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Tycho / on Wed, Aug 21 2013 at 12:01 am

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Deciding what to play with your leisure time, let alone deciding what to make a comic about, is a non-trivial matter at the moment.  Shit’s dense.  And then a will-o-the-wisp like Hearthstone shoots off into a cave, and you pretty much have to follow it.

Card games of every stripe - collectible, another kind of collectible, deckbuilding, whatever - I have an endless fascination with them.  That’s no surprise to you, of course; I’m always trying to make you play one.  In fact, I’m going to do it again today.  As the whole shebang has crept more and more digital, and almost universally free to play, it’s been a dangerous conflux.  The most pleasurable thing for me, brain-chemistry wise, is learning a new system.  The rewards are immense, and tactile.  So if I can download your system for free, getting what I want most, oh, and also there are new ones every day from every corner of the globe because of our Web, look the fuck out.  I can eat half of each caramel in this metaphorical See’s box, tipping the truffles and and bordeaux and Walnut Shitters straight into the trash uneaten.

It’s early days for Hearthstone.  I think that it’s purposefully less fiddly than its contemporaries - it’s orders of magnitude less insane than the other World of Warcraft-branded card offering.  Concepts like causality chains, off-turn actions of any kind really, either aren’t there or I haven’t seen them.  I’m not looking over my spectacles at it or anything, I’m just saying that it aspires to be a parlor game in Azeroth and it feels exactly like that.  It’s got short decks and strict limitations.  Again, on purpose.  They could have done anything they wanted, so that’s no accident.

The thing that stands out the most at this point - vastly more than its young system, which is fast and fun, and relentlessly setting authentic, but, you know, young - is the presentation.  It’s a Blizzard game, so to a certain extent we can say that they have the benefit of that storied lineage.  Like Dice Poker in The Witcher, this is a game characters play inside the game, and they sell it fucking hard by being the most tactile, physical game of this type I’ve seen.  The cards aren’t…  cards, in the classic sense.  They’re more like tiles, thin but heavy.  You can see how heavy when you drag a card around, the gauge clearly visible from the side.  You can see the details in relief.  Shit blows up.  Card turn into stone eggs on the table and smash each other into pieces.  The bones here are good, good, good.  Too good.  So good it is a little mean.

We express what is no doubt a common fear in today’s strip. Everquest went this route thousands of years ago with Legends of Norrath, a game with which I functionally speaking had an extramartial affair.  I’m not a member of the larger Everquest community, so I don’t know how people felt about it generally - but I know it would have worked upon my own mind like a geas.

(CW)TB out.

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