The lights are on
I have never once even entertained the idea of playing a CCG. In fact, I just now had to Google what they were actually called because I used to refer to them as “that dorky elf crap that nerds play with cards.” As someone that’s not a fan of fantasy stuff in general, I assumed that CCGs would be far outside of my wheelhouse. That said, I randomly decided to download Blizzard’s free-to-play game on my iPad during a lazy Sunday. I love it.
Yesterday wasn’t my first experience with the game, however. Game Informer sent me to PAX East last year, and I spent most of my time checking out awesome titles at the Indie MegaBooth. Blizzard had just announced Hearthstone at the event, so I had to find some time to check out a new title from such a respected developer. Knowing nothing about the subject matter, I pinged our former PC editor (and one of the nerdiest people I know) Adam Biessener to get some tips on what to ask.
Putting on my best “I understand your game and these questions I’m about to ask you” face, I talked to Blizzard developers in their booth. My plan was to ask the questions Adam had fed to me, then give him the interview transcription and let him utilize the information for a proper, knowledgeable preview of the game. I asked questions about resource pools and card advantage, then stared and vacantly nodded during their responses in the same fashion I do when a mechanic is explaining to me what’s wrong with my car.
When I was done with the interview, they asked me if I wanted to play the game. Not wanting to be rude, I said yes despite knowing playing the game would likely reveal my ignorance of the concept of CCGs. With a developer standing over my shoulder, I started a round of an early version of the game on PC. To my surprise, it wasn’t the immediately incoherent and dense gameplay I expected. I didn’t become fully familiar with the intricacies of strategy in my brief time with it, but I walked away thinking it seemed accessible and possibly even something I’d like to play in the future.
After PAX East, Hearthstone left my mind for an extended period as I began to look forward to next-gen consoles and the variety of big titles coming throughout the remainder of 2014. I didn’t really start thinking about the game again until this weekend when I saw my Twitter feed get taken over by Hearthstone-related tweets that were uniformly positive. Considering I was sitting on my couch, hungover in my pajama pants while half-watching an episode of Total Divas on my TV, I figured I had time to give Hearthstone a shot.
My expectation was to pick it up and immediately be presented with some tutorial screen or dorky dwarf that tried to explain a million damage categories and status effects to me. Then I’d get confused, turn off my iPad, and resume watching Nikki Bella desperately trying to get John Cena to agree to marry her.
To my surprise, that moment of confusion never came. I’m capable of diving into genres I’m not used to, but I almost always have to adjust to a steep learning curve. I’ve learned to love Dark Souls II, but I still find myself looking at the “help” descriptions of the numerous weapon stats every time I want to switch to a new sword or shield. I assumed that Hearthstone would be no different. As I waited for that “screw this, it’s confusing” moment to come, I actually found myself understanding every new element and becoming engaged with even the tutorial levels. Blizzard has perfectly designed the front end of the Hearthstone experience to be accessible and enjoyable for the newest of CCG newcomers.
I intended to only get through the tutorial, but wound up playing for hours. I unlocked all of the basic cards for the mage, then unlocked the decks for all of the other characters. I experimented with creating my own deck, knowing little about strategy but still having fun selecting cool creatures and abilities. I eventually jumped into online play, and was pleased to discover (after getting trounced for my first few rounds) I was actually capable of winning the occasional match. I’ve ended every night this week playing rounds of Hearthstone in my bed, and I’ve grabbed my iPad every morning when I wake up for a quick match. If you’d have told me that a year ago, there’s no chance I would have believed you.
New genres can be a hard nut to crack if you’ve spent a lifetime ignoring them. Someone who has never watched football would be confused on numerous levels if they picked up this year’s edition of Madden. We’ve all had relatives that played Mario back in the day, but they’ll spend an entire round of Call of Duty staring at the sky because they’re not used to FPS controls.
To an outsider, the world of CCGs seems just as intimidating as a modern controller does to that relative. Despite that, Blizzard has done a remarkable job of making Hearthstone the perfect entry point for those unfamiliar with card games. I used to have a high school mentality of making fun of my Magic-playing friends, and now I find myself in my boss’s office looking at websites devoted to optimal deck builds. It’s no small feat on Blizzard’s part, and their fantastic work deserves to bring plenty of new fans into the fold.