Hearthstone: Why We Must Fight Back Against Bad Brawls

By Matt Thrower 03 Mar 2017 13

Even the most casual Hearthstone player has likely dipped their toe into the game's Tavern Brawl mode. It's a great idea, in theory. Each week we get a new competition for which Blizzard have changed the basic rules. Some alterations are minor, such as double minion effects like Deathrattle, but it's also amazing how much they can change the game.

But there are also many that are quite extreme. These are often the most interesting and memorable. One popular brawl saw the game go co-operative, with players combining against one super-strong minion. Another added free "gift" minions which turned into cards if you could destroy them. In these cases, the brawls were great because they offered new modes for Hearthstone while retaining the fundamentals. To win you still needed board control and clever tech plays. But the tech cards you needed were different to those that worked in the normal game.

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This week's Brawl is somewhere in the middle. Each player gets one of three random decks, based on characters from the most recent expansion. The decks have cards from different classes, and each character has a unique power. They can be awkward to play, but offer lots of possibilities for synergies and plays that just aren't possible in standard decks. Good Brawls showcase Hearthstone at its best. They offer a break from the grind of laddering and questing, which becomes routine once the meta-game has settled. Yet although these are great fun, they're likely the most complex to create and test. Each brawl demands alterations to the game engine, after all so there is lots of recycling of old concepts and designs.

The work involved may explain the most distressing aspect of Tavern Brawls: excessive randomness. Lots of chaos destroys the fundamentals of Hearthstone. You might get board control, and then it might get blown away by a lucky draw or play. Tech becomes pointless because it's unreliable. So it's a bit baffling to regular players that Blizzard has been open about its desire to add more chance to the game. And in the Tavern Brawl, that desire has reached its zenith. Or possibly its nadir, depending on how you look at it.

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Last week saw the absolute pits. Players had to play with decks built from a small, random selection of powerful Legendary minions. It was just awful. If you were lucky enough to draw a bunch of Millhouse Manastorm cards you were gold. He's a cheap, powerful minion that can instantly lose you the game in standard, because he lets your opponent cast free spells. Here, with no spells and all legendary minions, there was no downside.

He wasn't the only card that was close to an instant win. There's a Priest card, Confessor Paletress, who summons additional legendary minions. This proved so powerful that many players chose Priest for the brawl in the hope of getting her. And on the flip side, of course, a lot of cards were entirely useless. So in short, whether you won or lost was pretty much random, and you could tell which way luck had swung for you on the very first turn.

This isn't the first time we've seen a very random brawl. The default fallback when Blizzard is out of ideas seems to be Randomonium, a game in which your whole deck is random. That's better than random legendaries because you can at least hope to pull of some good plays or card synergies. If you're lucky enough to have any synergies in your deck, that is. But being a bit better than the pits isn't a great claim to fame.

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Some will say, "so what?" Because if a player doesn't like a particular brawl, they don't have to play it. Except they kind of do, because winning a brawl gets you a free card back. Which is often enough incentive to sit through multiple games of fury and frustration, losing because you didn't get lucky. But it's not reward enough to not make you angry at Blizzard for encouraging you to waste your time on what amount to boring, pointless dice-offs.

Perhaps the most worrying thing about Tavern Brawls, though, is where they indicate the game is heading. That much lazy design is worrying by itself. While it's nice Blizzard gave us an extra game mode with some extra free cards, you'd want the quality control to be higher. I'd prefer weeks with no brawl at all than having to slog through another tiresome random grind. Yet Blizzard don't seem to have learned that, in spite of widespread opprobrium from the community. And still they're pushing forward with more randomness and power swings in the main game.

We recently saw the official announcement of the new expansion, Journey to Un’Goro. Details are light but the description of two new mechanics isn't promising. Adapt lets you pick from a roster of powers like Taunt and Divine shield when you play a minion. That does at least provide choice and flexibility. Quest is a kind of "open secret" where you can get a powerful card for satisfying a set of conditions like playing seven Deathrattle minions. That smacks of stale game states, a threat your opponent can do nothing to counter.

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At least the detestable Reno Jackson will finally rotate out of Standard play. And some of the changes that we got in the last patch are promising. It's good to see the nerf to the overpowered Small Time Buccaneer go live at last, although it's taken too long. And the unexpected increase in the cost of Spirit Claws shows Blizzard is willing to listen to the community, at least some of the time. Same goes for the much needed rank-ceilings meaning that as you hit multiples of five on the ladder you're guaranteed to start there next month.

Yet listening, it seems, only goes so far. Recently a notable pro player, Lifecoach, chose to publicly resign from competitive play. He cites a lack of mental challenge in the game as a key reason, and he's not wrong. But the really scary thing is that he's recently been working with Blizzard to try and improve the game. Whatever he saw convinced him nothing good was about to change. Maybe it was a slew of upcoming random Tavern Brawls.

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