Wednesday, 11 June 2014

random thoughts on Hearthstone

I've won 144 games on Hearthstone. Assuming my win rate is about 50% (which is quite optimistic of me) I should have played around 300 games now. I still enjoy the game very much. So far I have only completed one season (end of May 2014), and the highest rank I managed to reach was 15 (lowest is Rank 25, highest is Rank 1, and above Rank 1 there is a Legendary Rank). I hovered around Ranks 16 to 18 at end of May, but recently I have been doing rather poorly, being stuck at Rank 20. At Ranks 20 to 25 you can't drop ranks. Else I probably would have fallen further. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong. Or is it that there are more and more good players? Or the system is matching me with more experienced players, who are mostly better players than me? Despite the many losses, I still like playing in Ranked mode, because I get to play against strong opponents. I like the challenge and the tension.

There are some characters that I prefer over others, e.g. I like playing Warlock and Shaman, I don't quite like playing Druid, but generally I play all characters and don't have any strong preference for any one character. I pick characters based on the quests available. I have constructed one deck per character. I don't fiddle with my decks much. Sometimes when I keep losing with a particular deck, I'll review it and fine-tune it. But generally, I just play.

I get annoyed when I run into players who use many legendary cards. Legendary cards are powerful cards. You can only have one copy of each in your deck, unlike regular cards which you can have two copies of. Since Legendary cards are usually quite powerful, I often have no counter for them. I don't have many Legendary cards myself, so when I see an opponent playing one Legendary card after another, I feel helpless. I also feel frustrated because I feel I'm losing because of the cards he has access to, and not necessarily because he has built his deck better or he has played more skillfully.

I admire players who make very clever use of common cards, and players who hold back cards to be used at the right time. Not players who rely on many powerful cards.

I see some common combos. There is one where a Priest player plays a spell card to double a minion's health, and then another spell card to increase its attack value to be the same as its health value. That minion can become so strong that it can killed off the opponent Hero that same turn. The first time I saw this, I thought it was a very clever combo. However after I encountered this a few more times, I found it to be formulaic, unimaginative and annoying. I prefer opponents who have variety in their decks and who are flexible. Repeatedly used formulas and standard killer moves bore me.

Sometimes it's not just specific combos of a few cards, it's also generally how a deck is constructed. For example a deck with many murlocs is easy to build - just search for keyword "murloc" - and it can be very powerful because murlocs often boost one another's abilities. There is not much skill in building a murloc deck, and there is not much skill required to play a murloc deck effectively. I think it's quite one-dimensional. Thankfully I don't run into murloc decks all that often. If I do, then the fun is in seeing whether I can defeat it, despite knowing how powerful it can be. I am not so keen about using a murloc deck regularly myself.

I am more and more familiar with the characters and their cards now, so when I play I start to anticipate what cards my opponent may have, and I try to avoid getting myself into situations where he can deal a devastating blow. It is very satisfying to be able to reach this next level of play. There is more to think about. There is more skill involved. I think this is what makes CCG's so captivating. The fact that I'm ranting about some of the annoyances I have with Hearthstone means I'm really getting into this game, so it's a good thing. It is rewarding.

I usually just play two or three games per day, which is not all that much. Some days I play a bit more. Some days I don't play. It is very convenient to pick up the iPad and just play. The game is quick and smooth, yet is still challenging and has some depth.

I have been hoping to get to this level of play with Android: Netrunner - to go beyond the initial floundering and to start appreciating and utilising the intricacies of the game. I've installed the software to play Android: Netrunner online, but I still have not actually tried using it. It's a PC-based software, so it's not as convenient or user-friendly as Hearthstone on the iPad. Also the player pool is much smaller. I am still hesitant because it's a little intimidating, but I hope I can bite the bullet and delve further into Android: Netrunner. It is a more complex game than Hearthstone and I think it will be even more satisfying if I commit the effort to learn to play it well.


flamesofthephoenix said...

I've found that with most Free to Play games, you run into the problem that you describe. Your knowledge can only get you so far.

It makes sense that those who invest more time and/or money into a game would have an advantage (in this case, better cards), but it can be frustrating when you are trying to compete without spending a fortune.

Also, with combos and decks being used over and over, that seems to be prevalent in many games now, since people frequent forums/web pages, identify the "optimum" build, and then use it until something comes along to counter it and shifts the meta yet again and the cycle repeats.

It is always nice, though to get to the stage that you are at, where you are identifying combos before they happen or knowing counters to them. Just as long as it is still enjoyable :)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I am guessing the enjoyment of CCG's will depend a lot on the people you play with. In the case of Hearthstone, you don't really get much choice since you're playing against everyone in the same region. You can only pick to play in casual mode, ranked mode or in the arena. Currently when I play in ranked mode I meet a decent mix of player types. I don't always get those who use Legendary cards heavily, or those who rely on common killer moves. So I'm still enjoying myself. I'm not sure whether the kind of players I meet will be the same if I manage to move on to higher ranks. At those ranks, maybe Legendary cards will become mandatory in order to be competitive.

I find the meta game quite interesting. It's part of anticipating combos and preventing combos before they can be executed. I think the game designers need to do a lot of work to keep the meta game interesting and lively, and not gravitate towards only a few types of decks or a few killer combos.

Aik Yong said...

Hiew, I'm not sure you've played other CCGs before, the meta game and silver-bullet problem is always there, sometimes it's a Princess Bride problem (i know that you know that i will include this card in my deck so i should include the card that will kill the card that you thought will kill my card kind of thing). And the annoyance of battling a cheesy deck is always present in any CCGs.

My primary problem with the game is that after many MagicTG games, Hearthstone feels like a dumbed down version of MTG, which is really boring. I guess you can say after doing, say Age of Steam, Railroad tycoon just doesn't cut it?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Heng, indeed this is the first time I've played any CCG in any depth. I have tried other CCG's, but never explored them much. So getting into a CCG is a new experience for me. At the moment I'm still enjoying playing Hearthstone. I guess I shall enjoy the ride while the fun lasts. Can't argue with free. :-D

Jesse said...

I've been enjoying Hearthstone too, and this is also my first CCG experience. I like the model of the program that it's free, and you can spend money if you want to in order to gain more and better cards, but you don't have to. I actually have been enjoying casual play, and don't have much interest in trying out the ranked play yet. I have gone into the arena a couple of times, but usually get slaughtered. Still, it's a fun game. I just have to turn the sound off.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I tend to get slaughtered in the arena too. When I get 0 wins, then I'm basically buying one pack of cards plus one card at 150 gold, when I could have bought one pack of cards with 100 gold. Only on my latest attempt I managed to reach 4 wins. It is fun being able to use some cards which I don't have, but it is also a little stressful to constantly worry about how long I can survive.