Blog Archives

Well and Truly Hexed

Now this is always a nice email surprise:

Title: Your account has been deleted!
From: noreply@gameforge.com

Greetings XXXX!

Your HEX account has been permanently deleted. We hope you had a fun time in the world of Entrath.

Maybe you’d like to continue your adventure in the future?
Then visit us at http://hex.gameforge.com/.
We hope to see you again one day.

Until then!
The HEX Team

And if you’re wondering, yes, it’s legit. Getting bought by a German company is serious business.

Almost exactly three years ago, I backed Hex on Kickstarter to the tune of $85. That remains one of the dumbest game-related purchases I have ever made, and not just because Hearthstone came onto the scene three months later and sucked all the oxygen out of the digital CCG room.

Looking through my archives, I don’t see many posts about Hex. Which sort of makes sense, as I believe I only really played it twice in the last three years. The first time was a session that lasted just long enough for me to realize that the card browser was a hideous mess and having to press Pass Priority a million times – an unfortunate feature just as shameless stolen from Magic Online as everything else – was not the future I wanted to live in.

I tried again about a year later, noted little improvement, found out that they were already releasing the third (or fourth) expansion set, and realized that my unopened Kickstarter packs were likely worth even less, assuming they were worth anything to begin with. Supposedly there is PvE now, but facing the prospect of needing to throw in additional dollars just to do basic stuff like drafting and seemed absurd in a post-Hearthstone world. Yeah, Hearthstone does have the option to charge you, but I haven’t been spending a dime to play in almost a year. In this game space, that’s a big deal.

In any case, I have not been back to Hex since then. And apparently I never will.

[Fake Edit] Word on the street now is that they are rolling back all the deletions, as it seems there was a “glitch” in the notifications that got sent out. Or didn’t get sent out, as the case may be. Glad everyone has the opportunity to download the client, accept the ToS, and promptly uninstall the game for another three years.

Advertisements

Impression: Infinity Wars

I took a look at my Steam Wishlist the other day, and noticed that one of the items was a F2P game called Infinity Wars. It was not a game I was expressly seeking out, but one of those games casually mentioned that I wanted to check up on later. “Hey, why don’t I just, you know, take care of that?”

So I did.

Infinity Wars bills itself as a digital TCG, but plays out as a hugely complex combination of Hearthstone, Magic, and one of those elaborate board games that weird friend of yours keeps trying to get you to play.

InfinityWars_02

This Draft game isn’t going well already.

The basic premise is that each character has 100 HP, 100 Morale, and a fist full of cards to reduce one or the other down to zero. Oh, and you pick three creature cards to play in your “Commander” zone before the game, and those determine the “purity” of your deck, e.g. what type of cards you can put in. You gain 1 resource per turn, sort of like Mana Gems in Hearthstone, and the creatures you play have persistent HP levels also like Hearthstone. But rather than there being just one play area, there are three per side: attack zones, defense zones, and support zones. And the order in which you place creatures in a zone matters, as if they were lanes in SolForge (which can you rearrange at will). Also, there activated creature abilities and spells you can cast.

Oh, have I mentioned that all turns are simultaneous?

If this sounds like a complicated mish-mash of mechanics, that’s because it is. Rounds in Infinity Wars are incredibly, stupidly complex with about a million and a half different ways for things to go wrong (or right, depending on your ability to bluff and/or get lucky). For example, say you have a 7/7 and a 5/4 creature currently in the Attack Zone, while your opponent has an 7/4 in his Support Zone. The “ideal” play here would be to keep both your creatures in the Attack Zone, but rearrange them so the 5/4 is left-most, with the assumption that your opponent puts the 7/4 in the Defense Zone, they kill each other, and your 7/7 wins the day.

But maybe your opponent isn’t dumb, and knows you will do that. Perhaps they move the 7/4 to the Defense Zone but also plays a spell targeting your 5/4 that deals 4 damage, which would kill that creature and allow the 7/4 to trade with the 7/7. But maybe you figure that is what he would do, so you actually move the 5/4 out of the Attack Zone and into the Support Zone instead, thereby making it an invalid target for that spell. And maybe your opponent figures he will hedge his bets by also casting a separate spell to buff his 7/4 creature by +5/+5, so it can beat your 7/7. But you happen to suspect such shenanigans, so you move both of your creatures to the Support Zone.

End result? Nobody takes any damage, all creatures live, and your opponent has a 12/9 in the Defense Zone. Begin planning out next round.

The problem with Infinity Wars is exactly that: the complexity. Sometimes you can get your opponent to overthink themselves into just taking a ton of damage to the face. Other times you get tricksy and get wrecked. Or maybe you join the New Player – Constructed queue, and get matched with someone who plays the goddamn USS Enterprise.

InfinityWars_01

Thought I was kidding?

I still don’t know what the fuck that even does – I blocked it once with a random creature and it got Phasered or something, and returned to my Support Zone and made Exhausted. Simply put, there is way too much shit going on to make an informed decision. All of my opponents cards were new, and I didn’t feel like 1.5 minutes was enough time in a given turn to make rational play. There doesn’t even appear to be a way to review what happened in the last turn, which if true, pretty much kills the game entirely.

Of course, once you get behind in this game, things quickly snowball all to hell considering your opponent can see what creatures you play before they ever get out of your Support Zone (unless they have Haste or Vigilance, creatures have to wait a turn to get moved to the Attack/Defense Zone). If you’re stuck casting one creature a turn, they can simply preemptively target your lone dude with the understanding you either try to block and it becomes a valid target, or you leave it in the Support Zone to make the spell fizzle but also eat another round of damage/bullshit effects.

What Infinity Wars was successful in doing though is making me appreciate Hearthstone all the more. Is Hearthstone a dumbed-down Magic: the Gathering? Maybe. But outside of Force of Nature/Savage Roar OTK combos and the like, you have time to react, read cards, and otherwise get a better grasp of what’s going on in a given game. Magic has deep complexity for veteran players, sure, but that same complexity really fucks over newer players when any given action they perform can be countered seemingly out of nowhere. “OK, I block your creature and it dies.” “No it doesn’t… Giant Growth!” “Oh, you’re tapped out? Fireball to the face!” “Nah, going to return three Islands to my hand to counter that spell.”

I dunno. Maybe if I stick with Infinity Wars, I will get a better grasp on the… Star Trek metagame, or whatever. Or perhaps I will simply realize that this is not a game you can enjoy without diving into the shit face-first.

If subterfuge and ruses and an infinite and a half different possible outcomes are your cup of card game tea though, have I got the game for you.

Splitting the Hearthstone Baby

Breaking news: Blizzard finally did it. They really did it.

Hearthstone_Format

God damn you all to… nah, it’s cool.

In traditional Hearthstone fashion, the news of Blizzard splitting the Play format baby into Standard and “Wild” seemed to randomly come out of nowhere. In the scheme of things though, such a move is all but inevitable in CCGs, as it is the only legitimate tool to combat power creep. Magic: the Gathering has had different play formats for decades now, and has survived and thrived since then.

But I must admit it still feels a bit different here.

That could very well be because Blizzard is doing it differently. You can read the rundown on Hearthpwn, but the big takeaway for me was how they are up and removing Adventures and expansions from the store when they cycle out of Standard. As pointed out in one of the million Reddit threads streaming through /r/Hearthstone at the moment, this could very well doom the Wild format before it even begins. If you’re a veteran who already has Boom & co crafted? Go compete in Wild. If you’re a new player? You have zero recourse in breaking into this legacy format other than squeezing thousands of Dust from Standard packs.

…hmm. That’s actually not all that different than how Legacy goes in MtG currently. And considering Hearthstone’s Dust system allows you to craft any card you want, you aren’t actually limited to spending $500+ for a single card; technically the Dust can be accumulated over time from wherever.

Hearthstone_PaladinNerf

How will I predict the Paladin curve now?!

Regardless, the actual earth-shattering effect of the format split are all the cards cycling out of Standard. Dr Boom has been such an iconic representation of all the idiocy in how the devs balance Hearthstone, but this almost feels… too abrupt. Paladin loses Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle and Piloted Shredder. Belcher? Gone. Zombie Chow? Gone. Everything? Gone. This is more than metagame shifting, this is game-game shifting.

And let me just say how brilliant this move is from a business perspective too. Blizzard just wiped out half of everyone’s collection, and most of the people still playing won’t actually mind all that much. “You can just play Wild.” Yeah, until you realize that a year or two from now it will be a cesspit of broken synergies which will make you pine for the halcyon days of Secret Paladin. To compete in Standard, you’ll have to have the latest sets, which means purchasing more packs and Adventures on the regular, when your old staples like Belcher and crew sufficed as stopgap measures up till now.

To be clear, I’m excited about these changes. For one thing, it’s an re-dedication to actually balancing their game. Before, Blizzard’s “policy” was hoping that broken cards were replaced by newer, more broken cards in the next set. Or that a particular deck would just naturally fall out of favor. But now? As noted in their announcement:

The arrival of Standard format will also be an excellent time for us to take stock of Hearthstone. While normally we’re quite conservative about making balance changes to Hearthstone cards (and we’ll continue to be in the future), we’re planning to take the new Hearthstone year as a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a number of cards in the Basic and Classic card sets, including class cards, and make some long-considered adjustments.

Everyone is pretty much taking this to mean a nerf to Druid combo. Indeed, PCGamer said as much:

On the subject of balancing, Blizzard will be addressing some of the more problematic basic and classic cards to ensure they don’t have a negative impact on the Standard metagame. Again, there are no details on which cards are being looked at, but I was told that less than 20 will be nerfed and none will be buffed. Perhaps we’re about to see the end of the Druid combo after all.

Point being: Standard is going to have to be balanced. It probably won’t be, but there’s going to be no excuse for it not to be under this paradigm. Calling it now, though: there will be a series of months in which Wild will be more balanced in the aggregate than Standard. And that will be both hilarious and sad.

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing how all this plays out.

Nerf Forward

Blizzard did it. They really did it. Warsong Commander nerfed hardcore.

#NeverForget

#NeverForgetToChargeForward

Specifically, the card was nerfed to simply say “Your charge minions have +1 Attack.”

There are a couple of things you have to say right off the bat. The first is “Thank Christ, Patron is dead.” I talked about the ridiculousness of Patron Warrior back in August, and it never really stopped being ridiculous. How long has it been a Tier 1, metagaming warping deck? Four months? Six?

Which is actually the second thing: err… why now? Oh wait, we’re heading into Blizzcon and the World Championship. This isn’t even the first time a high-profile card was nerfed specifically in weeks heading into said tournament. If I weren’t more cynical… ah, fuck it, I am exactly that cynical. As much as various commenters get their knickers in a wad over legitimately exciting randomness, nobody really wants to see 50+ damage delivered from an empty board.

Unless it’s double-combo Druid. Then it’s okay.

Then there’s the third thing, which is: “huh… this was the nerf they went with?” In the scheme of things, it is probably the best long-term one. As this Extra Credits mentions, you can’t just focus on making exciting cards today, you also have to give thought to what said exciting cards do to future design. The example in the video is Tuskarr Totemic, which is a Shaman 2-mana creature that summons ANY random totem. It’s a nice creature (assuming Shaman ever becomes playable again), but it’s mere existence means Blizzard can’t really create 8-mana totems or otherwise ones that would completely break the game by being summoned by a 2-mana card.

In a very similar way, an unnerfed Warsong Commander forces Blizzard to put every future 3-attack (or less) Warrior/Neutral creature under a microscope lest they repeat Grim Patron mistakes. Which is amusing in a way, considering I’m pretty sure Blizzard expressly considered the Grim Patron + Warsong Commander combo potential when they “fixed” Warsong Commander to also affect summoned (rather than simply played) minions.

The final thing I have to say is that I continue to be baffled by Blizzard’s balance philosophy here. How long does a clearly broken card or card interaction need to exist before it is addressed? The only real criteria seems to be “if it would embarrass us at Blizzcon.” Which is bonkers considering Hearthstone is perhaps the most perfect CCG to experience balance changes. There is no direct trading of cards in Hearthstone, no secondary market, so nerfing a card doesn’t actually destroy any value; every nerf is accompanied by getting full dust value of disenchanting the nerfed card, so you can spend that elsewhere. Compare that to Magic: the Gathering where a card getting banned in the Standard format can wipe out tens of thousands of dollars of value across the world.

In fact, do look at Magic. Back in January, Wizards of the Coast outright banned three cards and basically upended the Modern metagame thereby. Magic has a long history with errata as well, which is basically Wizards changing the text on printed, physical cards into something else. If you were just some high schoolers playing Magic on the weekends, you would just be left with some ridiculously powerful cards and no inkling that your combo wouldn’t actually work down at the comic shop or anywhere with an official judge. As far as I can tell, Wizards has really toned down the errata since the Urza’s expansions (which were the best), but the point is that they did it. And Blizzard doesn’t, when it would be incredibly easy to do so.

I know, I get it. If Blizzard changed things every time the metagame took an unhealthy turn, that in itself might make the metagame even worse. People might lose confidence in “investing” in Hearthstone, or may just throw their hands up and wait for nerfs to the best decks. Sometimes though, man, it makes it you think: if it’s unhealthy enough today to nerf, how long have we been unhealthy for what amounts to appearance’s sake?

Hearthstone Dilemmas

[Blaugust Day 24]

For all the the derision Hearthstone might get for being coin-flips and “dumbed down” and such, sometimes you end up facing a straight-up agonizing dilemma. For example, this game from the other day:

Embarrassment of choices.

Embarrassment of choices.

My choices were the following:

  • Coin + Harrison Jones. This was my first instinct, as it was cute and probably the only value I would have time to enjoy against Eboladin (e.g. Aggro Paladin). The play drops a 5/4 creature on my board, destroys my opponent’s weapon, and draws me three cards.
  • Mind-Control Tech. This will cause me to randomly gain one of my opponent’s minions. There’s a 25% chance of nabbing the 2/2 with Divine Shield, and leaves me with a 3/3, which is a huge swing. It unfortunately wastes 1 mana unless I Coin into Hero Power, and has a 75% of just nabbing a 1/1.
  • Mind-Control Tech + Coin + Wrath/Hero Power. As the above, but spending the Coin will allow me to cast Wrath (choosing the “Deal 1 damage + draw a card” option) or Hero Power, to pop the Divine Shield on the 2/2 in case I didn’t steal it.
  • Coin + Sludge Belcher. Drops a 3/5 creatures with Taunt on the field, which summons a 1/2 creature with Taunt when it dies. Theoretically, my opponent would need to run all his creatures and his weapon into the Belcher to kill it. Of course, my opponent would also have 4 mana in which to respond to the Belcher as well.
  • Swipe face. It’s a YOLO sort of play that deals 4 damage to my opponent and 1 damage to all his creatures. Meaning it will kill his three 1/1 creatures and pop the other’s Divine Shield. My opponent would still have his 1-damage weapon, a 2/2, four mana to spend, and me with an empty board.

So, which one would you do? If my deck matters, it’s Ramp (Ysera) Druid without combo.

…did you pick a course of action yet?

…okay. Like I mentioned, I went with Coin + Harrison Jones. On the opponent’s turn, he cast Blessing of Might on the 2/2, turning it into a 5/2, summoned another 1/1 dude with Hero Power, and went face with everything. On my turn, I committed such an egregiously bad misplay that I’m legitimately embarrassed to type it out. What should have occurred was my Swiping the opponent’s face, destroying all his 1/1 dudes plus popping the Divine Shield, followed by trading my Harrison into the 5/2. Instead, I did that backwards. So, really, it was so bad that it was two misplays, as I could have recovered by Swiping the 5/2 directly at least. But nope.

Needless to say, I lost that game.

And actually, I probably would have lost the game regardless. The remaining sequence of the game was him casting Charge creatures and going face every time – the extra 5 damage taken unnecessarily would not have made much of a difference when you’re sitting at 5 HP to his 30. The only healing in my deck are two Ancient of Lores, and drawing those before getting Arcane Golem’d or Consecrated and such would itself be a coin-toss.

The funny thing to me is how, even in Magic: the Gathering, the best play is the one that gives you a chance to win. If you just play based on the cards in your hand and the ones on the board, you can lose sight of the Window of Victory as it slowly slides shut. If your best chance to win is to commit to a costly attack and top-deck a burn spell the next turn… then do that. If you draw something else, oh well, you were going to lose at that point anyway.

My best play for the above game would have been MC Tech and hope I get the 25% chance to nab the 2/2. Perhaps my opponent would have played different cards the following turn, but I’d have two decent minions and Swipe for the next. Or Belcher. Or Harrison. Or, at that point, dropping a 5/10 Taunt creature on turn 7, sealing the game until and unless my opponent draws into an Equality (assuming Eboladin even runs that). In this scenario, I was not avoiding the risky play that could backfire, I was making the same risky play and choosing the 0% chance to win option.

There are probably deeper games out there than Hearthstone. Games in which you can encounter these scenarios without the coin-flips being so naked obvious. But just because there are coin-flips, doesn’t mean there is nothing one can do to maximize their chances at success.

TL;DR: when in doubt, MC Tech.

Blizzard’s Q4 2014 Report: Hearthstone Edition

The big news in the Activision Blizzard Quarterly Report everywhere else is that WoW appears to have stabilized at 10 million subscriptions. Also, that Hearthstone has 25 million registered users, whatever that means. After reading through the transcript of the earnings call however, it turns out that we can estimate exactly how well Hearthstone is performing. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty damn good.

First, we have this quote from Bobby Kotick:

Last year, we launched 2 of the most successful new entertainment brands, Destiny and Blizzard’s Hearthstone. Combined, they attracted over 40 million registered players worldwide and generated more than $850 million in non-GAAP revenue, a testament to our team’s proven abilities to capture the imaginations of millions of people around the world time and time again.

Then from Eric Hirshberg (CEO of Activision):

So in closing, over the last 3 years, Activision Publishing has methodically expanded its portfolio, and for the first time in its history, now has 3 tent-pole properties, each of which generated over $500 million in non-GAAP revenue this year and drove the highest digital revenues in Activision Publishing’s history.

So by the power of inductive reasoning, we can say Hearthstone made around $350 million in revenue last year. Further, according to Thomas Tippl (COO), Destiny and Hearthstone are “tent-pole franchises” that were “profitable out of the gate” and are expected to “contribute to [Activision Blizzard’s] results every year in a significant way.” Combine that with Mike Morhaime confirming that the December release of the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion resulted in the highest monthly active players and highest revenue quarter-to-date, that indicates Hearthstone is still growing a year later. That’s kind of a big deal.

Now, it’s entirely possible that “more than $500 million” means Destiny has a larger slice of the $850 million combined revenue pie than I am assuming here. Maybe Hearthstone “only” achieved $300 million. Or even as little as $250 million. It’s helpful to keep some perspective though: all of paper and digital Magic: the Gathering brings in $250 million in revenue. So, on the low end, Hearthstone is already a bigger franchise than Magic: the Gathering. And apparently growing.

Not bad for a “casual app with a PC port.”

On Randomness

As you may or may not be aware, there was a bit of RNG controversy in a recent Hearthstone tournament. Heading into the tie-breaking Final match, the following occurred:

But as the match started, something immediately went quite awry. During the first turn of the first game, Doge House coined out a Nat Pagle. And so the scene was set for the most RNG-dependent series Hearthstone had ever seen. […] The final tabulation of RNG is shown below with perhaps the most staggering statistic being the Nat Pagle procs. Throughout the series, Doge House received eight out of a possible eleven cards from Nat Pagle while Liquid Value received only one card out of a possible seven.

The suspects.

The suspects.

You can watch the offending match here. The RNG of Pagle was set in particularly harsh relief considering both players played one in the opening turns of the game, but only one side seemed to draw any cards off the ability. That prompted a rather lengthy, if compelling post by @TL_Monk detailing the negatives of RNG generally. Indeed, the case becomes even more reasonable when he compares Blizzard’s somewhat sophomoric (in comparison) responses thus far with those of Mark Rosewater, head developer of Magic: the Gathering.

So, RNG is bad right? Well… maybe. It’s worth noting that despite the final tournament game being a blowout in terms of coinflips, the Mage still could have won by a single top-decked Fireball. Had his own Pagle had a comparable draw-rate as his opponent, he would have won easily. And that’s sorta the thing.

This is the counter-point post on Reddit, talking about randomness and the overall RNG aspect of certain cards/situations in Hearthstone. The post itself essentially states that RNG is good for the game for precisely the reason why people think it’s bad: it allows a chance for weaker players to win. Without RNG, the outcome of every encounter is based on the skill of the players which, while fair, ultimately means you will never have a shot at beating someone better than you. The post goes on to assert that another card game tried the no-RNG approach and was never able to reach critical mass because it chased all the middle-tier (and lower) players away.

As an aside, Nat Pagle’s meteoric rise in use is perhaps the best possible demonstration of unintended consequences, as it was a card virtually unknown before the nerf of Novice Engineer (which used to be a 1/2 creature). Of course, Pagle was also previously bugged so that the card draw only occurred 25% of the time instead of 50%, so perhaps that had something to do with it as well.

How I feel about the subject is mixed. As someone who has some small measure of confidence in my gaming abilities, I dislike RNG. Then again, I also believe that a component of skill is being able to take RNG into account when making strategic decisions. The sensible line between good RNG and bad RNG people usually take is when the entire outcome of a match comes down to a single coin-flip. I agree that that is exceedingly lame, but… well, what is a card game if not already a series of coin flips?

Sometimes RNG just makes you miserable.

Example of bad RNG.

I was watching one of Trump’s streams where he had two creatures out against a Hunter who just played Ragnaros; if the Ragnaros hit Trump’s face next turn, it’s likely he would lose. Between a Fireball and creatures on the board, Trump could have outright killed Ragnaros, but he instead chose to dump his hand of creatures to reduce the odds of Ragnaros’ random 8 damage attack of hitting him in the face. Trump went on to win the next turn once Ragnaros hit a random minion, but would the game have been less strategic if it killed Trump instead? I might suggest that that particular game would have been less strategic without the RNG factor, because the correct moves would be more obvious. In this sense, the RNG is simply another manifestation of risk and dealing with imperfect information, just like when playing creatures when your opponent might have a board clear in hand.

If you want to see some of Trump’s RNG surfing, it’s tough to go wrong with this one.

When it comes to Nat Pagle specifically, I do sorta agree with the detractors: it’s a boring card. I have one, and it’s a no-brainer card that goes into just about every deck. Worst case scenario, Pagle draws nothing and is a 2-mana 0/4 taunt that trades with removal. Best case? It’s ridiculous. Indeed, it reminds me of the “good design on paper, bad design in practice” card Fact or Fiction in Magic: the Gathering. There was never any reason to not use it in every deck that could support the mana cost – so much so, that it was banned/restricted in the older formats for over nine years.

Seems almost quaint, more than a decade later.

Seems almost quaint, more than a decade later.

For the time being, my opinion on RNG remains mixed. Randomness provides variance that would not otherwise exist, pretty much by definition. Random loot extends the life of a gearing game. Random layouts and outcomes are a fundamental principal of rougelikes. All (?) card games feature randomness in terms of what cards are drawn and in what order. And I’m still largely fine with people rolling the dice with a Ragnaros attack. At the same time, I do feel sheepishly guilty whenever I drop a Mad Bomber that manages to kill their 3/2 (or 2/3!), because damn that sucks for them.

At this point, I play this card solely for the stories.

At this point, I play this card solely for the stories.

#AllSkill #Outplayed

#AllSkill #Outplayed

I suppose in the final analysis, it really comes down to the sort of tone the designers are attempts to set. There were a number of coin flip cards in Magic’s history, some extremely important ones in fact, but they never really felt “right” for the game. As pointed out in the Reddit thread, that most likely was because Magic already had a randomness factor of whether you drew a good amount of lands when you needed to vs getting mana-screwed/flooded. In Hearthstone, there simply isn’t any RNG beyond what cards you draw, and what the cards do themselves. Having a lot of cards with random effects thus provides that sense of variance instead of inevitability in Hearthstone, even when it occasionally feels worse.

Do cards like Pagle make Hearthstone a worse e-sport? Possibly. But consider this interview with the senior e-sports manager at Blizzard, Kim Phan. Most sites focused in on the news about there being a Spectator Mode in Hearthstone’s future, but I was most struck by the fact that, prior to BlizzCon, the senior e-sports manager had zero understanding that Hearthstone would develop into a credible e-sport in its own right. In fact, she even downplayed it a bit in that interview, despite Hearthstone tournaments being played in the background. So, basically, it’s entirely possible that we’ll see less RNG cards going forward if Blizzard decides e-sports is a path it wants to go down with Hearthstone. Or, potentially, we could see a doubling-down on the “for fun!” casual mechanics that get so much ire in competitive play.

I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance of it going one way or the other.

Hearthstone P2W?

Gevlon had a post up last Friday about Hearthstone that claimed the following:

My problem isn’t that you must pay to be anything but a punching bag. I’ve played 5 years of World of Warcraft, paying 720 euros in the process. My EVE accounts are over 1000 Euros, luckily they’ve been paid by bad EVE players. It’s obvious that you have to pay to use a product and can only get a sample for free. However – unlike in subscription games – there is no fixed cost. If I pay the subscription, I can play EVE or WoW fully. If I pay even $1000 on Heartstone, there is absolutely no guarantee that I’ll be competitive against someone who paid $2000. Even worse, there is no guarantee that my wins are mine, and I’m not just stomping on better players with smaller wallets.

So no thanks, I keep away from Heartstone and the rest of the pay-to-win games.

It is worth noting at the start here that the math is off: on average, you’ll have every Hearthstone card after opening 512 packs, or spending roughly $640. Or it could be as few as 215 packs, for $213. Or you could end up like me, who has just about every card I could conceivably want (not a full set) after having spent 3+ months and $50.

Gevlon countered that there will be more expansions and thus cards later on, but I don’t find that particularly relevant because a dude named Reynard took a 5-day old account and navigated a completely F2P warrior deck to the Legendary Rank, all on Twitch. This wasn’t a guy who spammed Arena games 20 hours a day for every card in the game – this is a guy put us all to shame with his brass balls, mad skillz, and a deck with six Rares (no Epics, no Legendaries). Granted, he is about a pro-CCG player as a person can get. “Results not typical” and all that. But how much money or cards it takes “to be competitive” is not quite as descriptive or damning a statement as it sounds. Is it possible to prop one’s lack of skill with more powerful cards? Sure, probably. Where exactly are those goalposts though?

The larger question of whether Hearthstone is P2W obviously depends on your definition of the term. Is having more/better cards an advantage you can purchase your way into? Yes. However, you can also earn your way to those same rewards using in-game currency. In fact, the whole Dust and Crafting mechanic is something about Hearthstone that has significantly moved my original opinion of its apparent P2W tendencies.

See, I do consider card games like Magic to be P2W for a few specific reasons. First, the power level of the cards heavily and unapologetically skews towards the higher rarities. While there are some very nice Legendaries in Hearthstone, the vast majority of even the top tier decks consist of Basic class cards and Commons/Rares. Second, and more importantly, you have zero control over acquiring any specific card in games like Magic. Yes, you can absolutely buy cards off of other players, but that’s exactly where the P2W part comes in. Or, actually, it comes in at the very beginning, wherein you have zero cards in your collection and have to purchase some to play at all.

Crafting in Hearthstone, along with your ability to complete daily quests and purchase packs with in-game currency, shifts the focus away from paying for advantage to paying for time. Given time, you will have all the cards you could ever want, with zero dollars spent. Is paying for XP boosts in other games considered P2W? Not likely.

But if accelerating the grinding process constitutes a win one pays for, that by definition should encompass most all MMOs, WoW and EVE included. Gevlon thinks dropping $1,000 on PLEX and walking away with a 100m Skill Point pilot inside a Titan as a Day 1 player “doesn’t count” because those were player-made, and thus there was no net increase in power in the EVE universe. But isn’t all power relative anyway? That new player in a Titan is at a significant advantage over all his/her Day 1 peers, not to mention anyone not flying around in a Titan-hunting band.

Besides, what actual difference is there between purchasing currency directly from CCP, and simply siphoning the currency generated from thin air by 1,000 players completing 1,000 missions? Or even completed ships built from ores from the ether? Rate of in-game inflation? If one is P2W, surely the other is as well.

In any case, my opinion right now is that Hearthstone is not P2W, even though it otherwise has most of the trappings of decidedly P2W CCGs. Your early games with the default card selection will suck. There are a number of strictly-better cards at the same mana cost, and they’re usually more rare. A Legendary card dropping at the other end of the table is liable to ruin your day.

That being said… it’s been proven that one can be competitive with a six-Rare deck. You will end up with all of the cards in the game if you keep playing (for free!) long enough. Hell, it’s not even one of those “you can technically get everything but it takes 10,000 hours” F2P payslopes. Other CCGs have allowed players to buy packs using in-game currency, but Blizzard’s willingness to allow Hearthstone players to craft the exact card they want should close the P2W debate once and for all.

At least, for now. We’ll see what the future brings with expansions.

Who’s On First (Beatdown)

In the comments for Unleash the Rage, Rohan and I had a little back and forth on whether or not I could have handled the Unleash the Hounds situation differently. While I am still rather certain that the game would not have materially changed, Rohan is correct in stating that a different sequence of actions would have resulted in a better board position.

Balance!

Balance!

Namely, using Wrath to kill Shieldbearer, using the Novice Engineer to kill the Stonetusk Boar, and then using the Druid Hero Power to kill the Owl. The Snake Trap still would have triggered, Mishra would (presumably) still have come down, and I would be eating 11 immediate damage to the face with no board position. A single Swipe would have turned the situation around next turn, had I the opportunity to draft one, but the point remains that things could have been better handled.

I was not playing an aggressive deck. Indeed, this was the deck I drafted:

Control

Definitely a late-game deck

That’s right, two Legendaries, one of which was Ysera. I ended up going 3-3, losing to a Paladin and Mage the turn after I cast Ysera. So, pretty much from the start, I played the deck as Control (minus much control) seeing as how I had an extremely strong late-game presence.

The interesting thing to note though, is an article Rohan referenced in the comments: Who’s the Beatdown. This was an article written the in ancient days of 1999 concerning Hearthstone’s progenitor, Magic: the Gathering, but like most things written about Magic strategy, it is still quite relevant. Fundamentally, the article asserts that in any given match, the player that wins is the one who correctly understands the role he/she is playing: control vs beatdown. If you think you are control but are really supposed to be beatdown (or vice versa), then you will lose. This seems fairly straight-forward until you start thinking about what happens when two aggressive decks go head-to-head.

The Unleash the Hounds game was not a good example of misappropriation of roles, but look at this scenario:

Who's the beatdown? Hint: not him.

Who’s the beatdown? Spoiler: not him.

I drafted a fairly aggressive Shaman deck that had some mid-range direct damage to try and seal the deal before my opponents realized that I had no Bloodlusts. Encountering a 2/1 Loot Hoarder coined onto turn 1, however, and suddenly my Beatdown deck must shift gears into Control. So instead of casting a creature that will likely die immediately, I cast a totem (it ended up being a Healing totem) and pass the turn. My opponent then… kills the totem with the Loot Hoarder. Okay then. Who’s the Beatdown? I shift mental gears again and go on to play aggressively and win.

The soon-to-be 6/3 with windfury certainly helps.

The soon-to-be 6/3 with windfury certainly helped.

Arena is not quite like Constructed, and Hearthstone is not quite like Magic. Coining into Loot Hoarder on Turn 1 isn’t necessarily a sign of anything beyond perhaps being presented other choices that were even worse. The key point here is that you can play a Beatdown deck in a controlling manner, or a Control deck aggressively. Once you recognize those situations in which you should shift gears, your odds of winning will increase along with the odds your opponent will screw up. You might not always have a choice given what is in your hand or your deck, but that only makes it all the more important to recognize and act on it when you do.

Hearthstone’s Future

SynCaine brought up an interesting point about the future of Hearthstone:

“situation in Hearthstone only ever improves”

Until the the first expansion is released, and what do you think is going to be the revenue driver for the game?

At least with MtG:O, it was understood you were stepping into a P2W arena, where you could pay X to compete with Y. What level you wanted to compete at was up to you and your wallet.

Here, I feel as though Blizzard is trying to hide the P2W aspect (especially in beta), but ultimately that’s what the model demands. Without new cards you don’t keep people interested, and for those new cards to be interesting, they have to be worthwhile (aka; stronger/better).

I think the heavy class-based gameplay is also a balance nightmare as we are already seeing, and I expect it to get worse as the better players create more gimmick decks. Woe is the free player if the FOTM gimmick requires an epic or ten.

While the game isn’t even in Open Beta at this point, I think it is reasonable to start thinking about where Hearthstone goes from here. At the moment, I am sort of worried about the “depth” of the game, although it’s possible that it’s current shallowness accessibility is a feature, not a bug. Then again, I’m not entirely sure.

There are several things working against Hearthstone’s future. The biggest is it’s class system. In a card game like Magic: the Gathering, you can have a robust metagame arising from even the “generic” Core Set (which come out once a year and forms a “base” upon which the near-quarterly expansion sets build upon) because you can conceivably play any card you want; the five colors of Magic have their own class-like themes and mechanics, but you can mix and match to your heart’s desire. Thus, a Black/White deck can play totally different from an all-Black or all-White deck. With Hearthstone, a Paladin’s cards are exclusive to Paladins. You can’t choose to play, say, Avenging Wrath in your Mage deck, for example. Or Divine Favor in your Shaman deck.

A related long-term problem is expandability. I am not talking about running out of mechanics or creatures to reference from WoW or Warcraft lore (although that’s sort of a concern, honestly), I am talking about how many new cards can actually be coherently added. In short, Blizzard is going to have to either create a ton of new cards each expansion, or barely any. For example, an expansion that adds just one common, rare, and epic card to each class will require 30 new cards (9 classes + neutral). While that may or may not sound like a lot of cards, unless these new cards are above the curve or enable entirely new strategies, it’s possible that an expansion could be a total dud for you and the class you enjoy playing despite increasing the total card pool by 10% or more.

Third, as I have mentioned before, the class balance is on a razor’s edge even in a perfect scenario. It is pretty much a given that we will see a Death Knight and Monk class added in an expansion, and they will need to have at least 15 additional, class-exclusive cards and unique Hero Powers. While that can certainly shake up the overall balance structure, it’s not as though your specific metagame will likely change all that much. Because, again, your Mage deck is limited to Mage cards plus Neutral cards; there is no DK “splash” to provide additional depth.

Fourth, it is worth considering how many different mechanics Blizzard is A) willing to implement in this game, and B) can implement in this game. One of the most basic creature abilities in Magic is Flying: a creature with Flying cannot be blocked except by other creatures with Flying, although it can choose to block non-Flying creatures. In the context of Hearthstone, this ability doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as you have complete control (barring Taunt) to choose whether your creatures attack your opponent or a specific creature. Now, Blizzard could certainly shoehorn it in there – perhaps making the flying creature untargetable by other creatures – but that’s when the devs start to go against their (presumed) mandate towards simplicity.

And that’s just with Flying.

Lastly, SynCaine’s cynicism regarding Blizzard making overpowered cards to sell future expansions is not without merit, even if I would argue that it’s largely unavoidable and not inherently malicious. Power creep happens. Even when “the rules” about costs are nailed down, some options are more powerful/relevant than others. In Magic, a First Strike 2/2 is better than a Trample 2/2 even if they both cost the same amount of mana. A Flying 2/2 is arguably better than either. I have pointed this out before:

Balance!

Balance!

Being a Beast is not as powerful as the other two cards, unless you are playing a Hunter Beast deck. But the more damning implication, IMO, is how the above cards sort of imply that a 1/4 for 2 would be balanced. Or a 2/4 for 2 mana, even. We already have 3/2s with an ability, 2/3s with an ability, 1/3s with a huge ability for 1 mana (Priests, seriously), so a 2/4 for 2 isn’t outlandish rules-wise. And yet it would be crazy OP, invalidating a huge swath of two-drops. The context of the environment is as important and possibly more so than the strict card power rules.

All that being the case, I don’t actually agree with SynCaine that the new player is screwed, as my prior declaration remains accurate: your situation in Hearthstone only ever improves. Six expansions later, assuming no structural changes, you will still be able to Disenchant the cards you don’t want to directly create the cards you do. That’s unbelievably huge in the CCG world. Even if you take the stance that your likelihood of opening one of the “ten or so required Epics” is necessarily diminished (assuming new cards are stuffed into the same virtual booster pack), your ability to guarantee a card is not – you will always get 40 Dust per pack, minimum. Ten packs is an Epic of your choice. You’ll get enough gold in two days of daily quests to buy a pack straight-up, or three if you want to go the Arena route. So, unless expansions are coming out every 1-2 months, you’ll have plenty of time to get whatever cards you need to be/stay competitive without spending a dime.

Spending dimes gets you there faster, of course. But in this context, I’m okay with it.