Designed for ease of play, Blizzard's online trading card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft hints at a surprisingly simple, yet deep experience.
One of the core tenants when creating Hearthstone was to make sure it was an easy-to-understand and broadly appealing title, said Jason Chayes, production director for the game.
Much of the work is automated by the game, leaving players to focus their attention on picking up the nuance of play and mastering its tactics.
As with many trading card games, Hearthstone has players taking on the role of a main character who can summon monsters to attack their opponent. The goal of the game is to take down your opponent's hero, something you can often do without having to wipe out whatever army the opponent has amassed. While certain creatures can force a player to attack them first, typically, creatures and spells can deal damage directly to the hero. Once a hero is killed, the game is over.
The game, due out for the PC and Mac "soon," will be followed by an iPad release. Other possible platforms for the game will be considered post-launch. All versions of the game were designed to deliver matches that take about 10 minutes to whip through, Chayes said.
"We wanted really fast matches," he said. "The game was designed with that in mind."
"If people are excited about e-sports, it's totally something we would look into ... and eventually support with more features in the game."
Eric Dodds, Hearthstone lead designer said that collectible card games are awesome, but that there are some "barriers to entry."
"This game will have a broader audience," he said.
While the game will release as a free-to-play title that offers the ability to purchase "expert" cards, everything in the game can be unlocked through play without spending a penny, Dodds said. The team is still discussing what "business model" to use for the iPad version, Chayes said.
Dodds said the game kicks off by having players unlock about 100 basic cards by playing through each of the game's nine classes. Cards can be earned, or created by disenchanting unwanted cards and then combining the remnants to form new cards.
There currently are no plans to support player-to-player trading through Battle.Net, which is how players will be matched up for play.
"We didn't feel like that was the best fit for Hearthstone," Chayes said.
"When we first started working on this project our mandate was, ‘Let's make an awesome online flexible card game, the best one we can possibly make.'"
The game will support an offline, single-player training mode, but Hearthstone is really designed to be played against opponents online. There are two basic modes of play, Dodds said.
The main form of competition randomly matches up players based on their skill level. Skill level is determined based on the number of medals a player has won.
Forge mode is a mode where you start out by selecting your deck through a series of choices. First, you're given the option to select from one of three heroes. Then, you continue to select cards by choosing one card from three until your deck is built out.
Once a deck is built, you are matched with someone who has a similar rating to the deck you built. You play until you lose three times.
"As you get additional wins, you'll actually have the ability to earn expert packs of cards," Dodds said.
While it isn't built into the game yet, the team is looking very seriously at what they call "e-sports opportunities" for the game.
"If people are excited about e-sports, it's totally something we would look into," Chayes said, " and eventually support with more features in the game."
Other things that the team are considering is the ability to perhaps one day play Hearthstone inside World of Warcraft.
"That's something we've talked about internally," Chayes said. "It's not something we're going to have for launch, but there's always that possibility in the future."
What won't be coming is a real-world, real-card version of this online game, the team said. That's because Hearthstone was designed from the ground up to be an online experience.
"We made a whole bunch of decisions from card design to how the gameplay flows to make it great online," Dodds said. "Turning it into a physical card game, there's already a great physical card game: WoW: TCG."
That also explains why the team didn't simply emulate that real-world World of Warcraft trading card game when creating this online game, Dodds said.
"We didn't want to be constrained by any of the limitations of what a physical card game can do."
"The physical one is a great game," he said. "But like a whole bunch of other physical games, it has certain limitations when you translate it online. When we first started working on this project our mandate was, ‘Let's make an awesome online flexible card game, the best one we can possibly make.' We didn't want to be constrained by any of the limitations of what a physical card game can do."
The computer and the iPad versions of the game were playable on the PAX East show floor today, but players couldn't challenge one another cross-platform. That's something that could change, Chayes said.
"That's something that we think could be an awesome feature, that we're really excited about" he said. "We're working on it but it's not something we're sure we can have."