I have to say, when I saw my suitemates playing a card game online I had my fair share of suspicions. I was sure that all I was seeing was a less-than-interesting clone of 'Magic: The Gathering' digitized and monetized even further to reach the more 'digitally native' audience. After trying the game, though, I am in love. 'Hearthstone' is much more than a clone and I'll be playing it for quite some time.
The initial concept is simple: kill your opponent's hero before he can kill yours. This is accomplished through playing cards and dealing damage in the form of creatures or spells. Cards cost mana (read 'energy') to play, and each turn the players are given a little more mana to use; as the game progresses, each player is able to play more cards per turn and deal more damage or summon more creatures.
This seemingly simple idea has spawned an enthralling game. While everything starts out simply, the game mechanics and nuances keep players on their toes from the get go and challenge even the most seasoned players at times.
Players are encouraged to try out many play styles; after a few simple fights most heroes are available for use and after using a specific hero for a period of time, special cards will unlock specifically for that hero for you to use. Little rewards along the way draw in new players with the thrill of getting something new and shiny for very little effort. After winning a set number of matches, the player earns gold.
Aside from using real-world money to buy it, gold can only be acquired through winning games or completing challenges. This currency can be used to purchase new cards to incorporate into existing decks or create new decks entirely. Gold comes sparingly after the first few matches, however, and a lot of play must be done in order to get anything of real value later on.
This is the money point of the game and the point that I take the most issue with. Players can sink a lot of money into the game and buy enough packs of cards to guarantee themselves a game-winning deck, and a player who hasn't bought their way to a good deck can sometimes be at a severe disadvantage. Fortunately, a low-level player has a small chance of encountering something like this so risk is fairly minimal.
Once a player has completed the early parts of the game, he or she is encouraged to go and try out his or her deck in the online PvP section. The game automatically matches you to an opponent of relatively equal skill (though generally not the same hero type) and the fight begins. These online matches teach the player more advanced skills by facing harder opponents; the computer can only do so much.
Online play also offers the player the opportunity to participate in Ranked matches where a player can gain ranks that display their abilities. The online community is one of the most pleasant I've ever been a part of, primarily because players can only speak in pre-programed phrases. Despite this, many players have gone out of their way to compliment me on an especially good play or greet me at the beginning of a match. Friendliness in an online game is not a familiar concept to me, but it seems so commonplace in 'Hearthstone' that I almost feel compelled to join in. Receiving praise from your opponent inspires a form of chivalry; the members of 'Hearthstone' are ladies and gentlemen and as such choose to duel with honor. I would love to see an attitude like this everywhere else in the gaming community, but for now, it's just a perk of 'Hearthstone.'
Finally, 'Hearthstone' offers a campaign mode in the form of the 'Naxxramas Expansion.' Players can face pre-programmed bosses that feature exclusive cards and rewards. These bosses are tough, but the rewards are well worth the work. The only drawback is the price, with each section of the expansion charging you gold or a few bucks to keep moving forward.
All in all, 'Hearthstone' is one of the best online games I've played in a long time. The community is fun and friendly, the game is easy to learn but hard to master, and the process of becoming good at playing the game is just as much fun as playing the game as a master. Free to play, fun to play, and easy to recommend, 'Hearthstone' is definitely one to look into.