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Hearthstone for iOS review: A strategy card game anyone can enjoy

With an enormous amount of polish, this game is incredibly easy to learn, but difficult to master. It only took a few games before I was completely hooked.

Jason Parker Senior Editor / Reviews - Software
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
5 min read

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is an easy-to-learn strategy card game with incredible polish and surprisingly deep gameplay. The game is heavily inspired by the card game Magic: The Gathering, where you play cards to summon minions and attack your opponent.


Hearthstone for iOS

The Good

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has excellent gameplay, deep strategy, and tons of replay value.

The Bad

Even on the latest iPad the game sometimes lags, and it's really noticeable on older devices.

The Bottom Line

With challenging strategy gameplay and simple touch controls, Hearthstone is worthy of your time even if you've never played a strategy card game.

With such popular action, RPG, and strategy games like World of Warcraft, the StarCraft games, and the Diablo franchise headlining its resume, I was skeptical when Blizzard announced it was developing a strategy card game. But even after only a few games, I can tell you it's just as deep and addictive as Blizzard's other games, and it almost feels like it was intended for the iPad all along.

Strategy card gaming at its finest (pictures)

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Learning the ropes

Blizzard knows how to get players acclimated to a new game world, and Hearthstone is no exception.

The game starts you off with an easy AI opponent and walks you through how to complete a turn in the game. First you automatically draw a card, then you use your available spell crystals to play a card. Cards can be spells, minions, or other skills, with the main goal to diminish the other hero's hit points to zero and win the game.

Each card has an attack number as well as a defense number. So, in the parlance of the game, a 5/4 card can damage for five hit points, but can withstand only four points of damage. Many cards come with special abilities, such as doing two points of damage upon playing the card, but most are monsters you can play that act as both a way to damage the enemy hero, and to provide a line of defense against attacks from your opponent.

If it sounds confusing, don't worry; the tutorial levels smoothly guide you through all the beginner moves. By the end, you'll know the basics and will have the tools to learn more complex strategy as you earn new cards to add to your decks.

When you're finished with the tutorial levels, you'll be able to pick from three game modes: Practice, Play, and Arena. Practice mode lets you play against AI opponents to test what works for each class. Play mode lets you go up against other real players (you can choose Casual or Ranked). The Arena mode challenges you to pick a deck from scratch, then see how long you can last against other players.

Customizing your decks

Hearthstone has nine different basic decks, based on characters from Warcraft lore that are split into classes. You start out as a Mage, but you can also play as a Warrior, Druid, Priest, Hunter, and several others. Each deck has cards appropriate to that class (such as the Priest, who is heavy in healing skills, or the Rogue, who has stealth and back-stabbing skills).

In the beginning you'll want to stick to the basic decks just to learn how each class works, but as you progress, you'll earn additional cards for the class you are playing.

Once you've learned what works (and what doesn't) from playing practice rounds, you'll learn that certain cards work better than others. In the main menu you can touch a button to look at "My collection." Here, you can look at all the cards you've earned by class and make decks of your own.

A standard deck is 30 cards, and you can pick each and every card that goes into your deck. If that seems a little daunting at first, Hearthstone will also give you recommendations to make sure your deck is balanced with both low- and high-level cards. I found that the more I played, the more I wanted to pick each card. As I became accustomed to how to play a specific class, certain cards became crucial to my overall strategy, and knowing they were in my deck gave me something to look out for.

It's also important to note that Hearthstone is a free-to-play game, with in-app purchases for extra card packs. If you want to get tons of cards right away, you can do that by buying card packs with real money, but you also have the option to slowly earn cards, making Hearthstone's freemium model surprisingly tolerable.

Perfecting your game

Each class plays differently, with specific strengths and weaknesses. The only way to learn how to play a class is by either practicing against AI opponents, or playing against real players. But it does you no good to simply play cards as soon as they are available. Hearthstone is as much about attacking as it is about saving specific cards for just the right situation.

As an example, there is one card for the Mage that deals four damage to all enemy minions. While you could play it as soon as it becomes available to you, it's better to wait until the enemy has several minions on the board to use the full potential of the card.

There is also math to be considered. Part of what makes Hearthstone so fun is figuring out what combination of cards to play -- and when -- in order to maximize your damage while defending your hero. For example, you could play a minion with a 2/2 (two damage and two defense), but you might have another card that gives a minion +2 to attack. This would mean your 2/2 now becomes a 4/2 possibly giving you the attack power to take out a pesky x/4 minion from your opponent. In other words, it pays to look at all your available cards to see if there is a combination that will work to your advantage.

Not for every iOS device

Hearthstone is

-only, and once you play, you'll understand why. The cards would simply be impossible to read on the smaller iPhone screen. But it's also memory intensive. I tried the game on the iPad Air and an iPad 2.

On the iPad 2 there is quite a bit of lag and the actions of touching and dragging a card don't seem to work every time. It's almost as if sometimes your touch just doesn't register. It's playable, but it's not ideal. But even on the iPad Air, during particularly intense battles with several cards, I noticed significant choppiness in the frame rate. To be fair, it's only when the action gets particularly intense, but it's something to look out for.


Hearthstone is a game that is easy to pick up and play, but is actually deep with tons of things to consider with every move. The tutorial will give you everything you need to start playing, but it's only when you start delving into the idiosyncrasies of each class that you start to realize just how much thought went into balancing the classes.

As a result, the game is enormously addictive, with tons of replay value. But while the game feels right at home on the iPad's touchscreen, it will push your device to its limits and starts to suffer on older iPads.

Still, even if you're put off by the idea of strategy card games, Hearthstone has an enormous amount of polish and is definitely worthy of being part of Blizzard's legacy of hit games.


Hearthstone for iOS

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 10Interface 9Performance 7