Hearthstone PAX East News With The B-Team PLUS More Previews & Core Concepts

For several weeks on HorsePLAY! LIVE and in the GANG community, we’ve been predicting the release schedule for various killer features that will keep Hearthstone on our playlist and get more of our friends on-board.  In our previous article on how to get the Hearthstone iPad app now (and get started right), we shared how to get rocking on your Apple device NOW but it seems the need for the work-around is quickly fading away.  The B-Team Podcast has confirmed that the window is currently within a week or so.  I am guessing before my birthday this Saturday, April 19th – that’s great news, everyone!

B-Team PAX East Blizzard Interview Key Take-Aways:

  • Blizzard qualifies this as CCG, not a TCG, which means we should not hold our breath for trading or auctioning of any sort.
  • Hearthstone is the CCG for everyone.
  • They’re prioritizing creating a great game over the obligatory “merchandising bonanza” and cross-promotion.
  • The iPad experience is the same as on PC and Mac.
  • There are no pay gates or pay walls.
  • One of their core philosophies is balancing the game so you can be competitive without spending tons of time or money.

All this is great news and should encourage newer players or anyone who is on the fence.  I was surprised that there was no indication about spectator mode from any PAX East coverage.  Blizzard has said it is a “top priority” but I reckon other components and features are the focus.   I really feel that Blizzard is focusing on the more casual competitive community before catering to the hardcore eSports type players  I’d say too much of a focus on eSports features which would make Hearthstone more exclusive and scary for the average gamer.

Our own Stan Faryna cited concerns with matchmaking and the new player experience, by extension.  Blizzard confirmed that it is something they will keep fine-tuning.  Hearthstone is the game many Blizzard developers have wanted to play themselves so they want it to be fun for everyone.  During the B-Team interview, they briefly summarized how each of the primary gameplay modes handle matchmaking differently:

  • Casual – As Stan says, casual play can be frustrating.  I find that early in any season, the competition is most fierce due to a smaller player pool and sample data to work with perhaps.  I do win most of my matches here unless I start experimenting too much.
  • Ranked – This ladder mode looks more at stars and current rank so it’s easier to find a close match, in theory.  This mode seems to be the most fair mid-way through any season, with the exception of smurfs and fast-tracked/pay-to-win players.
  • Arena – This uses a completely different system.  Blizzard is unclear (“shocker”) on what this means.  I still find arena truly levels the playing field and rewards the most skilled players.  Luck of the draw when building decks is an issue here, however.

Blizzard assures us that the client-server model, as opposed to peer-to-peer, so cheating should be minimized.  The only issue Blizzard has encountered often is with trolls milking the timer.   Never fear – they are working on improving that!  Unlike their parent company, EA, I have faith Blizzard will commit to their promises and support this game for many years to come, much like they have with Warcraft III and Diablo II, two of my all-time favorite games.

Blizzard also confirmed during the PAX East interview what many of us have already noticed: [two of] the top Twitch streamers have gone up the ladder to Legendary rank within a week or two without spending money.  I believe TrumpSC is one of them.  Of course, if you want to see how NOT to play Hearthstone, watch me on Twitch or check out the NEW! TwitchPlaysHearthstone, which is similar to the newbtastic, cringe-worthy experience on TwitchPlaysPokemon.

Joystiq has a quick-and-dirty Hearthstone PAX East cheat sheet that does a really good job of highlighting the big things we can expect this year.  The biggest details revolve around the upcoming Hearthstone expansion, affectionately called CoN.

Hearthstone - Adventure Mode - Curse Of NaxxramasCurse of Naxxramas is slated for Summer 2014 but I would not be surprised if the first boss encounter or episode is released within a few weeks as I write this.   I reckon Blizzard wants to control the release of new cards so that newer players can avoid feeling overwhelmed.  I think that is fair.

Jesse Cox reports from PAX East - Hearthstone Curse Of Naxxramas!The first CoN corridor or wing (Arachnid) will be FREE but, as we see in arena, a buy-in will be required for new runs.  While this expansion brings tons of singleplayer content, the addition of 30 new cards will certainly spice up PvP quite a bit.  More seasoned duelists like myself, Sworen, and ObioneX2 are eagerly awaiting new cards but, honestly, I think the current card set is fine.

What’s really important here is that Adventure Mode will give newer or lesser-skilled players the opportunity to test out new strategies in a more controlled environment since bosses will use pre-constructed themed decks.  With less room to blame external circumstances or luck, players can actual train and improve!  I know Stan will love what this expansion means for the game.  For me, the fact that I have gamer ADD means that I need more variety and Blizzard is delivering so THANK YOU!

Hearthstone Curse Of Naxxramas Adventure Mode #paxxramasQuite a few cards have been revealed but let’s discuss the ones most of us find interesting.   First and foremost, you’ll see that they are committing to the deathrattle mechanic quite a bit; however, there are still no signs of new classes and archetypes.  That means no elf, unicorn, dragon, or orc synergies…  Perhaps that would make the game less accessible..  Sorry but it’s true.  If you want over-complicated game mechanics, consider Scrolls, SolForge, Magic The Gathering, or Yu-Gi-Oh!, where the possibilities are endless..  almost to the point of utter frustration just keeping up with the current meta and most viable strategies.

Okay, okay, here are the cards: Undertaker gains a +1/+1 when minions with deathrattle are summoned.  Baron Rivendare will cause the deathrattle ability to trigger twice, which will certainly shift the meta and make for some interesting video highlights.  I can’t wait!  We wonder if this will replace Murlock aggro/rush decks as the new over-played core mechanic.  Deathrattle is already sexy but now we will see it as a theme around which decks will be built.

Dear Blizzard, you *NEED* to add more deck slots.  Hell, you can even monetize and bundle it with big-ticket purchases to justify expediting feature.  Really, additional deck slots would be a value-add just because it would allow players to compare different builds with their favorite heroes/classes.  Deck and class-based  stats could then be introduced, too!  We’d play a whole lot Hearthstone with these features in place.  Currently, getting attached to a deck is not possible so naming them is almost arbitrary and pointless.  Just sayin.

Shade Of Naxxramas is a 3-cost minion who starts at 2/2 with stealth and gains +1/+1 at the start of each turn.  Shade sounds like a stronger Jungle Panther, since this minion has the ability to stick and scale.  That means she will have the opportunity to get more damage out, which is HUGE.  Dancing Swords is 4/4 3-mana card.  It’s deathrattle effect gives your opponent cards, which makes this card questionable at first but…

We have seen a rise in Priest  with heavy card draw mechanics built right in.  The guys at The Angry Chicken say that milling (making your opponent run out of cards) is not a viable core mechanic or strategy but I beg to differ.  I’ve had opponents bleed out when they got too greedy.  What’s more is that Priests have the ability to mass dispel (silence), so they can theoretically play Dancing Swords without the penalty, which will likely make them more aggressive and popular.

Enough about the cards…  What about RNG?

RNG, known to game developers and designers as Random Number Generator, refers to the random seed process and algorithms that work behind the scenes.   Any element of random can be attributed to RNG.  In a deckbuilding game, you can express this as a fraction.  For example, you have a x/y chance to draw a card from a deck.  X is how many copies of the card you have and Y is the deck size.  Don’t forget to simplify and, if you prefer percentages, divide the numerator (the top number) by the denominator (the bottom number).

Kids, be sure to tell your parents you learned something useful today.  Math is OP.  For realz.

The big question about Hearthstone and other deckbuilding games is whether random elements trump skill.  I still say “NO” with regards to Hearthstone.  There are popular streamers that consistently get to the top tier of rankings so, logically, it can’t be all about random luck.  Give SolForge a try if you doubt this.  I love SolForge but it is much more of a grind for players trying to avoid dumping money in.  SolForge refreshes your hand every turn so you may never get the right card you want, even if you run multiple copies and incorporate lots of card-draw combos.

As we will often find, the key in any TCG/CCG is mitigating the random elements rather than waiting to top-deck the card you really need or hoping your opponent makes a mistake.   You need to be deliberate and aware.  Here are some core concepts to note:

  • Card Draw – Many decks run out of steam late-game, which is why Priests, Beasts, and Warlocks are very popular – they have tons of ways to draw more cards.  The more cards you have in your hand late-game, the more options you have.
  • Play Order – One of the things we often take for granted is the order in which cards are played.  The wrong order can cause unnecessary damage to your own minions or accidental enraging/buffing of enemy minions, just for starters.
  • Wait & Combo -Just because you can make a play on a turn does not mean it is the best play.  Consider the combos and potential value of a big play later.  Leaving a single minion to the slaughter is rarely a good idea, especially if they
  • Two For One – The simplest rule of thumb is the most basic math of efficiency: any action that can counter an opponent’s (or cause them to take) two or three actions is a solid play.  This would indicate that minions with abilities are particularly useful but sometimes it’s about preventing repeat use from opponent plays (like that one minion that keeps snake biting you).
  • Trade Or Face? – This is the question you’ll often be faced with.  Do you do damage to the face or trade up with minions?  It all depends on the threats on the board and what you suspect your opponent has waiting for you.  The main thing to consider is how likely it will be that minions you spared this turn will be buffed somehow, which means continued value for your opponent…  And potential damage to YOUR face.
  • Premature Ejaculation – It’s easy to blow your metaphorical load on Hearthstone.  You maysee the opportunity to remove a minion and forget about the other threats your opponent may have.  Board clear is very good but be wary of opponents with full hands..  They are likely trying to bait you to waste your counters.

These concepts apply to just about every card game but Hearthstone is arguably the easiest to get into.  Now, we can talk about the strategy all day but it really comes down to the basics: patience and experience.  If you get frustrated and forget to have fun, nothing else really matters.  Find a deck build that you enjoy and focus on that a bit.  Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.  Streaming on Twitch certainly welcomes advice, warranted or not.

Hearthstone: Deceptively Simple, Insanely FunHearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft truly is deceptively simple (yeah, it’s not just catchy marketing copy, guys).  It’s easy to get into but, like with any other deckbuilding game, there are many layers of depth and strategy.  Experience goes a long way so, if you want to build up an early advantage, it may be best to jump into the game right now and learn the ropes before new cards and game mechanics are introduced.  The meta will inevitably shift with every tweak but the game is stable and balanced now.

So what are you waiting for?

Tell us what’s keeping you from playing Hearthstone TODAY..  Or maybe what you love most about it.  It’s all good in da hood, y0.  If you’re still unsure about Hearthstone, I’ll sell you on it yet!  If you have questions or concerns, share them with us – don’t be shy!

See you in the comments section!

 

How To Get Hearthstone On iPad Now & Get Started RIGHT

GREAT NEWS, everyone: Hearthstone is now available on iOS (iPad, iPhone, and iPoop)!

While many of us are rolling our eyes at the fact that this is a soft launch in test markets and the Android app is still months away, those who happen to have a Crapple device can now enjoy Hearthstone on the can..  See what I did there?  We are going to share how you can join in on the action while also looking at some upcoming features, tips and tricks, and other goodies.

First and foremost, there are two ways you can get the Hearthstone app on your iPhone and iPad.  The easy way is to live in Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.  The hard way is moving there just to get your Hearthstone fix wherever you go.

No worries – there is a third way to get Hearthstone on your iPoop device!

What you want to do is switch your Apple App Store region to Canada and trick your device into thinking you are there.  I’m not sure if you have to even have to change your address but this is what I tested successfully:

  1. Go into Settings then iTunes / App Store and tap your Apple ID.
  2. Click View Apple ID and then change your region to Canada.
  3. Agree to the terms then edit your profile.
  4. Choose “none” for payment.
  5. Copy and paste a Canada address from a public listing (i.e. apartment listings).
  6. Choose “none” for payment.
  7. Open up the App Store and download Hearthstone.
  8. Launch Hearthstone and play a match or two – ENJOY!
  9. Receive your FREE “expert pack” after playing one match.

After you test that Hearthstone has successfully installed, you can revert back to your original settings.  The trickiest part is finding an address that is publicly listed.  I recommend using something buried in the search engine results so we’re not all living in the same place (LOL).  Apartment listings, retail stores, and bank addresses are all public domain so it should not take long to find.  The specific steps thereof may vary if you have not upgraded to iOS 7.x yet but it is very easy to figure this out.

Poking The Hearthstone iPad / iOS App

[ source: Hung Tran Nguyen ]

There are two big reasons why the iOS test launch of the Hearthstone app are huge news:

  1. This means the bigger updates are right around the corner.
  2. Deckbuilding games lend themselves well to mobile devices.

I know lots of you geeks and gamers out there have been holding out for Hearthstone to come out on their preferred mobile devices.  Some are just waiting for Blizzard to polish the game further and balance everything out.  Blizzard opted to do a rather soft launch for Hearthstone but I reckon now may be the best time to jump in, unless you rather wait a two or three months for the Android app.

If you are hesitant about trying out Hearthstone, perhaps some thoughts from our own Stan Faryna may provide some  perspective for TCG/CCG newbies:

Assuming the average fight takes 10 minutes…

If you win on average one out of 20 times, that’s 3.3 hours to get one win. And not necessarily any gold in that time with the exception of possible quests and level-ups.

Where’s the “good” game play for the free player?  If you win on average one out of six times, that’s one hour to get to a win. You are unlikely to make gold to buy a pack of cards (or do the arena) with two or three hours of play.

Where’s the “good” game play for the casual player?
What kind of game play should a free player expect?
What kind of game play should a casual player expect?

 Hearthstone is without a doubt the TCG (Tradeable Card Game) for non-TCG/CCG players.   Is there a pay-to-win element?  Sure but what free-to-play game doesn’t have that (the answer is NONE)?  Are there balancing issues?  Absolutely but online games are almost always works in progress.  A look at the development road map may help you appreciate just how much Blizzard is committed to casual and hardcore gamers alike.

Let’s look at a few key points here.  I want to sell you on Hearthstone so we can have Geeky Antics / HorsePLAY! game nights.  Please keep an open mind…

 

Blizzard Has Mastered Mass Appeal

Between the familiarity of their intellectual property, the mythos and universe they have weaved for over two decades, and their accessible (not watered-down) game mechanics, Blizzard has mastered creating mass appeal for their properties.  Virtually everyone has heard of Blizzard, even if they’re not a gamer..  Or they’ve at least heard of World of Warcraft..  Remember that game?

Hearthstone Cameo On World Of Warcraft

Hearthstone is already becoming quite pervasive.  Even before we lucky gamers got into the closed beta, the game was teased in World of Warcraft.  That was back in 2012 and Hearthstone is popping up in more and more conversations.

What’s amazing is how people that would otherwise make fun of deckbuilding games or actively avoid them are enjoying Hearthstone.  For some, it’s the lore and mythos behind the game but, for everyone, it’s the balance and relative ease that makes Hearthstone appealing.

Blizzard has had a fantastic track record bringing niche genres into the forefront and pioneering fresh video game concepts.  Starcraft and Warcraft made RTS games more mainstream than ever, paving the way for eSports.  Diablo made hack-and-slash lootfests a thing.  World of Warcraft got everyone on the MMO bandwagon and introduced billions of gamers to the Warcraft universe.  Now, Hearthstone is bringing TCGs to a much wider audience than Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic The Gathering combined.  Let’s not forget Heroes Of The Storm, which is positioned to make the MOBA/ARTS genre even more of a mainstream activity.

 

You Don’t Have To Do PvP

Expert Mode bot battles should be coming back.  During the Hearthstone beta, you could battle more difficult bots for better rewards.  For some reason, Blizzard gave this feature the axe but there is still Practice mode if you really hate losing or just don’t like PvP.  I get it: no one likes to lose all the time.

Adventure Mode will change things up quite a bit by providing a story-driven single-player experience.  According to the Gamepedia unofficial Hearthstone development wiki, the first installment/episode is set to follow the iOS app release.  Assuming the test launch does not count, we should be about six weeks away from this, likely sooner.

My recommendation is that any new player avoid any PvP matchmaking and stick to friendly duels with friends and Practice mode.  You want to at least grasp the core mechanics and unlock the basic cards for your heroes of choice before diving into more competitive play.  Doing otherwise will lead to unfair expectations and quick judgements.

There are plenty of players out there that do strategy streams, podcasts, and videos.  I am also more than happy to coach new players.  Add me – my BattleTag is Yogizilla#1722.  Hearthstone is definitely meant to be enjoyed with friends.  The community as a whole is friendly so it’s a great place to connect with new geeks!

Learn the basics and the game suddenly becomes more fun..  And you lose less, regardless of the cards.

Hearthstone - Board Layout & Basics Diagram

If you jump straight into human matches, you’re just asking for trouble.  The forced tutorial does a good job of introducing the board layout and basics but a little practice makes PvP much more fun.  You want to at least unlock most of the heroes and core decks before you can find your sweet spot and WIN!

 

Wait..  Is Hearthstone A Pay-To-Win Game?!

Hellz to da NO!

Certainly, the pay-to-win element is there.  I have to reiterate that this is just how free-to-play has to be.  The 20% or so will always make it possible for the rest of us to play for free or on the cheap.   Let’s not forget that video games have business interest and have to make money like everyone else.  It’s only when the pursuit of financial interest over-powers player skill and fun that I would say a game is truly pay-to-win.

We’ll be highlighting EP17 of HorsePLAY! LIVE here on Geeky Antics to dig deeper into the issues of pay-to-win, pesky paywalls, and weak core mechanics.  For now, suffice to say that Blizzard has balanced Hearthstone quite well.  They’ve made it so that skill and fun are still the focus, though paying with time and/or money still give you an edge.

I would say that, compared to other deckbuilding games, Hearthstone has the most diverse meta.  I’ve seen tons of different types of decks and combos.  More importantly, every player has a fighting chance if they are patient and learn the strategies behind it all.

Archmage Antonidas - Legendary Card For Mages In Hearthstone

Now, there is the matter of legendary cards.  In some deckbuilding games, expensive and uber-rare cards are almost auto-wins and insta-adds for any deck.  I don’t find that is the case in Hearthstone, though they help without a doubt.

I have not spent any real money on Hearthstone (yet) and I have beaten plenty of uber decks.  I slacked quite a bit during the beta and it’s only now that Season 1 started that I am really doing my time – in a good way!  In my case, I am familiar with the game mechanics of deckbuilding games as a whole so that helps but I have brought new players into Hearthstone and they picked up the game rather quickly.  That proves that it’s not about the cards you own or even how much time you put in.

To me, any game that requires too much investment of time or money is not fun.  You should be able to pick up a game and enjoy it right off the bat.  If it’s a competitive game, time spent mastering the game should be rewarded but new players should also have the opportunity to compete in a fair and balanced environment.

 

Arena Gives You Bang For Your Buck

I totally recommend this game to anyone curious about what makes a deckbuilding game fun.  I will say that it is best to stick to Practice and friendly matches.  Once you unlock the basic cards (one per hero level for a total of 10 unlocks), your deckbuilding options really open up and you’ll be able to try out new strategies.

I would say after at least a week or 12 hours of solid gameplay, you may want to try out Arena Mode.  If you can win at least three matches, you’ll usually get a better deal than buying just one so-called “expert pack”.  The buy-in for Arena is currently 150 gold whereas a card pack costs 100 gold, both around or under $2 USD.  To put this into perspective, you can earn around 300 gold daily in a reasonable amount of time without it feeling like a total grind.

Hearthstone - Arena Mode - 10 Key Levels

Arena is essentially a survival mode where you duel random players until you lose three times.  You can have these matches at your leisure and retire whenever.  Each run can last up to a maximum of ten wins, as you can see by the keys in the image above.  Realistically, you can expect to win two matches at most when you are just starting off.  To date, I have only won about four matches at most on Arena and I am a fairly competent player.

Overall, I think Hearthstone is great right now and will only get better.  This is one of those games I want to play with my friends and our Geeky Antics community.  I have no reservations recommending this game but I do hope this mini guide helps you get started the right way.   Give it a try and look us up.  We’d love to play with you!