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Polygon's Games of the Year 2014 #6: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

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Polygon's number six choice for Game of the Year is Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. But if you don't mind me breaking character for a moment, it is hands-down the number one choice for me personally. And if you'd asked me a little over a year ago, I never would have expected it.

You may not know this feeling if you don't put together a personal "game of the year" list every year, but so often my choices are, for lack of a better term, predictable. They're things that I (or anyone who knows my tastes) could have easily guessed.

Like, hey, I love well-developed retro platformers, so of course Shovel Knight made my list. I get obsessed with deep, old-school role-playing games, so obviously I voted for Divinity: Original Sin.

What could there possibly be here for me? As it turns out, everything.

The only clue that Hearthstone could earn my adoration is its minor ties to the Warcraft franchise. Beyond that, there was nothing but warning signs that it wasn't my type of game. It's a card game, and besides a few attempts trying Magic: The Gathering in high school, I've never really played those. It's a free-to-play game, and I'd always been pushed away by microtransactions and grinding for in-game currency. What could there possibly be here for me?

Well, as it turns out, everything.

I've already written extensively on Polygon about Hearthstone's brilliant design and how it opened me up to a whole new genre of games. At this point, including my time with the game's beta in 2013, I've been playing, thinking about and writing about Hearthstone for over a year.

Yet I'm still blown away by this, by just how accessible and welcoming it is, how it effortlessly encouraged me to explore a whole style of game that I had never experienced. Playing Hearthstone urged me to seek out other card games and also taught me how to appreciate the elegance of their design. I went from having barely touched the card game genre at the start of the year to seeking out new card games to try out voraciously, in between literal daily Hearthstone sessions.

I'm not joking. I played Hearthstone for at least a couple matches every day for months on end.

And it's not just the playing that took up my time and made me fall so in love. I also spent a long time just thinking about Hearthstone. I watched popular streamers and learned from their victories and defeats. I tracked down every competitive Hearthstone tournament I could, finding myself truly drawn into eSports for the first time ever. I spent dozens of hours browsing decklists, trying to understand the theories behind popular decks and crafting my own variations on them.

On top of everything else, Hearthstone ruled my year as the game I made the most videos of by far, with my colleague and friend Griffin McElroy. You can watch one of those for yourself above. We had a blast doing multiple videos for every new piece of Hearthstone content, and you all seemed to enjoy watching them as well. We're absolutely planning more for 2015.

card games live and die based on a steady flow of new and interesting cards

Oh, and there's another reason Hearthstone tops my list: I absolutely expect to be playing it all through next year. Part of that is thanks to Blizzard's impressively aggressive approach to new content. As a developer, it's known for taking its time, often delaying games interminably until they're near-perfect. Wisely, though, the Hearthstone team recognized that card games live and die based on a steady flow of new and interesting cards.

They proved up to the challenge: Hearthstone launched in March 2014. By mid-summer, Blizzard rolled out a 30-card "adventure" add-on called Curse of Naxxramas over the course of five weeks. Then, just a few weeks ago, it closed out the year with the launch of Goblins vs. Gnomes, Hearthstone's first full-fledged expansion with over 100 cards. That's a great pace for what has remained excellent content, and I hope they can keep it up.

Even if things go horribly wrong and Hearthstone doesn't maintain its amazing momentum, it utterly dominated my year and defied all of my expectations. That unexpectedness alone earns it a well-deserved slot on our Game of the Year list.

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.