A little over a year ago, “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft,” was released by Blizzard Entertainment. “Hearthstone,” as it is typically referred to, is an online trading card game, or TCG, centered around Blizzard’s “Warcraft,” franchise, which is most popularly known for the best selling MMORPG of all time, “World of Warcraft.” Now that it’s been a year, I’d like to take a look back at what we’ve seen change since the days when “Hearthstone” was in beta as well as what we have to look forward to in the coming weeks.
When “Hearthstone” was initially released, it wasn’t anything inherently remarkable. Online TCGs had been released before (notable “Magic: Online”) with the concept of a virtual TCG having existed since at least 1998 with Nintendo’s release of “Pokémon Trading Card Game” for the Gameboy Color. These games had the exact same cards as their real world counterparts, which limited what could and could not be done. They were closer to video poker than they were to a real video game. Originally “Hearthstone” was that way too – there was very little about the game that couldn’t be replicated into a physical edition, save for a few exceptions (Ysera being one of them). Really the only thing that Hearthstone did inherently better than the other TCGs was that it came with a very large pool of free cards for anyone to use and play with, in addition to selling card packs very cheaply ($20 for 15 packs) and allowing players to use duplicate cards to create new ones.
Things have begun to change, however, with the release of “Hearthstone’s” two newest expansions: “Goblins vs. Gnomes,” and the upcoming “Blackrock Mountain,” which are introducing card types that could not practically exist in a physical format TCG. These are cards like “Bolvar Fordragon,” which gains attack power for every friendly minion killed on the field while it is in your hand. A card like this would never be permitted in a physical TCG because it would be too easy to cheat. Just tell your opponent that it’s been in your hand all game and drop a cheap minion with 30-attack power. “Hearthstone,” being on a computer, prevents anything of the sort from happening, allowing this card into play.
Other cards include “Blackwing Technician,” which gains one attack and one defense if you play it while a dragon is in your hand. Again, this is something that would be too easy to cheat with in a physical format. The opponent has no way to actually tell if you have a dragon in your hand, or even if you have one in your entire deck.
An example of a card that simply wouldn’t be practical to play in a physical format is “Bouncing Blade,” a card that was released with “Goblins vs. Gnomes.” The card randomly damages all minions on the field until one of them dies. While this may be relatively simply to replicate when there are only one or two minions in play, when dealing with a board full of 14 minions, this can take upwards of ten minutes of dice rolling to get through a single turn. “Hearthstone” does it in a turn that takes little more than five seconds.
After a year, “Hearthstone” has really embraced itself less as a TCG that is played on a computer and more as a video game that happens to feature trading card features as its gameplay focus. I’m patiently waiting to see what Blizzard comes up with next for its fastest growing franchise, and how it’s going to continue to shock the card game playing world.