5
Jul

Hearthstone - an appreciation

A significant proportion of my leisure time in the last 3 months has been spent on Hearthstone, the Warcraft card game. I first saw my housemates play this in my senior year at Brown, and picked it up earlier this year after reading an article about it. I think it is one of the most successful games that has been built in the last 3-5 years, and will be a case study for an elegant blend of casual and competitive gaming.
There are four reasons why I like this game very much:
  1. - MATHEMATICAL ELEGANCE. The objective is simple, to reduce the opposing hero from 30 to 0 life before he can do the same to you. Most of the game mechanics are deterministic (though there are a lot of mechanics), and the random mechanics are probabilistic, allowing for smart calculated plays.
  2. - GAME THEORY. One can guess at the opponent's cards for the next turn, and make the play most likely to succeed given the assumptions the opponent has certain cards. There is an element of playing around the opponent
  3. - WIDEST POSSIBLE AUDIENCE The game is turn-based, which allows it to appeal to the widest possible audience. Starcraft and other Real-Time Strategy games are often reflex based, and exclude the older demographic due to their need for a large amount of clicks per minute. Hearthstone's turn-based mechanics make reflexes irrelevant.
  4. - AN OPTIMAL BLEND OF SIMPLICITY AND COMPLEXITY - Simplicity and complexity. Simplicity comes through minimal resource types (three resources: cards, mana, and existing board state through minions and weapons), and complexity comes through a large number of interesting effects for those cards, minions, and weapons.
    1.     - the simplicity draws the casual gamers in. the complexity makes the money. Because the standard cards are good for winning certain games, but you will win it in the same way most of the time. The cards generally just do damage. To get complexity, you will need to invest in card packs, to get the more interesting effects. And you get access to multiple game mechanics.
Why it is so addictive?
- You can get better incrementally at the game by understanding and memorizing the opponent's plays
- You can come up with new concepts and decks based on the wide variety of cards and mechanics available.
I see Hearthstone as a kind of chess, where the top players fascinate through being able to look 2-4 moves ahead, as well as predict the opponent's deck and their moves.

Some inside baseball now for players of Hearthstone.Two of the best players are Kolento and Strifecro, and their Twitch streams/Youtube videos are well worth viewing for anyone who has a passing interesting in top class competitive gaming.

Kolento is I think the world's best player, and his solutions are often very elegant. See this video for example:

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tawimgtiVIA In this video, the opponent has exactly 17 health. Kolento has 9 damage on board, and can increase it to 14 damage with Nightmare (0 mana) and 16 with Auchenai + Heal (6 mana). He knows the boombot will deal at least 1 dmg to whatever is remaining on board if it dies, but he needs to ensure that nothing else remains on board. How can he guarantee lethal?
  • - The solution is elegant: Nightmare the boombot (+5 /+5) to ensure it survives the first circle of healing (becomes 4 dmg to all minions with Auchenai), hit with all other minions. Auchenai, heal, then double circle to wipe the board and ensure the opposing hero is the only one remaining. He even has time to do the unnecessary play of wild pyromancer
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoELc-Jg8yc . Calculation of damage using the priest hero class

Strifecro's style is recognizably different. He often thinks 1-3 turns ahead, and worries about all the possible cases. See this example with the Doomsayer card: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpDyu1objgg

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