lesser' mechanic, I could also argue that not being able to directly attack creatures, as you can't in Magic, is somehow a 'lesser' mechanic. That is to say, basically no basis at all except that it's something you can do in one game and not in the other.

 

GOOD POINT YOU HAVE THERE

 

I hate how you can be screwed by RNG (though it's rare, it does happen, and is incredibly frustrating when it does). I hate random chance in general in competitive games. Obviously, any card game is going to be subject to this, but the degree to which it affects things can vary greatly. So, basically, how often can that happen in Hearthstone, and to what degree?

In Hearthstone you gain usable mana at the rate of one per turn rather than having to draw resource cards as in Magic. This alone tends to drastically reduce the instance rate of seriously bad draws, as does the fact that decks are half the size as in Magic, thus you tend to more consistently get the cards you need. That said, you can still get screwed by bad draws, just far less frequently than in Magic and, unlike in Magic, it doesn't completely paralyze you so much as constrain your range of possible plays.

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That sounds pretty good! :D

 

Now I'm much more interested. You've pretty much sold me.

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Assigning creatures to block, as a concept, has been replaced with the 'taunt' special ability: As long as creatures with taunt are out on the field, your opponent can't choose to target attacks at anything without taunt. Rather than simpifying, I think this primarily streamlines the game by maintaining an absolute border between players' turns that doesn't allow any out of turn actions which could kill the pacing of the game and make it more difficult to intuit. On the same basis that you can declare that not being able to block is, uh, a 'lesser' mechanic, I could also argue that not being able to directly attack creatures, as you can't in Magic, is somehow a 'lesser' mechanic. That is to say, basically no basis at all except that it's something you can do in one game and not in the other.

 

Oh no, I agree that being able to attack directly is an improvement of a kind. But the no out of turn actions REALLY bother me, making the entire thing kind of boring and undoubtedly a less complex game. So, yeah, not for me.

 

I do appreciate attempts to balance out bad draws, but not at the expense of just making the game simpler. For me the "game" is often learning to understand all the facets of the game, if there's less to understand then for me there's less game.

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I think that a game of well balanced and nuanced facets is more interesting than one that just adds needless complexity. In order to actually properly play Magic, each player needs to wait after every single action undertaken to see if their opponent has a response, and exactly how those effects can be resolved can be extremely arcane -- not to mention that you have to choose from a pool of more than 10,000 cards to construct a deck now. It is extremely easy to make a game more complex, and IMO more of a sign of an amateurish designer than anything else.

 

Making a game's mechanics simple doesn't mean that its tactics are simple. If it were, Go wouldn't still be played 2,000 years after its invention -- not that I am in any way comparing Hearthstone to Go in depth or complexity, but Go is the best illustration of that principle, of complex play emerging from simple design, at work.

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I think that a game of well balanced and nuanced facets is more interesting than one that just adds needless complexity. In order to actually properly play Magic, each player needs to wait after every single action undertaken to see if their opponent has a response, and exactly how those effects can be resolved can be extremely arcane -- not to mention that you have to choose from a pool of more than 10,000 cards to construct a deck now. It is extremely easy to make a game more complex, and IMO more of a sign of an amateurish designer than anything else.

 

Making a game's mechanics simple doesn't mean that its tactics are simple. If it were, Go wouldn't still be played 2,000 years after its invention -- not that I am in any way comparing Hearthstone to Go in depth or complexity, but Go is the best illustration of that principle, of complex play emerging from simple design, at work.

 

Oh certainly, I'm not connecting a games possibility of actions to it's complexity. But Hearthstone is, like most other such games, Magic The Gathering But. And the "but" is always "you can't do X, or you can't do Y" and for this distinct type of games the more possible things you can do the more depth the game has.

 

But complexity for complexities sake is quite annoying. Trying to learn Netrunner is an exercise in frustration, as each sides deck, hand, and discard pile has it's own unique and arcane name that you have to learn because cards actually refer to that stuff by name. It's pointless. But being able to use cards during your opponents turn is most definitively not pointless, as there are a large number of actual strategies built around cards that can do such in MtG, and looking at things like how many cards the enemy has in their hand, and what type of deck they're running, and how much mana they have left all play into MtG because of it. Thus adding more depth and decision, whereas with Hearthstone you just say "oh, it's the enemies turn, it doesn't much matter if I'm even paying attention because I can't do anything about it."

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I think looking at it as "Magic The Gathering But" is a problem. Honestly, the individual attacking makes a huge difference, and makes it in a lot of ways a completely different game. Paying attention to cards in hand is still important for the same reason it is in Magic: It's important to know whether your opponent is likely to have an answer for the big minion you want to drop now or whether they're going to have to top-deck something. In practice, most of the out-of-turn decisions in Magic really weren't all that interesting, and while I won't say I don't miss that aspect of Magic sometimes when playing Hearthstone, I think it's totally worth it to have a game that is still tactically and strategically interesting but happens over the course of 8-10 minutes rather than 20-30.

 

There are also a number of other ideas in Hearthstone which Magic doesn't have. For instance, the placement of your minions on the battlefield is sometimes important: Certain attacks hit adjacent minions and certain minions buff those adjacent to them. There are weapons, which allow your hero to engage minions directly and gain board control in exchange for health. There are also certain random effect spells which would be cumbersome and tedious to calculate in an actual card game. There's a lot going on which is not immediately obvious.

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It's almost a 1:1 reiteration of the World of Warcraft TCG (which had really fun Raid Decks you played cooperatively vs a single super deck which i'm hoping hoping hoping will become a thing in Hearthstone). 

 

The number of rules you need to keep track of can seem daunting but you're only typically dealing with a tiny subset of them at any given time and the game does a great job of visualizing and automating those rules (and they have tool tips that will explain all of them to you at any time, the game is turn based, they can wait :P). They've done a brilliant job of making the information readable and find-able.

 

The BIG down side is that the best competitive mode (Arena; in which all players have too draft a fresh deck based on a limited selection of random cards) can't be played for free. This means if you aren't willing to shell up you're going to be stuck with either pre-made decks or grinding to build custom decks (read: decks built based on guides pulled from forums i,e. net decking), which totally nullifies the strategic element. Instead you're just doing the optimum thing based on the information you have each turn and your fate is in the hands of the RNG gods.

 

It's a good time waster though and I look forward to when it is available on a portable device.  

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Well, technically it just takes in-game gold to get into arena, and you can win that back/get more from quests as you go, so if you're a strong enough arena player you wouldn't need to pay to play it. I don't know if I'm that good, but I'm looking forward to seeing how long I can go without paying. My first (free) arena set went well enough to pay for a second go, at least.

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I feel like the game is driven pretty hard by luck, but I guess you can counter-act that by building your own decks.  But I'm too lazy for that.

 

I do enjoy the arena though.  Takes away the F2P nature of the balance, and lets you play with good cards in balanced games.

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I think you'd need to dedicate yourself to the Arena to have much success though; the meta will shift constantly as they introduce new cards and I'm willing to bet there will be a LOT of new cards. However, I can see Arena being able to sustain a player relying on it as their main game without breaking the bank; $2 per go in the arena isn't much, even if you enter every day, if you aren't playing anything else. 

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I think looking at it as "Magic The Gathering But" is a problem. Honestly, the individual attacking makes a huge difference, and makes it in a lot of ways a completely different game. Paying attention to cards in hand is still important for the same reason it is in Magic: It's important to know whether your opponent is likely to have an answer for the big minion you want to drop now or whether they're going to have to top-deck something. In practice, most of the out-of-turn decisions in Magic really weren't all that interesting, and while I won't say I don't miss that aspect of Magic sometimes when playing Hearthstone, I think it's totally worth it to have a game that is still tactically and strategically interesting but happens over the course of 8-10 minutes rather than 20-30.

 

There are also a number of other ideas in Hearthstone which Magic doesn't have. For instance, the placement of your minions on the battlefield is sometimes important: Certain attacks hit adjacent minions and certain minions buff those adjacent to them. There are weapons, which allow your hero to engage minions directly and gain board control in exchange for health. There are also certain random effect spells which would be cumbersome and tedious to calculate in an actual card game. There's a lot going on which is not immediately obvious.

There's a lot of really interesting choice in out-of-turn decisions if you're playing the colors that specialize in those things (mostly blue, a little red and black.) Most of my fun in magic revolved around deciding if this spell was worth counter-spelling or that attacking creature was worth killing, or if I could wait until next turn and get more bang for my buck.

That being said, playing MtG online against other players takes a while, and I've always found the interface annoying because it has to present to you so much information and give you so many options for interraction. It feels to me that there should be some sort of middle ground between Hearthstone and MtG where I have something to do during the opponent's turn, but not something so complicated it's going to double the turn length.

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I've actually been pondering a design for a game that maintains the strict turn boundaries of Hearthstone but allows for the play/counterplay antics of Magic. Unfortunately I probably won't ever have the presence to drive the adoption of such a game if I made it, and there's really not a lot of point to games like this if you can't get a certain critical mass of people playing it, so I don't know if it's worth pursuing -- especially in the litigious quagmire that Wizards have made of the CCG genre.

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I think you'd need to dedicate yourself to the Arena to have much success though; the meta will shift constantly as they introduce new cards and I'm willing to bet there will be a LOT of new cards. However, I can see Arena being able to sustain a player relying on it as their main game without breaking the bank; $2 per go in the arena isn't much, even if you enter every day, if you aren't playing anything else. 

 

You earn more than enough gold through daily quests to play the arena without paying.  The reward for the worst performance in the arena is roughly equivalent to buying a card pack.

 

150 gold = an arena pass = a card pack, + some gold + some enchant essence for a shitty arena performance

vs

100 gold = a card pack

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