By Tim Minahan, 13 October 2015
I’m very glad to be writing that I’ve completed a long a treacherous road of card games, random number generators, and virtual card packs. I’ve been playing Hearthstone for roughly six months in an attempt to enjoy a game type and financial plan that I enjoy (card video games and free to play). To give you a sense of who I am, I’m the kid you knew in High School who had Pokemon cards that he was “trying to get rid of” but was actively accruing stock in both Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic the Gathering. I was a bit of a card game fiend. I was Twisted Fate from League of Legends brought to life. Whether it be Rummy 500, Poker, or Uno, I couldn’t get my hands off a deck of cards. Hours went into every deck I constructed for strategy card games, and I had secret mathematical permutations to give me the optimal hand at the start of each game. With all that being said, you’d think that Hearthstone would be my cup of tea, but in fact it was more like Everclear (or other distilled beverage of choice that you regret the day after); habit forming and bad for my health.
At first my time in Hearthstone was pretty great. I played against the bots until I got used to the different hero classes and each of their special abilities, and the types of cards that were available (Goblins vs Gnomes had just come out). It wasn’t until I entered the PvP queue that the slow burn of Hearthstone began. I began my upward trudge through the ranks, collecting what little gold I could gain from victories and dailies to buy more base packs and arena matches when I could. I started making a mage deck that I could be proud of and felt on top of the world. Enemies that came across my deck would be destroyed by someone who had not bought the Naxxramas or Black Rock Mountain campaigns. I refused on basis that $25 for a set of virtual cards were not worth it, opting to purchase wings with gold when I could and stick with what I could afford. By rank 15-13 I began to realize that I would not be able to climb higher with my deck. As a friend told me, ” You NEED the Naxxramas cards to win.” This free to play started to look and feel like a pay to win game, and that wasn’t sitting well with me.
This point was further accentuated when The Grand Tournament pack expansion was released. Players who paid for the early release of the set had a huge advantage over their non-paying counterparts. Optimal deck types were created and distributed online, and a new season meta was created, phasing out the old deck types all together. There’s something infuriating when someone tells you that you HAVE to play a particular deck type in order to get anywhere in a game. At least with Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic the Gathering you can feasibly win with any deck build. Early Yu-Gi-Oh had many paths to victory, and while some were more optimal than others, you had the chance at winning a game. Hearthstone has become a distilled embodiment of its father, World of Warcraft, where you have optimal rotations, lots of grinding, and a wholly unfun experience until you get that one shiny card or good combo.
I tried many ways to get the game to be fun for me; making silly decks, exercising while playing, playing League of Legends while playing Hearthstone. In the end, the game feels incredibly gimmicky and absolutely should be considered pay to win over free to play. Incredibly addicting? Incredibly lucrative? Absolutely. But I believe that it is absolutely the worst parts of trading card games without the physicality of holding your own deck and announcing it’s time to duel. We’ll probably see more card games based in fictional universe to come (The Elder Scrolls: Legends being one example) and we’ll be no different than the era of pinball video games based on our favorite universes, another fad for time to forget.