So one of my favorite past time hobbies was playing CCGs (Collectible Card Games) like Magic: The Gathering and Legend of the Five Rings. I considered myself pretty decent in the later, placing in the top 8 at a major qualifier only a year after me taking it seriously. I like strategy and the constant state of flux that my decks were in as I tweaked and improved upon every aspect of a 60 card deck. The challenge of making sure I had answers for everything my varied opponents could throw at me was a combination of skill, understanding the meta-game out there, and a little bit of draw luck.
I recently had a little bit of nostalgia and jumped into the Online equivalent for Magic: The Gathering. Their software is dated, and even the “beta” version was nothing more then a graphical update. In comparison newer titles like Hearthstone put their programming progress to shame. Magics had what, two decades of existence? The best they can put together is MTGO? Its really a shame considering they could have been the driving force behind an online genre revolution; instead they are relegated to has-been status before the genre changer is even really born. Magic Online has many draw backs, most important of them being that it segments the real-life card collectors, and the players who want to play online. Your cards can’t be mixed between the two very easily, and its going to be one of those big moments when Hearthstone or #Hex translates their game into physical existence.
I’m getting off topic, of course, because I’m a rambler. So lets get back to topic; Hearthstone. Hearthstone has rubbed me the wrong way right from the outset. I watched about a dozen games on live streams, and every single time I was left wondering how this game is going to have the endurance to last. Why? Well the problem lies in the lack of depth. Magic has survived for two decades for many reasons; one being that its a seemingly-easy yet entirely complicated title to master. One can pick up the basics in a single game yet it can take years to master. The core of this lies in a few key components; nearly unlimited deck building combinations, and the interaction you have with an opposing persons deck.
Let me give you a quick overlook of the differences;
Magic as a result of this ability to interfere with your opponents turn, has dramatic and sometimes incredible game endings as a result. Hearthstone, you sorta lose and have to move on.
Why is the inclusion of “instants” such an important deal to me? Well, it goes towards Blizzards dumbing down of genres lately. WoW has increasingly taken the choice away from its players. They’ve removed the skill trees of the past, claiming that people were allowed to mistakenly make bad choices with the old system. The old system had hundreds of potential combinations (though few were “good” at any one time), while the new one has 3 choices (none of which are ever wrong). If players are given the answer to everything, it doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. If you don’t “accomplish” anything in a game, then why would I feel motivated to play it? Clearly the subscription loss is an indicator that players are not happy.
Hearthstone is a classic example that follows with Blizzards trend towards the simple. They want a mass appeal product that can make them bucketloads of money. In Hearthstone, they’ve seemingly accomplished this goal. Millions of players will likely download and play it, spending countless millions of dollars on a game that has minimal amounts of depth to it. The time it will take to master Hearthstone, is likely going to be the exact same amount of time it will take for most of the audience to grow bored with it. The depth is just not their to keep people playing.
If anyone is under the misconception that a coat of polish and some nifty graphics and sound effects makes a CCG good, then clearly you’ve ignored the two decades of history that Magic: The Gathering brings to the table. There is a very real reason this game is still around and so amazingly popular (STILL!). It has nothing to do with fancy graphics or even the existence of an online counterpart. It rests instead with the depth of game play, the challenge of becoming a better player, the potential to ascend to the ranks of grand master. Earning your place amongst the best players in Magic is a very real accomplishment. Its a challenging and sometimes overwhelming path that many, including myself, do not have the stomach (or wallets) for. Yet it is that same potential that drew us to the game. Watching the best of the best play against each other is a modern day Grand-Master Chess tournament. Its awe inspiring to see the skill and talent that have to exist to get to the top of Magic.
Blizzard and Hearthstone are not the second coming of the CCG genre. They might bring more players to the table, sure. Yet these aren’t players who are interested in CCGs, but people interested in Blizzard games and IPs. They don’t have the stomach for challenges or complicated games. Many don’t have the patience to master anything at all.
If you’ve read this and you wonder what hope lies for the genre. I’d beg you to look towards other titles; Faeria and Hex. Both titles deserve your support far more then the simple minded games Blizzard is becoming known for.