16 November 2015

Hearthstone - luck-based mechanics

I covered Hearthstone in a previous post, but there is more to say. Hearthstone is a collectible card game (CCG) for Windows, iOS, and Android, by Blizzard. Its gameplay is very similar to Magic: The Gathering, and its theme is World of Warcraft. It is free to play, but players can purchase coins, which are spent to acquire card packs or unlock certain cards. Hearthstone launched in March 2014.

Influx of new players

Hearthstone has seen 30M players and generated $250M as of May 2015. Hearthstone had 25M registered players in January 2015. That means 15% of the player base (5M players) have been playing for less than 6 months. This is very good: a constant influx of new players keeps a game alive.

Luck-based mechanics

Many mechanics in Hearthstone are based on luck. Very few mechanics help manage that luck.

Mechanics involving luck in Hearthstone
Mechanic Description Solution
Topdeck Drawing by luck the right card at the right time Filtering cards like Tracking
Starting hand 3-4 cards out of a deck of 30 One Mulligan (redrawing unwanted cards)
Card effects E.g. deal 2 damage to a random enemy, or get a random beast. Anticipating all possible outcomes
Card packs After 2 months, most cards from packs are already owned and redundant. One card per pack is guaranteed to be rare or above. Convert redundant cards into crafting dust. Collect golden cards.
Match-making Random opponent decks that may be very (in)effective against yours Tavern Brawls with pre-made decks. Best-of-3 in championships.
At rank 15-20, opponent skill varies greatly. Provide incentives against bottom-feeding.

When playing for skill, all luck aspects can be annoying. In my experience, topdecking and random card effects have been the most frustrating: a strategy works, it's about to win against an opponent, but the opponent draws the right card, or receives by chance the one perfect card to counter the strategy. Some decks such as Oil Rogue even rely on making a combo of 4 particular cards in the same turn. If these cards are in the starting hand, these combos fire after a couple turns, and the loser feels like the game was over before it even started. Unlike in Dominion, strategy in Hearthstone is too heavily mitigated by chance.

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