These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.
Over the last twenty years, Blizzard Entertainment has made a mint through its World of Warcraft franchise. Since launching last year, Hearthstone, a digital collectible card game based on characters and lore from Warcraft, has developed into a similarly powerful juggernaut on the competitive gaming scene. Tournaments, Reddit forums, and strategy guides have all sprung up to support Hearthstone's turn-based tactical battles, and in April, Hearthstone finally launched on iOS.
If you're even remotely interested in World of Warcraft, you'll love this release. Read on for three reasons why the iPhone version of Hearthstone is your next (free!) game to download.
You'll find familiar orc-ish faces: For those already familiar with World of Warcraft or the Warcraft strategy games, you'll find a lot of familiar faces here. Hearthstone offers nine classes, each modeled after a different Warcraft hero and each with its own unique cards and play style. Priest decks are great for stealing your opponent's minions and healing while rogues can unleash massive combos using their dagger hero power.
If you grew up playing Magic: The Gathering, then you'll understand the appeal of collecting cards to build decks and battle your friends. Hearthstone is sometimes called "Magic for Morons," and on the surface, you see a lot of similarities--players summon spells or minions limited by a player's mana pool, both games utilize fantasy lore to inform their world, and many of the cards have similar mechanics involving attack, defense, interrupts, etc.
But while Magic was built for the tabletop, Blizzard has always designed its product for digital platforms. Blizzard is able to update overpowered cards, release new ones (in seemingly quarterly expansions) and offer a variety of game modes that shows a real understanding of the unique benefits of the mobile and computer platforms. More importantly, comparatively Hearthstone seems far simpler and more approachable to new players. An innkeeper greets you when you start up the game, characters emote and threaten you as you play cards, and quirky, sometimes humorous animations play after certain actions. Running through the tutorial will get you playing; opening a few packs and playing in the Arena for the first time will get you hooked.
Games modes beyond random duels: The aforementioned Arena is one of Hearthstone's better selling points: Players choose between three random heroes and then draft a deck from randomly generated choices. You'll compete against other players who have similarly drafted decks, insuring that no one is too familiar with the cards and offers a welcome break from a ladder system. The more you win in Arena, the more in-game currency and cards you earn.
The game's ladder and casual modes are a great way to play against random strangers and learn that everyone is playing a better deck than you. Just kidding! Sorta! You'll lose a lot in player versus player modes--at least initially. And thankfully, Blizzard only allows you to communicate with your opponent through pre-assigned emotes and none of them are expletives.
The game also offers single player campaigns beyond the tutorial. These can be earned through accruing in-app currency (the game is technically free, after all) or purchased outright. There are daily quests to allow you to collect gold and purchase packs, and there are plenty of players who have crafted decks utilizing this method (rather than say spending $20 on 15 packs). Playing through the single player campaigns will earn you access to strong cards, and demonstrate, once again, that Blizzard knows how to make a campaign experience.
Hearthstone on a smaller screen: Hearthstone's approachability and polish aren't limited to the single-player campaign experience; in the Mac and iOS versions, Hearthstone offers large game boards and colorful, interactive environments where you can battle your foes. When bored, you can fiddle with a stage's loadable cannonpult or explode some nearby fireworks.
On the iPhone's smaller screen, some of these trappings are lost. If you're bored, you'll find the mobile versions of the interactive stage backgrounds are reduced in size and far less fun to fidget with. Building a deck is also a bit harder because you have to be careful what you drag into and out of your right hand deck list. I've experienced some connectivity issues in areas where I have good reception and a bug where when you steal an enemy secret, you can no longer tell what it is you just stole.
Still, I've been playing the iPhone version over the last two weeks and with only some small quibbles, the experience is largely just as fun and addictive as the standard version. I play both versions now interchangeably. Blizzard has also streamlined the log-in and purchasing processes: you don't have to log into Battle.net every time you want to play and pack purchases are all done in app and appear on your iTunes bill.
Blizzard has effectively and painstakingly translated its award-winning collectable card game to a new platform without missing a beat. If you're curious, it's mix of chessboard nuance and addictive collectability will appeal to hobbyists who grew up on Magic, baseball cards, or stamps. There's nothing like it on the mobile platform and it's free to download. Feel free to challenge me--on iOS or on the Mac. You don't want to mess with my Priest deck.