Review: First look: Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft

Hearthstone is Blizzard's first foray into strategy card games, a genre dominated mainly by Magic: The Gathering.

For those unfamiliar, the aim of these games is to reduce your enemy's health points to zero before it does it to you.

The enemy can be computer-controlled or another matched player over the Internet.

But instead of weapons, your tools are a well-formed deck of cards, which consists of creatures and spells.

Each card has a casting cost - also known as mana cost - so you need to build up your mana pool before you can play the desired card, which means a battle can take place over a dozen rounds of card- tossing.

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In Hearthstone, you play as one of the nine heroes from the World Of Warcraft (WOW) game, including popular characters, such as the human mage Jaina Proudmoore and Thrall, leader of the Orcs. Each hero corresponds to one of the nine primary classes in WOW, which makes Thrall a shaman, Zuldan a warlock and Rexxar a hunter. 

These heroes are not just for show. Each has unique powers, which can turn the tide in a hard-fought battle. The mage, for instance, can shoot a firebolt that deals one point of damage to minions or your opponent's hero at every turn, while the paladin can summon a weak minion to the battlefield every turn.

While you can earn hundreds of new cards as you play, you will have to pick only 30 powerful cards per deck. The cards are split into two types, with a series that can be used by any hero.

The other type are cards unique to each hero. These cards take after the skills of the heroes in WOW. Flamestrike, Fireball and Frost Shock, for instance, are class-cards that only Jaina the Mage can employ. Hunter fans will immediately recognise Hunter's Mark, Explosive Trap and Arcace Shot.

To make things simple, the game does not require you to add in cards which generate mana. You start with one mana on your first turn and then your maximum pool increases by another mana every turn, so that by the 10th turn, you will have the maximum mana pool of 10. Mana also replenishes automatically in each round, so by the 10th round, players will always have 10 mana to use in subsequent rounds.

To win in this game, you need to be very focused on the strategy to employ, for every deck that you create.

Are you filling up your deck with less powerful creatures so that they can be summoned to the battlefield faster? If you are playing a hero with healing powers, then you can play defensively at first and pack a large proportion of your cards with the most powerful but mana-hungry creatures, which will take more turns to be played. [[{"fid":"46339","view_mode":"default","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":199,"width":139,"border":"0","style":"float: right;","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]

Every creature card has an attack value and hit points. Unlike Magic, you do not have to declare attackers and defenders as each of your creatures here can either attack the hero directly or another creature in play.

However, if your opponent has any creature card with the Taunt characteristic, which requires them to be attacked first, you will have to destroy all of these "Taunt" creatures before you attack the other cards or the hero.

Other unique skills include "Charge", which allows the creature to attack when it comes into play and "Silence", which removes all unique skills of another creature.

You can play against the computer for practice and to level up your heroes, but once you hit level 10, you will need to challenge other online players to progress.

There is also the Arena, where you can keep challenging other players until you hit three losses.

Either way, it soon dawned upon me that unless you are a mathematical genius, you will not win this game on skill alone.

New and more powerful cards are needed and, while the game is free to play, players can buy "booster" packs for new and probably better cards.

Each pack costs 100 gold, but unfortunately, gold is tough to earn and you will have to win many games to earn your gold.

The problem is that as you win, you go up the ranking system and get matched with better players. So, while I was winning about eight out of 10 games early on, my hit rate has now dropped to about four out of 10.

Alternatively, you can always use real money to buy gold, which Blizzard no doubt is hoping for.

But underneath it all, Hearthstone is a fabulous game that should appeal to casual and hardcore gamers and looks set to be another huge success from Blizzard.

ginlee@sph.com.sg


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