This was not one of those times. I unfortunately had to have a spinal fusion to fix a damaged nerve and herniated disc, the result of a breakdancing accident back in college (yes you read that right) which put me on bedrest for two weeks. I could not convince my wife to move my computer up into our bedroom for some cockamamy reason which my med clouded mind cannot recall, and so I could not play any computer games. I could not stay upright the time it would take to unbox a board game, much less actually participate in one.
Needless to say, it was a very trying last couple of weeks for me. But, apart from my doting family of course, I did find a very robust game I kept coming back to, a mobile game at that. It can be played on smartphone, tablet, and computer alike. I am of course talking about Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
When I say this game belongs to mobile, tablet, and computer gaming, I don't just mean it is playable on all three. What I mean is that it is seamless among all three. It is a deck-building game most similar in nature to I suppose Magic: The Gathering, in which you construct decks of creatures and spells and use those decks to battle other players. Your account is useable throughout the different platforms. Create a deck on your tablet, use it on your smartphone. It is a very nice touch Blizzard has added. Oh yes. I did not mention it, but this game is made by Blizzard. So the production values are through the roof.
But until now I hadn't given it much attention. With the sheer amount of games out there, tabletop, PC, or otherwise, mobile games usually take last priority on my list. And because I had first heard about it as a mobile game, that is the category into which I sequestered it away to be thought of at times and never really played. But lying on my back 24 hours a day for two weeks gave me ample opportunity to delve into Hearthstone, and I found a hugely engrossing game that consumed way too much of my time and probably prolonged my recovery due to stress.
In Hearthstone, you choose a hero of Warcraft, Blizzard claim to gold-mine fame. You can then use a prebuilt deck for that hero (oh, so nice of Blizzard to include that for us noobs who are terrible at figuring out good card combinations) or a customized deck built from the base cards of the prebuilt deck along with any cards you have purchased, received in packs, won during tournaments, received during promotional events, ones that were hand-stitched by your grandma. There are special cards galore, and the universe that the game draws from, that of Warcraft, offers a huge mythos to draw those special cards from.
Your heroes have health, and the first to reach zero loses. Cards range from creatures with attack powers and health points to spells that can do damage, add attack power, transform enemies into harmless sheep; the sheer variety of cards and effects is staggering. It is also deeply strategic, with every choice you make, even the order in which you play your cards, affecting how that turn ends up playing out for you. Best off, it's completely free to play, or free-to-play if you're a hyphen head. You can spend real money to purchase packs of in game cards, ala the glory-filled Pokemon days of our youth, but you can also purchase these same packs with in game currency you slowly accumulate through wins, objectives, and a various assortment of other methods. This method is of course slower, hence the appeal of purchasing them with real money.
But the game is most certainly not pay to win. In fact, I have heard tell of a player who achieved the highest rank status in the game using only the basic card sets, just to prove that it was possible. And that is to be applauded. It is the skill of the player using any cards he desires that wins the game, not the person buying the rarest card with the most sought after ability. The spending of actual money on the game is not "pay us money to get the cards that will help you win" it is "pay us money to feel that thrill of ripping open a foil container and discovering which amazing creatures and spells are contained within." In fact, whether you want to attribute that feeling first to baseball card collecting or, since you never really played a game with those, you could argue you can first attribute that feeling to Pokemon, where you spent however much money, ripped open that foil and hoped to find that holographic Charizard, not necessarily because he was the one card you needed to complete your perfect, unbeatable deck, but because he was cool to look at, and you could point him out to friends and say "I found him in a pack of cards next to a Rattata."
I'm not coherent enough to even attempt to call this a review; I could open up a pharmacy with all the pain pills I am on right now. I'm writing this to a) explain my prolonged absence, 2) highlight a game that I had heretofore five six overlooked, and thirdly to just put in a little plug for gaming, because while I was lying there in bed, 24 hours a day, my wife was my only source of companionship. And as saintly as she is, she can only stand to be around me for so long, and so I spent a good portion of my time alone. Playing Hearthstone allowed me to connect with other people while I was recovering. It allowed me experience a relationship with another person, albeit a short and fiercely competitive one. It didn't help me recover faster, I couldn't quaff one of those iconic red health potions and suddenly be restored to health, but it did certainly help keep me from going stir crazy and trying to chew a hole through my bedroom wall. Which is just one more reason I (and my insurance agent) love gaming.