How I Got Hooked On Hearthstone, the Digital Card Game (And Why You Should Too)
Posted by Joshua Rivera 5 months ago in Features
Collectible card games have a stigma. Which is weird, because It seems like few things really do anymore—being a geek is cool, online dating is pretty much a rite of passage, and like, holy shit brogrammers are a thing. But even when comic book movies are the most anticipated blockbusters in theaters every summer, something like Magic: The Gathering still has a kind of stigma.
At least, it still has a bit of a stigma to me.There’s a lot to like about collectible card games—while Magic is the longest running and most popular, others have sprung up and garnered large followings, like Android: Netrunner or the Game of Thrones card game. I’d always been curious about them but never took the plunge. They were too expensive, too “nerdy” even for me, someone who writes about comics and video games for a living and has always loved them
Maybe it was because collectible card games aren’t a quiet, private indulgence. Collectible card games are an investment, they are expensive. They take up space. And you needed other people to play with you, along with a place to play with them. That was probably the scariest part. I moved around a lot growing up, and getting by in the arena of middle and high school—the places where boys discover collectible card games—involved being inconspicuous. Collectible card games are not inconspicuous.
But recently, I bought an iPad and downloaded Hearthstone, a digital collectible card game that’s kind of like Magic but much simpler, partly by design and partly because it’s only been around for two years. It’s made by Blizzard Entertainment, the folks behind crazy-popular and addictive games like World of Warcraft and StarCraft. In it, you build decks of cards loosely themed around Warcraft characters (although it’s not that important, I don’t really know a blessed thing about the grand plot of Warcraft) and play them against other real-life players across the Internet. You each have thirty points, and you use your cards—which represent monsters and magic spells—to try and knock your opponents points down to zero before they do the same to you.
That’s pretty much it. I mean, there’s more to it, but it’s mostly all stuff that’s more or less explained by the cards you have and the cards that your opponent plays that you have to deal with. That’s half of the fun—learning the way each card inconveniences the anonymous internet person on the other side of the screen and benefits you (if at all, some cards screw you both, or backfire entirely, and that’s cool too). Earning new cards and amassing a library from which to build a deck is the other half of the fun—learning how to distill your proclivities and personality into a pile of simple numbers and arguments that can hopefully outfox another player’s custom-built pile of numbers and arguments is kind of fascinating and endlessly enjoyable.
It’s also a good way to learn about yourself: Are you impulsive and brash, or cautious or conservative? Are you a quick and dirty combatant, or all about the long con? Are you complete jerk like that one guy I played who could’ve clearly won in one move but just strung me along anyway because he was literally the evil kid from Toy Story?
Yeah, it’s not all fun on the mean streets of Hearthstone. Also not fun: Getting new cards takes forever if you don’t want to spend actual money. Sure, the Hearthstone app is free, and while everyone starts with the same basic set of cards, for the truly interesting cards, you have to buy more. You can do this with gold you earn by playing, but that takes forever. It’s much faster and more satisfying to just buy new cards with real money.
Did I say I got an iPad? What I meant was that I got a really expensive Hearthstone machine.
But that’s kind of the appeal. You can play Hearthstone on your phone, your tablet, or your laptop. You can figure it out quietly and play with people you can’t see. If you can’t afford normal card games, you start with a competent deck for free. Hearthstone knows that collectible card games are inherently interesting and fun, and gives you everything you need to get hopelessly, easily hooked. (I’m pretty hooked.)
Also, they just released a new expansion full of crazy C’thulu-esque themed cards and it’s wild.
There’s an elegance to card games that you can’t really get anywhere else. They’re a sort of medium unto themselves. An individual playing card is only so big—three and a half by two and a half inches if they’re the standard poker-size card, which most are (well, except Hearthstone, because Hearthstone doesn’t use real cards,) That’s a remarkably limited space to convey information, and such an unlikely object from which to stitch together a whole universe of fiction.
And collectible card games do it. They turn simple math and rules into fodder for battles of wit, throw in art that implies at a richer world where your weird little math-battles mean something, where the cards you play are pages ripped from a wild sci-fi or fantasy novel. And they’re tangible. You shuffle cards in decks, you fan them in your hand, slide them forward and draw them close. You manipulate card games in a way you don’t really get to interact with anything else.
Hearthstone is digital but it more or less gets this. It’s satisfying in all the same ways, and a pretty damn good approximation of what makes collectible card games great, and also miraculously un-intimidating. Maybe you’ll dig it. Or maybe you’ll want to dive into something more conspicuous. I hear Netrunner is pretty cool.
After all, being a geek is cool now. There aren’t really any stigmas anymore. Just the ones you make for yourself.