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.
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.
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.