Each player has a deck of exactly thirty cards with no more than two copies of the same card with the exception of legendaries, which are limited to only one of each kind per deck. There are no resource cards. Instead, the game starts each player at one mana per turn and slowly ramps up that maximum by one each round, capping at ten mana. Games can range from a couple minutes to almost half-an-hour at most, but most games will be decided in the 10-15 minute range.
There are currently nine playable heroes, one of each of the original nine playable World of Warcraft classes. Each class/hero has unique spell, weapon, and minion cards tied to their deck that cannot be used by other classes, but the majority of the minion cards are neutral and usable by anyone. The heroes all have a unique power that is always accessible for two mana, such as the priest’s heal or the mage’s fireblast. As one might gather from all this specialization, each hero deck has certain playstyles and unique mechanics to keep things interesting. For example, the hunter has an amazing ability to field huge numbers of cheap minions all at once, the mage has an unparalleled ability to control the field with spells, and the shaman can essentially trade mana from his next turn to play more powerful cards earlier and in greater numbers.
The game currently has three modes: Practice, Play (ranked and unranked) and Arena. Practice is player-versus-A.I. and is primarily a method to quickly unlock basic cards for each deck. Play mode is the bread-and-butter mode in which players are matched up against each other by skill level for one-on-one matches using custom or pre-built decks. Arena is a draft mode that card game veterans will be familiar with. The game gives each player a choice of three randomly selected heroes, then offers randomized selections of cards to build decks. The goal of Arena mode is to win nine games without losing three times and getting knocked out. Rewards are based on the number of wins, and are split between booster packs, gold and arcane dust.
Since the game does not offer trading, players have to rely on the crafting system to make new cards and all crafting uses arcane dust. While this material can be acquired through the Arena, the primary method of acquiring it is through disenchanting. The process works similarly to the Enchanter ability of the same name in World of Warcraft, allowing players to permanently destroy excess or unwanted cards and receive arcane dust in return. Value is based on rarity, with the cheapest commons producing a mere five dust and unique legendaries giving several hundred. The rarest legendaries, such as Deathwing and Onyxia, will require well upwards of a thousand dust to create. Considering that there is no use for more than two of the same card, players should build up a decent supply of dust relatively early.
GraphicsThe visual style and effects are of the polished and clear quality that everyone should expect from Blizzard. Hits produce sound and visual effects related to their power. A one-damage hit is noticeable but weak, while a nine-damage hit will shake the screen and induce awed responses from the audience. The bright and vibrant WoW style is present, and the art on the cards is as strong as ever, directly translating from the existing card game and adding fancy 3D effects to certain rare cards.
In addition to a variety of sound effects for fireballs, bloodlust and so forth, all of the minions have unique voice clips that play when the card is played, ranging from simple bestial roars to humorous references to World of Warcraft, including the Raid Leader using quote from the infamous Onyxia Wipe Club video. Each of the playable hero characters occasionally speaks on their own, such as at the beginning of a match, but most of their voice files are simple voice emotes that each player picks from a menu. These emotes provide the only method of player communication during matches. In fact, the only way to text chat with other players is to friend them. On the player end, this setup keeps harassment and trolling down. On Blizzard’s end, they can keep down the number of customer service representatives.
The main issue right now is the reward system. Players get daily quests worth about 40 gold and five gold for every five games they win in Play mode. There are a few one-time quests that the player can do to get some early money and the game gives out 300 gold at 100 wins. While that may sound like a decent amount of money, a single pack of five cards costs 100 gold and a single entry into the Arena costs 150. Once all the initial one-time rewards are depleted, progression starts to become tedious and thankless for players that do not intend on spending much money. While this might sound par-for-the-course for the freemium model, the game could still easily stand to throw free players a little more incentive, even just increasing the average amount of gold-per-win up to five or adding an extra daily quest or adding a free Arena game each week.
As it stands right now, Hearthstone is quite a lot of fun. It is easy to pick up and play, and it offers a lot of strategic depth and variety. That said, the metagame is hard to evaluate at the moment because most players are still using basic cards and the reward system definitely needs some tweaking.