Sunday, November 3, 2013

Harping on Hearthstone: Day 2

Day #2: Secrets vs Instants and Opens

One thing glaringly missing from Hearthstone that most other established card games have is a range of cards that can be played when it is not your turn. Magic calls these Instants, L5R calls these Open actions. (Or Battle actions. Or Reactions. Or Terrains if in a battle. Did I mention L5R is awesome?)

Why are Instants and Open actions important in games like Magic and L5R?

Instants and reactionary spells serve two very important functions:
  • They keep the game interesting for both players at all times.
  • They shift the game style from "Attack, Tab Out, Attack, Tab Out" to "Play All the Time"
If you follow me on Twitter you've seen more than a few complaints from me about slow players taking far too long on their turns. Luckily I've got three monitors and am usually playing Minecraft and watching Netflix to keep slow players from being as agonizing as they could be but, at the end of the day, the opponent's turn is still aggravatingly boring.

Why? Because there is no reason I need to be present for the opponent's turn. I cannot react to their actions at all (even with Secret cards they will automatically activate, it's not my choice) and I cannot choose who defends against what attackers like in L5R. Everything an opponent does can be summed up by a quick glance when I tab back into the game on my turn. I've never seen anyone do anything particularly complicated but even if they did there is a summary on the left meaning there is no reason for me to pay attention to the opponent's turn at all.

The game is, quite literally, Attack, Tab Out, Attack, Tab Out, Attack, Tab Out. Adding reactionary cards or Instants would give players a reason to pay attention during the other player's turn and to think more carefully about their own actions on their own turn. Having actions that both players can perform at any time keeps both players engaged at all times and adds a deeper layer of strategizing to the game.

Don't Secrets do the same thing?
Not really. They're certainly the closest thing in Hearthstone but they are a poor substitute. You cannot choose when they activate meaning they can frequently be "wasted" on shitty effects and, far worse than that fact, only three classes get them, leaving the majority of players without any sort of reactionary cards whatsoever. They give the impression of "reacting" when, in fact, it's still a passive effect you can be tabbed out for during your opponent's turn.

The Fix: Split all actions into "your turn" or "all turns" which Magic does with Sorceries/Instants and L5R does with Limited/Open actions. Things like your hero power and some spells played from your hand could become playable at any time while playing minions and attacking would be limited actions. Continue to have Secrets but allow them to be voluntarily activated (Mirror Entity out and you played a 1/1? I'll wait for a big minion, thanks.) or played immediately from the hand in reaction to the action that would trigger them.

This would give Secrets a less aggravating purpose and give players something to do or think about at all times, keeping players engaged throughout the entire match.

The Not-So-Good-Fix: At the very least, if nothing previously is done, all classes should be given Secrets. As it stands only three of the nine classes even can pretend they can react and defend themselves on their own terms (though that's just an illusion with how Secrets are currently designed) and the rest of the classes just have to close their eyes and think of England on the opponent's turn. If every class had Secrets you could at least pretend you aren't just forced to lie there and take it.

The "I guess that might help" Fix: Allowing players to assign blockers against attacking creatures instead of letting the attacking player choose the way of the fight, similar to Magic, would give players a reason to be present during the opponent's turn and would allow them to mount a more successful and strategic defense. The closest thing you can do at this point is throw out Minions that have Taunt. While this would largely help liven up the game for anyone on the defense it's not an ideal fix, in my opinion, and would drastically change victory strategies in ways I don't think would benefit the game at this point.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Harping on Hearthstone: Day 1

I hope everyone's been well. I haven't been in contact with readers and the rest of the community much since I faded away (ahahahah pun; see what I did there?) earlier this year. I do miss talking to you folks a lot; I miss it more than I miss WoW or gold-making, to be honest.

I've been so tempted to return to WoW of late. I'm not going to; I promised myself and several others I wouldn't and I intend to keep that promise. Plus my life's so much better without spending hours playing WoW every day so that's something I don't want to mess up. But it's difficult because I do miss WoW and the WoW gold-making folks a lot.

In this weakened, WoW-tempted state Blizzard made their move and finally sent me a Hearthstone invite which I opted to try out. I've been playing around with it a bit each day since I got in and have found I have a very fickle attitude towards it; a lot like WoW, actually. I rage about dumb mechanics or unstable servers but am back the next day!

I thought I'd collect my thoughts and desires for Hearthstone which, I'm not going to lie, are mostly going to be complaints. I don't expect to get this blog fully up and running regularly but I wanted to put my thoughts out there before disappearing again. But as negative as everything below may sound I do think the game is enjoyable and, truth be told, some of the changes I'd like to see would defeat Blizzard's goal of having fast matches and a simple game. I'm not holding out hope that these will happen, these are just things I would love to see to make it a game I would enjoy more.

I am a fan of very complicated card games. My favorite card game, Legend of the Five Rings, is played with each player using two decks and there are multiple different victory conditions, each clan specializing in different sorts of victories. You can have matches of many players and, at one point, using decks made specifically for longevity my friends and I played for nearly twenty hours straight. I love complicated card games. So Hearthstone's simplicity has been difficult for me to accept, particularly since there are many cards in Hearthstone that are considered ridiculously overpowered by most other games' standards. (I'm looking at you, Silence.)

So let's get started and, hey, since we mentioned Silence let's make that part of Day 1.

Day #1: Cheap, Combo-Killing Crippling

Silence is just one example of the low-cost, devastating spells and minions capable of destroying any in-depth card combos for a pittance. Other culprits of over-budgeted silencers are Ironbeak Owl and Earth Shock.

These sorts of effects which immediately, irreversibly gimp your minions for 0-2 mana can have a devastating effect on any deck that isn't "I'm gonna put in a ton of big creatures and keep attacking until they're dead." Any sort of strategy or card synergy can be rendered completely worthless for zero mana.

Lately my favorite combo has been Northshire Clerics + Lightwells + Imp Masters. Lots of imps, lots of cards. But silence any one of those and the strategy becomes worthless. Without a card like Disenchant to react there's no defense against this except to just suck it up and keep going.

But with a limit of 2x each card in a deck it becomes virtually impossible to build a deck around card synergy. They need only kill two minions and the entire backbone of your deck can be out the window.

This leads to very bland, shallow strategies in deck building. While there is room for some very creative combos the fact they can be cast aside by a flick of your opponents wrist encourages the creation of generic decks which will perform "good enough" instead of doing super awesome things.

There are other cards that cripple as well; such as Polymorph which goes the extra mile to reduce it to a 1/1 as well. But at least that costs 4 Mana and is an actual investment. The inability to get rid of the effect causes me to still take issue with it but at least it's a bit more costly than the 0 Mana priest Silence.

The Fix: Giving all but the most powerful silence/sheep type of effects a duration of 1-3 turns would cause them to become more balanced for their cost while adding in a new and interesting player concern: Protecting your big minion long enough for the effect to wear off.

The Fix #2: An all-class Purge/Disenchant Spell. 1-3 Mana; "Reverse all effects on target minion since it entered play." It would remove both buffs and debuffs, returning it to its original attack and health. It could be used as a fixer spell to un-debuff your own minion or to rein in a buffed minion of your opponent. If that's too much it could be changed to only be able to target friendly minions.

The Half-Fix: For cards like the Ironbeak Owl I think it's important that, if the Silence's source is a targetable minion, if you destroy the source the silence will be destroyed as well. The fact someone can pull out a 2 Mana 2/1 and rein in Gruul for the rest of the game is completely broken. However, this doesn't fix Spells that silence, like Silence or Earth Shock.

The Less-Useful Fix: Increase the mana cost of all Silence type spells. Trust me, I play priest, nothing gives me a shit-eating grin like devastating an uber-buffed minion for 0 mana. But I think it shouldn't be able to happen. Considering how powerful it is I think it's appropriate that cards with a silence mechanic cost at least three mana and cards like Polymorph that silence and debilitate should be 6 or more.