Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fixing Hearthstone #2: Major Modal Megalomania

In the last installment of Fixing Hearthstone (, we discussed adding depth and variety to deck types and gameplay through the addition of creature type to most of the minions in Hearthstone.  For the second installment, I want to address a problem totally unrelated to the base set of cards: There are way too many people playing way too many games in Ranked play.

The reasons why this is are intuitively obvious.  Ranked is the only way to earn cosmetic rewards (e.g. card backs) in Hearthstone.  There’s also the 99.99% false promise of invites to the Hearthstone World Championships at Blizzcon (  In fact, the only reason to play Casual mode Hearthstone at all is to try and get a couple cheap victories to complete daily quests to grind gold.

Why is this the case?  Well, Hearthstone is missing a ton of staple CCG game variants.  All of these game variants require more than 2 players.  It’s really beyond belief that Hearthstone’s designers could be so ignorant toward casual CCG game variants, especially considering that Hearthstone has an entire game mode called “Casual”.  Also, recall that the entire point of everything in the game centers on inducing the player to overspend on card packs.  What better way to make sure everyone is coughing up dough than to criminally under design your base set, ignore issues with cards that are in direct violation of your own Card Balance Philosophy (, and force everyone into a game mode that’s plagued by the netdecking you spent your entire “beta test” actively supporting?

Before we start talking about all the multiplayer variants Hearthstone is missing, I want to be clear about something.  Regardless of how I might feel about Ranked play, I respect the right of those who would choose to spend their time netdecking Hearthstone as a full-time job.  It certainly is not my cup of tea, but I won’t disparage those who make the choice.  That said, the overwhelming majority of Hearthstone games should be played outside of Ranked play in either Casual or “with friends” play.

It is trivially easy to accomplish this goal.  First thing first is to include all the casual CCG variants that are missing from Hearthstone.  I’ll enumerate and define some of them.
  •            2 Headed Giant:  2 Headed Giant involves 2 teams of 2 players each.  The first team to eliminate both players from a team wins.  This mode can be played where players can only attack and cast spells across the table, or where players can attack either player on the opposing team.
  • ·      Emperor: Emperor is a CCG variant involving teams of 3.  1 player is designated the Emperor, and the Emperor is flanked on either side by “knights”.  The knights do battle with each other, and the Emperor may summon minions and then spend a minion’s attack to move the minion to one of his/her knights.  When a knight dies, the opposing knight may attack the Emperor directly.  A team wins when the opposing Emperor dies.
  • ·      Grand Melee: This is the simplest form of multiplayer CCG.  3 or more players are pitted against each other; last player standing wins.  Spells have an unlimited range—a single target spell can target any hero or minion in play, and AoE spells affect everyone.
  • ·       Attack Left, Defend Right: ALDR is a limited Grand Melee variant where a players can only attack and cast spells against the player to his/her right and is attacked and has spelled cast on him/her from the player to his/her left.  When a player dies, the next player to the right may be attacked, and so on.  Last player standing wins.

Second, there needs to be infrastructure to support Hearthstone games of more than 2 players.  There are a couple of aspects to this.  First, you can throw MMR out the window, as multiplayer CCG variants are often too chaotic to say that the “best” player will win in all cases.  This in turn will lead to games of multiplayer Hearthstone filling up quickly.  Second, the balance of cards is unaffected, as multiplayer Hearthstone would be exclusively for Casual mode play and private tournaments.  We already have precedent that the only way the Hearthstone design team changes things is when they get embarrassed at major fake sports events, and multiplayer Hearthstone wouldn’t change that at all.  Luckily enough, Blizzard already has template code for multiplayer Hearthstone available to it with WoW’s LFD/LFR.  I’ve spent the better part of 6 years trying to find a positive of WoW ceasing to be a game in favor of being a self-esteem engine for bads, and I think I just did it.  There’s also some lobby code from the Blizzard library that can be cannibalized and adapted for Hearthstone for “with friends” play.

Finally, multiplayer Hearthstone would need to be incentivized.  The current set of daily quests supports multiplayer Hearthstone already, but the daily quest system would need to be expanded to support “with friends” play for multiplayer variants.  I understand and acknowledge the dangers of expanding daily quests to cover “with friends” play; however, limiting that expansion to only multiplayer variants of “with friends” play de facto limits the amount of abusive gold farming that can occur.  Further, the daily quest and gold per 3 wins systems already have inherent limitations that would carry over to multiplayer “with friends” play.  Also, there’s already precedence to incentivize “with friends” play in the form of the Total Dominance daily quest (100 gold for 7 wins in any mode).  For the purposes of the rest of the quests in multiplayer Hearthstone, dealing the killing blow to any player in a multiplayer match would constitute a “win” for the purposes of satisfying win <x> games quests.  The last thing of note is that the Rank 20 cosmetic rewards would need to be available for people who are playing multiplayer Hearthstone.  We know Hearthstone tracks wins, so it should be a simple matter to track overall games played, which is really all a ranking is in the final analysis.

So what would all this mean?  It would get a huge swath of players that don’t particularly want or need to be playing Ranked out of Ranked and into Casual.  It would result in many multiplayer Hearthstone communities, including 1 at VTW Productions, erupting out of the ether overnight.  It would be a nostalgia trip for people who played CCGs in their dorms with their friends.  It would result in a more competitive environment in Ranked play.  It should reduce the amount of complaints about card balance, game shallowness, and degenerate combos and archetypes. All are positives for the long term health of Hearthstone, and all are made possible by completing the feature set of Casual mode Hearthstone to support the multiplayer CCG variants some of us have been playing for nearly 20 years.

Hearthstone has a lot of potential to be a great CCG, but only if the designers acknowledge that they’ve sold CCGs short by ignoring multiplayer CCG variants, and take the necessary steps to complete their game.

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