Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fixing Hearthstone #1: Tribal Knowledge

Dorothy: Demons, Murlocs, and Beasts?
Lion: Demons, Murlocs and Beasts!
Scarecrow: Demons, Murlocs and Beasts (oh, my)!
All: Demons, Murlocs, and Beasts (oh, my)!
Captain Greenskin: What about the PIRATES!?
Dorothy: Aw, sorry Cap’n. Everyone knows pirates suck, so no one builds a pirate deck.

I was critical of the Hearthstone base set design in my review (you can read it here:, and I want to reiterate what I said at the end of that review: Hearthstone does have a lot of promise.  Further, I believe gaping holes in the base set are holding the game back the most from realizing its true potential as a great online CCG.  Thus, I feel like I should offer what I consider to be solutions to the design shortcomings of the base set.  

For the first of these, I want to discuss adding creature types to almost all the minions of Hearthstone.
This is something it looks like the design team started when looking at the base set—demons, beasts, murlocs, dragons, and pirates are annotated at the bottom of their respective cards.  There are also cards that synergize with other cards of the same “type”.  Murloc Warleader and Scavenging Hyena are examples.  So what happened?  This is pure speculation, but I suspect the design team was afraid of putting “hoser” cards in the base set that would work specifically against 1 creature type, and/or the design team couldn’t think of a good enough set of neutral synergy cards for all the potential races that could be in the Hearthstone base set.  You might ask, “What would the base set look like if every creature had a ‘type’?”

Glad you asked.  There are a couple of ways to do this: you can assign creature type by race (Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Elemental, Giant, Human, etc.); you can assign creature type by “profession” (cleric, knight, elemental, etc.).  Yes, I know that “elemental” isn’t exactly a profession in the traditional sense of the word, but we also have to take into account the flavor of the Warcraft universe, and the fact that we are talking about a CCG adaptation of a high-fantasy universe when talking about the whys and wherefores of assigning types to creatures.

So what does that look like?  Here’s some “back of the napkin” assigning of creature type to the current set of minions:

Human: Abusive Sergeant, Argent Squire, Goldshire Footman, Northshire Cleric, Southsea Deckhand, Argent Protector, Armorsmith, Bloodsail Raider, Defias Ringleader, Natty P, Sunfury Protector, Acolyte of Pain, Van Cleef, Imp Master, Kirin Tor Mage, Questing Adventurer, Scarlet Crusader, SI 7 Agent, Agent Mage, Leeroy, Violet Teacher, Harrison Jones, Silver Hand Knight, Cabal Shadow Priest, Argent Crusader, Guardian of Kings, Prophet Velen, Ravenholdt Assassin, Archmage Antonidas, Tirion Fordring

Elf: Elven Archer, Young Priestess, Secret Keeper, Doomsayer, Blood Knight, Master of Disguise, Silvermoon Guardian, Spellbreaker, Nightblade, Priestess of Elune, Sylvanis Windrunner

Gnome: Leper Gnome, Knife Juggler, Loot Horder, Milhouse, Novice Engineer, Patient Assassin, Pint-Sized Summoner, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Dalaran Mage, MC Tech, Dragonling Mechanic, Gnomish Inventor, Gelbin Mekkatorque

Orc: Bloodsail Corsair, Cruel Taskmaster, Frostwolf Grunt, Earthen Ring Farseer, Injured Blademaster, Raid Leader, Razorfen Hunter, Thrallmar Farseer, Mogu’shan Warden, Frostwolf Warlord

You get the idea, and you can go through the list of minions and collect the Trolls, Constructs/Elementals, Space Shaman, et. al. That said, there are a couple of minions that don’t necessarily fit into a neat bucket of minion type.  Also, some creature types are not as well represented as others—undead, for example.  Naxx will add a ton of undead creatures to the Hearthstone set.  Indeed the single player encounters, if they stay true to mimicking WoW instances, could fill out the roster of creature type as time went on.

So what happens if every minion in Hearthstone had a type?  Well, first thing is that a series of counter <type> cards can be added to the set.  Having problems balancing the Power 6?  Fear not, because players can have a common alternative to rocking their own set: Cards that hose the Power 6, but wouldn’t in and of themselves swing a game totally like the Power 6 do.

What would these cards look like?  Disease Wagon: Must have an Undead minion in play to play this card.  Whenever a human card comes into play, silence it.  This card could single handedly, delay or prevent abusive Leeroy combos that contravene the Card Balance Philosophy document; simultaneously, the Disease Wagon would be a priority target as soon as it comes into play.  This would have the effect of adding strategy and depth to every mode of Hearthstone.

Hearthstone has a high ceiling, but only if the design team takes the responsibility for creating a great base set.  Adding creature types to minions is a first step in increasing the quality of the base set to the level it needs to be.

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