Game essentials: Hearthstone
We take a closer look at the App Store’s must-play games.
Thrilling card combat
Over four years after launch, Blizzard’s phenomenal one-on-one card battler is still going strong. Jumping into any popular multiplayer game after that amount of time can be a daunting prospect, but Hearthstone is different. Even now, it’s as friendly to newcomers as it is compelling to veterans.
That’s partly thanks to one of the most thorough and considerate introductions to a game we’ve ever seen. Across six enjoyable battles against computer opponents, the game shows you the ropes, covering the essentials without holding your hand the whole way. You’re given just enough freedom to fail, and you’ll learn plenty from your mistakes.
By the end you’ll have a good grounding in what it takes to win a game of Hearthstone. Your goal is to whittle your opponent’s health pool down to nothing before they can do the same to you. You’ll do this by placing cards down on each turn, summoning monstrous minions, conjuring devastating spells or unleashing deadly weapons.
It sounds simple, and in many ways it is, because the game’s interface makes it so. You have all the information you need at your fingertips – pick a card and you’ll be told exactly what it does, while taking your turn is a matter of dragging and dropping it onto the board. The text will disappear as the card is replaced by an oval gem to keep the playspace tidy, but you can still tap each card for a reminder of what it does before you’ve memorised your deck.
As strategically satisfying as Hearthstone is, the game’s developer Blizzard has worked equally hard to make it fun to watch. While this game takes plenty of inspiration from physical card games, its battles are naturally more dynamic. Cards and character icons slam down on the table with real force. Win, and the screen shakes violently, with a fanfare and fireworks greeting the victor.
The boards themselves are interactive, too: while you’re waiting for your opponent to take their go, you can swipe to turn a pile of wood into a campfire, dip your finger into a pool of slime to make it bubble up, or pop bulbous sacs to release scuttling spiders.
There’s a thrilling sense of escalation to every Hearthstone match. Each player’s mana supply (which determines which cards you can play) increases per turn, giving you more powerful options as the turns tick by. Certain combinations can elevate seemingly feeble minions: even a lowly Murloc Raider can make the difference if you pair it with the right cards.
As you keep playing, you’ll discover you’ve picked up the game’s complexities almost by osmosis. You’ll learn the value of playing a Taunt card which forces opponents to waste an attack, just as you’ll figure out ways to bypass a rival Taunt. Over time, you’ll instinctively know when to place Charge cards that attack instantly, or to deploy a Death Rattle card whose perk only triggers when it’s destroyed.
In fact, there are counters to even the most seemingly overpowered cards. As a Mage you can turn your enemy’s deadliest minion into a (nearly) harmless sheep. And if you’re facing an attack-minded Warrior, you can frustrate them with a Priest deck that lets you heal up and then sweep them off the board.
Blizzard has balanced the game with such care that the best Hearthstone players can win with a beginner deck. It’s merely a matter of knowing how to use every card to its fullest.
Given time and patience, that knowledge will come to any player. In the meantime, you can enjoy leafing through the pages of your beautifully-arranged card collection, unlocking all nine character classes, crafting your own deck and practising new combinations before you’re ready to rise through the competitive ranks.
With all hands on decks, Blizzard’s good ship continues to steam onward – and several post-launch expansions later, Hearthstone is bigger and more versatile than ever before. So isn’t it time you jumped on board?