Back in the day, there were two popular pastimes at my high school. The first was video games. My friends and I played “Doom” and “Street Fighter II” into the wee hours of the night. The other hobby was “Magic: The Gathering,” a trading card game that launched in 1993. I was a fan of the electronic amusement rather than the ink and paper ones. It was just too complicated.
But a breakthrough has occurred recently: Those two passions have coalesced, and the trading card game has turned into a popular genre on smartphones. The best example is “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft” (iOS, Android, PC; Rating: Teen), which recently has been ported to Android and iOS devices. Blizzard, once again, proves it can take a shaky but emerging genre and polish it so brightly that it becomes ridiculously addictive.
With “Hearthstone,” the team simplified the rules, making the game more accessible to a wider audience. Instead of a 60-card deck, players deal with 30. The team eliminated the need to tap resources and instead gives players mana crystals that increase and regenerate after each round.
It focuses the gameplay on class-specific decks that require different strategies as players summon creatures and cast spells to inflict damage on their rival.
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But the smartest feature is how the developer leverages the digital medium so that “Hearthstone” can have cards and actions that are impossible to reproduce in the paper and ink game. Players can use a card that pulls a random beast into the field. Some creature cards can multiply under other conditions. Best of all, players don’t have to worry about keeping track of the complicated math, rules and moving parts because that’s all done by computer.
That means players can still have a deep gameplay system and a streamlined interface as they build their decks and figure from the best combination of cards – an addictive craft in and of itself. Everything is sped up so that players can get in and out of a match in less than 20 minutes. It’s the right amount of gaming for a mobile device.
For me, Blizzard has done the impossible. It managed to make a trading card game that I actually like. “Hearthstone” has become a passion and the one game that has managed to cement a spot at the top of my iPhone’s home screen.
Gieson Cacho, Contra Costa Times
If you like ‘Hearthstone’
For those who want to graduate from “Hearthstone,” there’s another trading card game which offers a more complex and deeper experience – Cryptozoic Entertainment’s “Hex: Shards of Fate,” which started out as a Kickstarter project that raised more than $2 million.
The PC game will draw comparisons to “Magic: The Gathering,” but “Hex” does more with the digital medium. It offers a full auction house where players can sell and trade cards. Like “Hearthstone,” it leverages the video game element to create deeper sorts of cards. Some of them can be altered via a socket system. Others can be modified if players equip certain gear.
The project is still a work in progress and I’m just starting on it, but from what I’ve seen, it is setting itself apart from other offerings. With plans for more MMO elements, this could be the trading card game for the digital age.