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.

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