Hearthstone: Freemium iOS gaming done right

Hearthstone is my new addiction, and one of the best games available for iOS and OS X. Who knew that a freemium PVP card game could be so much fun?

I played World of Warcraft for years, and I had a fun time for the most part. Eventually I got tired of it though since I was mostly just a PVP player. I found questing and raiding to be tedious, and I hated the politics and dramas of guilds.

So imagine my delight when I discovered Hearthstone in the iOS app store. It’s a card game that basically lets you PVP using World of Warcraft heroes. Instead of moving a character around in a 3D world like in WOW, you battle your opponent via a deck of cards.

Here’s the official description of Hearthstone from the iOS App Store:

DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE. INSANELY FUN.

Pick up your cards and throw down the gauntlet! In Hearthstone, you play the hero in a fast-paced, whimsical card game of cunning strategy. In minutes, you’ll be unleashing powerful cards to sling spells, summon minions, and seize control of an ever-shifting battlefield. Whether it’s your first card game or you’re an experienced pro, the depth and charm of Hearthstone will draw you in.

JUMP RIGHT IN: Fun introductory missions bring you into the world of Hearthstone’s intuitive gameplay.

BUILD YOUR DECK: With hundreds of additional cards to win and craft - your collection grows with you.

HONE YOUR SKILLS: Play in practice matches against computer-controlled heroes of the Warcraft universe. Thrall, Uther, Gul’dan - they’re all here!

COLLECTION TRAVELS WITH YOU: Your card collection is linked to your Battle.net account - enabling you to switch your play between tablet and desktop with ease.

AND FIGHT FOR GLORY: When you’re ready, step into the Arena and duel other players for the chance to win awesome prizes!

The description of Hearthstone is dead on, it is deceptively simple and it’s very fun. I found it pretty easy to jump right into the game, though perhaps that’s because I had played World of Warcraft for so long. I already understood the basic premise and each of the different classes of heroes. But it's not hard to learn how to play the game, even if you've never played World of Warcraft.

Play different classes and different Warcraft heroes

You can choose from the following classes: Druid, Hunter, Mage, Paladin, Priest, Rogue, Shaman, Warlock, Warrior. Each class has advantages and disadvantages while in battle with other players. The mage is probably my favorite class right now as I started out playing WOW as a mage, so I'm following in the footsteps of my original World of Warcraft character.

While you can buy additional heroes as you progress in the game, you start out with the ability to play Jaina Proudmoore, Rexxar, Uther Lightbringer, Garossh Hellscream, Malfurion Stormrage, Gul'dan, Thrall, Anduin Wrynn, and Valeera Sanguinar. Each hero represents a particular class in the game.

Hearthstone trailers

Blizzard has some great trailers that will whet your appetite for the game. Here's the original Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft trailer:

And here's the trailer for Whispers of the Old Gods, the latest Hearthstone expansion pack:

Check out the Blackrock Mountain adventure trailer:

There's also a ton of other trailers and videos on the official Hearthstone channel on YouTube.

In Hearthstone, it’s all about the cards

Each card in the game has different abilities and mana costs. Some cards are designed for defense, while others are geared toward doing damage to your opponent. You start out with a set of basic cards for each class, and you can win or buy additional decks.

You also have the ability to choose cards to play with from your decks. Picking the right balance of cards is important if you want to win. You have to be able to defend your hero as well as do damage as the game progresses.

I made the mistake when I first started playing of picking cards that required a lot of mana. That didn’t work out too well for me in the early rounds of the game, and I ended up losing a lot. So I had to reconfigure my deck so I had some lower mana cost cards to use at the beginning of each game.

Changing my cards helped me out a lot. I was able to defend my mage, and start whittling down my opponent's life. But even so I ended up making a few additional tweaks to my play deck after realizing that some of the cards I'd picked just weren't working well for the mage class.

So if you find yourself initially losing a lot, take a step back and reevaluate the cards you've chosen to play with and you can improve your chances to win.

mage cards in hearthstone
neutral cards in hearthstone

Hearthstone in OS X on the 5K iMac

While I really enjoyed playing Hearthstone on my iPad Pro and even my iPhone 6s Plus, I wondered if it was also available for the Mac. I checked the Mac App Store but didn’t see it, then I remembered that Blizzard generally doesn’t put its games in the Mac App Store.

So I headed over to Blizzard’s Hearthstone site and soon found the download link for the OS X version of Hearthstone. I installed it on my 5K iMac and logged in with my Battle.net account.

The game and played great on my 5K iMac, it was even better on the big 27-inch screen than it was on my iPad Pro. Unfortunately, I cannot actually run it at 5K or even 4K. The maximum resolution offered by Hearthstone on the Mac is 2560x1440. Even at that resolution, the game still looks very good on my iMac.

It’s unfortunate that Blizzard hasn’t updated Hearthstone to offer a higher resolution for the 5K iMac. I hope they get around to it soon. Even 4K would add to the overall experience of playing Hearthstone on the larger screen.

Hearthstone is a freemium game I can tolerate

If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know that I’m not big on freemium games. I generally dislike them because far too many of them let you start playing then require you to fork over lots of money to progress in the game.

So far I have not encountered that problem in Hearthstone. Yes, there are card decks, adventures and heroes you can buy in Hearthstone. But I haven’t hit a point in the game yet where I felt I absolutely had to buy them just to have fun or progress further.

This might change as I get more into the game, but right now Hearthstone strikes me as the right way to do a freemium game. You can play it and have fun without hitting a wall and having to pay to get any further into the game.

So far the only thing I’ve bought is the mage hero Medivh for $9.99. I didn’t need to buy him, but I liked the animation in his image and I was enjoying the game so much that I didn’t mind giving Blizzard a few bucks to play it.

Blizzard seems to have deliberately designed Hearthstone in a way that makes in-game purchases feel optional rather than obligatory. I wish more game developers would follow in their footsteps, if they did it would make the freemium business model much more enjoyable for players.

More information about Hearthstone

If you’re still not sold on trying Hearthstone, visit the official Hearthstone site. There’s tons of information there about the game that will help you get started. I recommend starting with the How to Play page.

Blizzard also has some very helpful Hearthstone forums if you run into problems and have questions. You can also connect with other Hearthstone players to discuss the latest game strategies, expansion pack and other relevant topics.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some opponents to obliterate with my mage.

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