Monday, February 16, 2015

Hearthstone Interactivity, Part II

Continuing on from the previous post, let's look at an alternate scheme to increase interactivity in a game like Hearthstone. This scheme is used in several CCGs. I first encountered in the Babylon 5 CCG.

Essentially, the rounds become simultaneous. Each person gets a new mana crystal at the same time, and draws a card at the same time. Then one player takes an action to cast a spell or attack. That spell/action is resolved. Then the next player takes an action. You go back and forth until both players pass in a row. At that point the round ends, and a new round starts.

This isn't quite as responsive as Magic. But it makes the game closer to something like chess, where players alternate moves. If Anna does something that requires multiple actions, Betty has a chance to interrupt Anna.

Now, this scheme does have downsides. Needing to wait for the other person to pass can lead to stalling.

As well, this scheme sometimes devalues combinations of cards. For example, let's say Anna has a 4/4 on the board. Betty has a 1/1 and a Blessing of Kings (+4/+4) in her hand. Under the old rules, Betty could play her 1/1 and boost it to 5/5, putting her in a good position. Now if Betty plays the 1/1, Anna's 4/4 will immediately attack and kill it.

Building synergistic combinations of cards is a great part of the fun of CCGs. Schemes that promote more individually powerful cards at the expense of combinations can prove to be less fun.

This scheme also makes the decision tree a lot more complex, where you have to keep in mind your opponent's possible moves. It might very well be a strength of Hearthstone that each turn is self-contained, and allows a newer player to reason out her entire turn without interference from the other side.

Like, in current Hearthstone, if you play an incorrect sequence, it's fairly obvious when you recognize what the better sequence would be. But adding the other player's moves into the mix muddles that clarity.

Still, though, the scheme outlined above is more interactive than the current version of Hearthstone, and is also more suitable for computer play.


  1. FWIW, Rohan, I'm enjoying your posts from a game player perspective. I don't play Hearthstone, and I play just enough magic to get the pants beat off me by my kids, but I can follow what you're talking about from having played enough board/card games over the years.

    This is a bugger of a problem that isn't easily solved, because expectations in computer games vs. in person games are different. What works in a face-to-face game --such as the interactivity in M:tG-- falls apart in a computer environment (as you demonstrated throughout the last couple of posts). Any advantage of a computer game is eliminated by that wait state required to see if someone will interrupt your play.

    All I can say is that I'm glad I don't have to come up with a solution that doesn't bog the game down.

  2. Great timing on these posts. I recently received a Kindle Fire HDX from my wife on Valentine's Day. The first thing I did with it was download Hearthstone. I had and still have mixed thoughts on the game, but overall it has been enjoyable.

    Before this weekend, I had only played enough to get my in-game mount, but I've played a good 20-30 games since, mainly against AI. In contrast, I've played thousands of games of M:tG, as I started playing in '94. These two games might be in the same genre, but the structure and rules of the games are as different as you describe.

    I prefer to play Magic in person with physical cards (of which I have way too many). The game was created for that format and I honestly believe it works best that way. I have been known to play a game or two online, but I enjoy being across the table from someone, and even using Ventrilo to voice chat isn't nearly the same. As mentioned in your prior post, the stack doesn't translate well to the online client, but it is definitely a strength of the physical game.

    Hearthstone is a completely different animal, an online card game that originated in that format. It would be nice to have some sort of interrupt mechanics or other similar abilities that can be played on the opponents turn, but if it adds a considerable amount of time to a game, it might be more harmful than good. I can forgive it for its simplicity if I view it as a quick fix for gaming, but given the option, I doubt I'd play it in person.

    Maybe the best solution is another mode with different rules in how players and turns interact. I would support that, as I'm sure most with CCG backgrounds would as well. Either way, I see Hearthstone for what it is for me: a quick, simple time sink when I have don't have the time to play much else.

  3. One solution to the problem of having to spend time waiting for opponents to counter might be to have a "Counter" button that you only have 5 seconds to press. If you don't press it, the opponent carries on with their next card. If you do press it, you have (say) 15 seconds to play your counter. Pressing "counter" and not countering could have a penalty associated with it (for instance, self damage similar to running out of cards).

    Your solution of having "Simultaneous turns" (where a turn is composed of alternating sequential plays until all players have passed or run out of resources) is a solution I quite like, though. It will certainly shake up a lot of popular combos, but it's possible that it might create more tactical play.

    For instance, to take the example you gave of Betty's 1/1 minion and Blessing of Kings in her hand. First, let's recognise that Anna has the upper hand, having a 4/4 on the deck to Betty's none, with 5 mana each to spend this turn (the alternative, that Anna just used 4 mana to put a 4/4 on the board and only has 1 mana left to spend is possible, but then Anna's minion isn't ready to attack this turn - "Give that minion a turn to get ready")

    What if Betty passed? Then Anna has to play. She can use her 4/4 to hit Betty in the face, or play something else (I don't know what else Anna has in her hand), or pass. Let's look at all three options.

    1. Anna hits Betty in the face. Now Betty takes 4 damage, but can play her 1/1 safe in the knowledge that Anna can't hit it with her 4/4. Of course Anna might still kill it with a spell from her hand. If it survives, Betty can then buff it with BoK on the next play in the same turn.

    2. Anna plays another card. Now Betty might pass again, still trying to force Betty to use her 4/4 minion (alternatively, she might decide on the basis of seeing Anna's play to put out her 1/1 minion as a sacrifice to save getting hit in the face by the 4/4)

    3. Anna might pass. Now we have 2 passes in a row, and the turn ends, even though both players could have done more; but Anna has prevented Betty from using any cards in the turn. In exchange, Betty has avoided taking 4 to the face.

    Things aren't looking great for Betty, but passing a play in hopes of taking advantage when her opponent runs out of plays adds a little extra to her options.

  4. @Dacheng, that's a correct analysis.

    However, consider the case where, instead of having BoK in her deck, Betty simply replaces them with a 4/4 minion.

    Now, Betty has a 4/4 and a 1/1 in her hand. She just just plays the 4/4 minion. Now the two minions straight up trade with each other.

    The real concern is that cards which boost other cards become devalued in favor of cards which can stand on their own.

  5. I take your point, Rohan, it would indeed lead to buffs becoming devalued. It would also lead to tanks becoming more highly prized, as they can protect weak minions until they can be buffed.