Embrace the Chaos: A new Era for Hearthstone

By Matt Thrower 31 May 2017 2

Randomness is the most contentious issue in strategy gaming. Too little and you end up with an icy, austere edifice lacking in engagement and excitement. Too much and you remove skill from the game and, with it, any long-term interest. Getting the balance right is tough.

Fortunately for online collectible games like Hearthstone, they have a built in correction in the form of expansions. Should any set of cards get the balance wrong, the next release can swing the pendulum back the other way. Unsurprising, then, that the amount of chaos in the game has always been a hot talking point among players and pros alike.

There was a time when most people felt it was too much. The game's very first expansion, Goblins vs Gnomes increased the amount in the game significantly. Cards like Unstable Portal, which gave you a random minion, entered play. The intent was to make the game more friendly to new players by acting as a power leveller. An experienced player should tend to beat a neophyte most of the time. With the extra entropy, though, there was a chance a lucky draw could level in the game back in their favour.

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That need saw the next couple of expansions step on the chaos pedal harder and harder. Cards like Piloted Shredder, which replaced itself with a random low-cost minion when killed, came into the game. This was huge because the new minion started direct on the board which could have a colossal impact on the game state. If you got a cheap Taunt, say, at a convenient time, it could buy you an extra turn to swing the game around. Let alone if you were lucky enough to grab an good epic of legendary minion, or unlucky enough to get one with an un-triggered Battlecry.

Arguably it was minions like that which forced the introduction of Standard and Wild format as a means of getting them out of the game. But what really pushed RNG over the edge was Yogg Saron from the Whispers of the Old Gods set. It cast a random spell on a random target for each spell you'd cast in the game. If you'd popped off a few then it tended to decide the game: but to which player was essentially a coin toss. It got nerfed, but the community had had enough and Blizzard finally got the message. It started rowing back on the level of crazy.

Journey to Un'Goro, the latest expansion, saw almost no cards with random effects added to the pool. Instead we got the new Adapt mechanic. This gives the player a choice of three randomly selected buffs to add to a minion.

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For some, this is still too much. They still feel the need to complain, loudly, that there's no skill in the game. For obvious reasons it's a prevalent attitude on the pro circuit but there are plenty of lesser mortals echoing their concerns. Here's the thing, though: they're wrong.

Let's take another look at Adapt. Sure, you get a choice of three chosen from a big pool, and which three that come up can impact the game. But less often than you might think, since many of the effects are similar in application. If you're about to get battered to death by a horde of buffed Murlocs, it doesn't matter much if the buff is Windfury or +3 attack or +1/+1, does it?

And in return, what does Adapt add to the game? Well, a little bit of hope for new players who can't afford to get those pricey legendary Un'Goro cards for one thing. If players want to keep the game alive, they've got to keep it friendly to new blood. And it also adds extra in-game choice and extra choice equals extra strategy. Sometimes, it doesn't matter which option you pick. Sometimes, though, it does. Sometimes it leads to you inventing creative new card combos that you deck doesn't normally allow on the fly. And that's a great thing, rewarding thought, skill and inventiveness. Aren't those the very things you should want in a strategy game?

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Same goes for another oft-derided mechanic, Discover. It works the same as adapt, except you get a choice of cards rather than a buff. It's choice. It lets you come up with smart new ways to play. Especially for the Tri-Class cards from the Gadgetzan expansion which throw you cards from classes you'd never normally get to use. This is good chaos that good players can warp to their will to bolster their game plan.

Besides, all the randomness that was ever in the game pales besides the greatest random arbiter of all: card draw. Good decks get designed to be flexible. They need to be able to handle a variety of challenges. But with only two copies of a given card allowed in the deck, everyone is at the mercy of what they draw each turn. It doesn't matter if your deck contains four crowd-control spells to save you from an aggro rush if none of them are in your hand.

So: embrace the chaos. The level is better now than it has ever been. It gives a much needed boost to newer players. It lets those who know what they're doing work with it for best effect. It adds tension and excitement to the game. That's a solid set of trade-off's for the occasional game that got decided beyond your control. If you can't learn to roll with the punches, what are you doing playing a game with random card draw in the first place?



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