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Story of the Day 1/17/2014 Hearthstone Card Balance

Posted by MikeB Friday January 17 2014 at 6:34PM
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Hearthstone lead designer Eric Dodds explained Blizzard's philosophy with regards to the game's card balance in a blog post made yesterday on the official Hearthstone website.

In that post, Dodds described a number of situations in which Blizzard would investigate changing a card, including:

  • The card causes non-interactive game play
  • The card is frustrating to play against
  • The card is confusing or non-intuitive
  • The card is too strong compared to others in its bracket
  • Specific builds or styles are too strong
  • A card is weak

The long and short of it is that unlike what players may have expected from Blizzard due to their history with balance patches in games such as World of Warcraft, Blizzard is actually looking to make very few changes to cards in Hearthstone. The goal appears to be giving players confidence in the cards they have and allowing the meta to shift on its own as players figure things out for themselves.

Non-interactive gameplay seems to be one area where Blizzard is a bit more open to changing cards , however. Examples given were the changes made to Freeze effects for Mages and OTK (One Turn Kill) changes in the current patch. The prevalence of card strategies that offer a lack of real counterplay is something Blizzard seems to be willing to adjust cards to resolve.

Cards that are frustrating to play against, such as Priest's ridiculous Mind Control and the Mage's face-melting Pyroblast, were also worthy of being changed. If a card is sufficiently confusing, such as the Frostwolf Warlord, Blizzard may opt to change it. And finally, Blizzard is also willing to change cards that end up being ubiquitous in their mana cost bracket. Everyone running the same neutral minions was a problem Blizzard wanted to address.

These are all good things and Blizzard should be changing cards for these reasons, but I'm not so encouraged by Blizzard's more hands-off approach to dealing with builds or styles that are too strong or their approach to dealing with altogether weak cards.

Instead of addressing a build or style dominating the meta, Blizzard intends to release entirely new cards that may be designed to counter these strategies. Suppose something is so dominant the meta stagnates and remains the same until Blizzard releases new cards? That doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun. Sure, the current track record has seen things shift in and out pretty rapidly, but that could change going forward if Blizzard makes few card changes overall and doesn't introduce new cards quickly enough.

Not changing weak cards is another area I'm a bit concerned about. I do understand Blizzard's explanation here, but even so, leaving weak cards with potential to be useful, fun, and viable in a weak state is fairly discouraging. Blizzard has noticed that making small changes to weak cards has often created a ripple effect in card balance and they're looking to avoid this, but I don't think just stepping away almost entirely is the answer here. There are tons of cards that get pretty much no play at the moment, especially in the Legendary set, that could use tweaks. The best example of a weak card that needs love is Kidnapper, an epic Rogue card with tons of potential to be interesting that is literally never run by anyone looking to actually win a game. It's simply terrible all around. It's these cards that I hope Blizzard will make a rare exception for and try to improve.

What do you think about Blizzard's approach and philosophy towards card balance in Hearthstone?