Design Challenge || Hearthstone Cards
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
Hearthstone is a game I love and hate. As a super-fan of trading card games, I find the way it ports classic elements of the genre to a purely digital realm fascinating. The freedom the designers had to create mechanics not limited by the restraints of a companion physical game really shows, especially in the way elements of randomness appear.
Still, no matter how many times I return to it, the game remains very hit-or-miss for me. Looking back at the patterns of expansions that either captured my heart or didn't, I was able to narrow my engagement down to one thing: how well the expansion utilizes its mechanics and themes.
When The Boomsday Project was released, I spent match after match fine-tuning my new magnetic deathrattle Hunter deck. The new mechanic (though admittedly allowing for some silly combos) forced players to change the way they thought about both their own and their enemy's board states, a level of tactics that revived my love for the game.
When Rastakhan's Rumble dropped, I built an entire, doomed-to-fail deck around using overkill to create the most powerful Gurubashi Chicken around. It wasn't a smart plan, but it made me think about the game differently and I had a blast doing it.
But there was one Year of the Raven expansion that, despite its aesthetic appeal to my aspiring witch hunter heart, I just could not engage with: The Witchwood. The set had some fun mechanics, but didn't make very good use of them. The way most Worgen cards swapped their health and attack values in hand was unique and honestly could have warranted an entire tribe, but didn't.
That's disappointing, but not nearly as disappointing as the treatment the new echo mechanic got.
Repeatable the turn you play this.
The few cards that used echo were really interesting, but were very few and far between for being a theme of the set. Virtually no new cards were put into play that created synergy with echo or encouraged players to build decks around it, which seems like a missed opportunity to play with the way players think of mana consumption both in deck-building and in a match.
"So, Annie, why are you so worked up about 2018 Hearthstone?"
I'll tell you why! As a design challenge, I created three new cards for the Witchwood set with two goals in mind:
Do not catastrophically disturb the balance of the set.
Make echo cards fun to play.
And this is what I came up with!
The Witching Hour
Quest: Play 10 Echo cards.
Reward: Haunting Hangman.
With this card, I wanted to play around with two things: making a class-neutral quest, and creating the foundation of a deck that could viably be focused around the echo mechanic. While playing 10 echo cards (including both the original card and the copies) sounds easy, it is mana-and-time consuming, however, it comes with a powerful benefit:
Battlecry: Your Echo cards cost (1) less for the rest of the game.
Play this bad boy past turn 10, and you can use his echo ability, causing his battlecry to trigger twice and your echo cards to cost 2 less, rather than 1. The pitfall of creating a class-neutral quest is creating a class neutral reward; it has to be something equally valuable to all classes. As you can see, I attempted this by making the reward a creature that adds an additional benefit to cards that share a keyword, rather than the typical reward of a Hero Power buff. If Haunting Hangman's ability had been granted to cards with a keyword like taunt, the sheer number of taunt creatures in the game would render the card broken. This is one benefit of Witchwood having such a small selection of echo cards to choose from: there's no existing possibility for a player's deck to be full of super powerful echo cards. Rather than blow balance out of the water, Haunting Hangman's ability gives incentive to play those handful of echo cards more frequently. That brings us to my third card.
After a friendly minion dies, add a random Echo card to your hand.
I created this card to synergize with the quest and its reward, but also to exist as a viable option on its own. The idea behind Hangman's Noose is to keep it alive on the board for as long as possible so you can fill your hand with echo cards either to fulfill your quest, make use of the reward, or simply restock on fodder. The inclusion of this card could easily make echo cards compatible with a deck based on deathtouch or hand size.
These three cards definitely have potential to be powerful, but I think their high costs and the limited options for drawing or generating echo cards makes them balanced and places them in a cozy spot of fun-but-not-mean combo-building. My intention was to make echo cards more fun to play and I think I accomplished that. The inclusion of even just one of these cards would be a small incentive to incorporate more echo cards in a deck, but in tandem, they grant potential for building echo-centric decks that break up the flow of a game and change the way players view the board state.