Blizzard Entertainment has a long line of releases with serious stories, usually focusing on the fate of the world or racial warfare. The Warcraft franchise has a few nods to comedy here and there with creatures like the Murlocs and the Pandaren, but for the most part, big bads like the Lich King still run the show. Comparatively, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft [Free (HD)] is a card game where you can summon an angry chicken and peck your enemies to death. As you can imagine, it's a ton of fun.

Let's start with the giant elephant in the room -- Hearthstone is free-to-play. Don't get your pitchforks out just yet though, because after hours upon hours of play, I'm pleased to report that it isn't pay-to-win in the slightest, nor does it withhold content in favor of a pay-gate. For starters, cards can be earned simply by playing the game, and leveling up any one of the game's nine classes (Warrior, Shaman, Rogue, Paladin, Hunter, Druid, Warlock, Mage, and Priest). Early on you'll earn class specific cards very quickly, as well as a number of general cards that can be used with any deck. You'll earn XP with each type and after a specific level, you'll start earning "expert packs," which is basically code for random cards.

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There are also quests to complete along the way that earn you coins, which in turn can be used to purchase packs for 100 in-game currency, and enter the Arena (more on that later). If you really want to pony up some cash, you can buy packs piecemeal by way of IAP. Having said all that, I haven't spent one dime and I feel like I have more cards than I know what to do with. The game has gone through a monumental amount of balancing since its beta phase, and any player can craft a deck worth competing with based on the cards you get for free.

The actual game is super easy to pick up, especially if you've played a game similar to Magic: The Gathering. Hearthstone is strictly a one-on-one affair, with one deck for each player. A digital coin is flipped, and the starting player begins the game with three cards and 1/1 mana -- the second player starts with four cards and a "coin" card that allows them to gain an extra mana, as well as the same 1/1 standard -- to make up for going second.

Mana goes up by one maximum allotment per turn, and is essentially the resource that allows you to play cards. Weaker cards generally cost less mana, and stronger cards tend to be around the maximum range of 10 mana (although there are exceptions and cards that can modify your mana pool). This basically allows for a ramped up style of play, where matches begin fairly quietly, but evolve into dangerous games with lots of high-powered cards. As a result, rounds tend to not drag on, which is a good thing.

Your ultimate objective is to "kill" the other player, who sports 30 life points. Players can be damaged in lots of ways, including minion attacks (that have an attack and life value, and can't attack the turn they're summoned), spells, hero powers (which vary from character to character) and other ancillary cards. It's your job to decide what cards to play, and what strategy to employ on any given game.

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For instance, you may start the round with two minion cards that only cost one mana. On your second turn with two mana, you can bring out both of those minions on the board, or use a two mana card that instantly does three damage to your opponent. Not bringing out minions could come back to bite you later on, and using the instant damage card early could be a mistake as well. Hearthstone is a game of constant give and take, and it's that strategic depth that really makes it something special.

Because of how many variables are in tow (cards that can attack instantly, cards that can create invincible shields good for one hit, and so on), every single game is utterly different, and every opponent will likely use a new strategy. It keeps the game fresh and entertaining for hours on end, especially when coupled with the portable nature of the iPad.

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So about those game modes. In Hearthstone you can play normal games online via matchmaking (unranked or ranked), practice against AI, play head-to-head with friends, or go at it in the arena. While all of the other modes are self-explanatory, the arena is the meat of the game for many competitive players. For a gold fee (or an unneeded IAP), you can enter a special set of matches that lets you play until you lose three rounds. The catch? You need to select a new deck after each death, and craft it around pre-ordained cards from a giant pool. It's similar to playing closed deck Magic games, in that you can't rely on the same strategy or deck every time.

Arena is really tense, and easily the highlight of the game as it encourages you to learn how to use a multitude of cards as well as win indefinitely. When you finally are brought down you'll earn a new pack of cards based on how well you did. Then you'll need to pay up again before you re-enter. It's a fair system that encourages you to work for it, so it's a good thing the game is fun to play in general.

In terms of the iPad controls specifically, Hearthstone works like a charm. All you have to do is hover over a card to read the text, tap a card to select it, or drag it to play it or move it around. Tiny inconsequential environmental effects can also trigger when touching around the map, simulating a mouse cursor click. On an iPad Mini I haven't encountered one game with any significant amount of lag or framerate drops. For Blizzard's first major iPad port, Hearthstone is a resounding success.

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I should also note that it's cross-platform compatible as well, in addition to the fact that you get an extra deck just for logging into your account on an iPad -- so you aren't missing out on anything compared to the PC and Mac versions since it all runs off Blizzard's backend servers. It's also stunning on a visual level, sporting a beautiful art style that shines on the iPad just as well as it does on other platforms. The amount of art in this game is staggering, as no two cards look alike, and each effect has its own unique animation or sound.

Hearthstone is not only an example of a free-to-play model done right, but it's a must-play for card game enthusiasts everywhere. It's incredibly easy to get into, the picturesque art is easy on the eyes, and best of all -- it plays perfectly on an iPad.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.super-terrific.com/blog/ danhhoang

    Goodbye social life.

  • jeffyg3

    Yeah downloading now. Glad it's finally out in the US

  • FRnchFRy

    This definitely brings light to the dark week ahead (except for the game of all games, hodappy bird which should go without saying)

  • apgeorge69

    Don't the players get 30 life?

  • therion3

    I hope there will be an iphone version very soon. I know the screen is small but I think this is the kind of game you want to play on the go, in the bus or in waiting rooms.

    • Kalahan6

      iPhone version is under development but it will take months before release.

      • CooleTeeps

        Really?!!! Cool!!!

    • Opinion

      I think the mobile play anywhere aspect was the only thing missing besides campaign. They're looking to fill both of those spaces though so it's an exciting time for gamers.

    • PallaZ

      Ever played such a TCG on iPhone? It's horrible. Those games belong to a device with a decent display size.

      • SoyGreen

        Actually, I disagree. I used to play Ascension a LOT on the iPhone. I have an iPad as well - but I enjoyed it on both. (It's not a TCG - but still has a ton of different cards and similar enough draw, play, etc mechanics.)

        I will say however - LEARNING the game is harder on the iPhone than the iPad. As on the iPad - when I wanted to know what a card said - there was no problem just reading the card. On the iPhone - I had to zoom in each time I wanted to read the card. So anytime there was an expansion - I would always play on the iPad first to learn the cards again.

  • kjax

    30 life. Since you're doing a review of a CCG, why don't you compare it to the other big CCG on iOS, Solforge? Maybe a review of Solforge as well. Also for those who play Magic, when he says Arena is like closed deck magic he means it is like limited, Sealed/Draft.

    • kjmathew

      Downloading Solforge! Thanks for the recommendation. My prob with Shadow Era, at least as a novice to this genre, is that matches seem to drag on, even in Ben 10 Slammers, which I loved as an intro to the genre for its blend of approachability, simplicity/hero-character focus, and digestible strategy.

      • kjax

        Well see how you like Solforge. Matches are quick, the game is accessible, and its created by a team that includes Richard Garfield as well as a number of MTG pros. To me it is a much deeper game than Hearthstone, but the presentation and features of Hearthstone are much better. Let me know what you think!

    • kjmathew

      There is a TA review of Ascension, which just went from $5 to free. Its Neil Gaiman Sandman art style isn't my taste, but I respect how it harkens to pulp fantasy sci fi book covers-- worth checking out for others interested in ur great suggestion, which I appreciate as a newcomer to the genre.

  • FivepastTA

    20% battery gone it what seems like about half an hour. Worth it though!

    • raznroll

      yeah, eats away at battery life like crazy :(

  • Michael O'Connor

    I swore I wouldn't touch this, for the sake of my social life and well being...

    *hovers fingers over his screen* Hnnnnggghhh..!!

    • JammyJams

      You should have trusted your instincts! Blizzard has the formula down for digital crack. Just one more...

    • Stormourner

      touch it NOW!!! XD

  • TrencH

    So far I love love this game! The only thing I hope they do soon is make this for the iphone if it's possible. My iPad mini just has wifi and with my phone I can take this everywhere.

    So far this is a great game though!

    • raulriera

      Tether

      • bilboad

        Depending where you live that's pretty expensive. I'm in the US on AT&T and my bill would go up by $20/month to add the tethering feature. I'm pretty sure most other US cell companies are similar.

      • handhoney

        Just jailbreak and use PDA net.

      • zergslayer69

        Mywi or whatever you call it is a cheap and great way to tether if you don't have it in your plan. Used that back when I had my iphone 4

      • bilboad

        I used to have my phone jailbroken and I already own MyWi, PDANet and TetherMe. A while ago I got off the jailbreak train, and now my phone is updated to 7.1, for which there is no JB, so can't do that. Oh well.

      • TrencH

        I can wait for the iphone version while playing it on my ipad. No big thing.

  • falco

    This game is perfect on iPad!

  • loremonger

    I would like to add that the uses surprisingly little cellular data too, for those who have iPads with that capability. After roughly five to six hours of play, the app only used around 3mb of data.

  • djkadak

    The reviewer is fixated on the actual game rather than Hearthstone *for iPad*. The game is definitely a 10/10 but the iPad app is horrible. Massive lag, random app crashes in the middle of games, and graphical glitches every time you look for a match. The list goes on. Play the Windows/Mac version if you can.

    • bilboad

      What device are you playing on? The reviewer didn't ignore the iPad, and in fact stated that it worked like a charm on his iPad Mini. Also watching Eli's gameplay video linked to in the review shows it working very well, and Eli also stated that he thought it actually played better on iPad than on PC. So clearly not everyone is having the sorts of problems you're having with it.

    • MrAlbum

      Which model iPad did you play on? Older models will likely have a hard time rendering all the animations.

    • kjax

      I would also like to know what device you are running this on. I run it on an iPad 3 and have zero problems, and that is pretty old hardware.

      • Allisonaxe

        I personally have an iPad 2... And it runs fine but does crash on occasion.

    • Bliquid

      IPad 3 here, and it works perfectly.
      Sometimes loading times are even shorter than on my Mac.

    • TheFuhrer13

      Works flawless on my iPad Air..No problems so far mate :)

    • JJE McManus

      iPad 2: I'm noticing it runs a tad slow compared to videos I've watched in youtube. Nevertheless it is everything as advertised. I may be a sceptic of the game itself but it still stands as an awesome achievement. I'll give it a chance, not my genre usually but I know I'm going to get Blizzard quality with this. Game port of the year, without question.

  • mclifford82

    Great review, have lost many hours on this game and not regretted any of it.

  • uFinKnow

    First Timer here. But I love it. Keeper for sure! So happy it isn't 2GB. Awesome game. Everyone should download.

  • Dave

    Not saying you're wrong about the IAP, but it's gonna take you a year or so of casual play to collect most (not all) of the cards, and you'll still have to hope you get real lucky.

    You can make functional decks for free, and some of them will be good sure, but it's gonna take you a looooong time and you will get curbstomped by the people who have spent even $50 on the game most of the time simply because the ratio of dust to cards you get in this game is pretty awful. I've got a pretty good cheap weenie deck that wins a lot, but I sure would love to have enough cash to blow to fill it out with some rares and legendaries.

    It's just that it's a bummer that for a F2P game, you have almost no chance at getting a complete set of the cards without a very significant time investment, over what I think is necessary for a game that in the end is not very deep and is very casual in nature.

    • andrew9oh7

      That doesn't change anything it's FREE.if you want it fast pay.

      • Dave

        Sure it does. It significantly restricts your ability to play a variety of classes, since playing for free you really can only make one good deck as you have to dust a lot of cards to build out something that can compete against guys who have fleshed out decks.

        Even worse if you pick poorly or the metagame goes a different way thanks to nerfs, as your now shifted collection is worth 1/4 of what it was.

        You can play for free if you want, but it's not a very good way to play it past a few hours worth of learning the game and then understanding that someone who has a good deck is going to stomp your free deck almost every single time and the 2 packs a week you get for free takes a very, very long time to make a competitive deck. (assuming you don't get bored of trying to win 2 games with a terrible Shaman deck and failing repeatedly because you have no good cards and give up on your free gold of the day quest)

      • bajaresident

        Dude arena lets you play with every card in the game. Please shut up.

      • diadem

        I've been playing since the game was in open beta on PC. Haven't spent a penny yet, and I'm doing just fine. Plus, the game will mostly be matching you with similarly-skilled players.

      • Suanko

        It is not. I fought my first game in a fair fight. The second and third fight were against people with custom deck with plenty of rare cards (that means huge defeat)

    • Slothwerks

      I'd argue that despite this, you get a generous amount of cards to play with and the ability to craft cards means that if there's one card you HAVE to have, you can get it. With a deck limit of 30 cards, a one legendary/type/deck rule, and the fact that rares/legendaries aren't on a whole better than commons/rares, you have a very casual (yet deep) game for a f2p game.

      While it's true that at high levels of play, you may need (in some cases), rares or legendaries to compete, it's still feels like a complete and satisfying game at the lower rungs of the ladder.

      I guess it depends on your goals. It sounds like perhaps you're more competitive and want to make optimal decks, whereas I play more casually, and am satisfied competing at lower levels of play, given the limits of what I have.

  • Chris Brady

    I'm actually going to plop down a 20 on this. Maybe it means nothing in the end, but I wanna support this. Cuz it's a lot of fun!

  • CooleTeeps

    I've played the PC version a bit and it is really fun and addictive.

  • WBH1981

    Yeah.... I pretty much bought an Ipad for this. It's kind of worth it. Right?

  • http://gquiller.tumblr.com/ gquiller

    Is someone willing to briefly explain the IAP (decks) and what's the best bang for your buck?

    • blackbear219

      Well, ranked is free so I guess technically that's the best bang for your buck. Otherwise, in terms of actually spending gold and/dollars the Arena is your best bang, in my opinion.

      You can buy a pack of cards for 100 gold which takes 30 seconds.
      OR
      You can pay 150 gold to enter the arena and enter a potentially multi-hour journey of epic virtual card game awesomeness. You will get to play until you lose 3 times. Based upon your performance you are guaranteed to get some gold/crafting dust AND at least one pack of cards.

      No brainer.

      • blackbear219

        Weird, some of my carriage returns in that post got stripped out and some didn't.

    • SaintStryfe

      Sure. In Hearthstone, you get a nice round set of Cards to start when you first play the game. You get additional cards several ways. The most important is by leveling each class up. As you play with one class you gain experience, and every few levels to begin (and every 3-5 as you continue leveling) you get class cards, specifically for that character. Playing as Thrall the Shaman gains you cards that let you grant Windfury (attack twice a turn) for instance. So most players will choose a class then play them on computer-controlled opponents though at least level 10, where the core of the Class' cards are given to you.

      The most powerful cards are found in random packs - just like in physical CCGs. Each card pack contains 5 cards and is guaranteed to have at least one Rare card. These are entirely random.

      You can get packs either with IAP or in-game gold. You can earn in-game gold by completing Quests which are randomly assigned daily (Example quests include Win 3 games with two possible classes, destroy 100 minions or win 5 games) or winning in the Arena.

      You are guaranteed at least 1 pack by buying into the Arena. Being an arena entry is 150 gold and buying buying a pack is 100, and if you do good in the Arena you can earn a great deal of gold, rare cards and extra packs, so that is the most efficient way to use your gold.

      Buying with AIP will let you buy between 2 and 40 packs at prices ranging from 2.99$ to 49.99$. Larger amounts is infinitely more cost effective - I find the 7 packs for 10$ the sweet spot for value but YMMV. I find 10$ is what I like to spend as a one-off purchase for the fun of opening packs. Beyond 10$ feels like an investment to me. :-)

      As well Blizzard is giving one pack to anyone who tries Hearthstone on iPad. They also offered 1-3 packs when players purchased the Diablo 3 expansion they released last month. I would suspect this will continue with further releases for World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Lastly, Blizz also offers some special cards. Beta participants who tested the purchasing system got a Golden Epic card, and people who went to or viewed Blizzcon (Blizz's own gaming convention, the last one was in October last year, we don't know when the next one is) got a unique rare.

      One last thing. If you gain more than two of each card (the most you can put into a deck is two of any common, rare or epic card, legendaries 1 each) you can Disenchant (or "Dust") them into a crafting material, which you can then use to make any card in the game, provided you earn enough of it. The rate of return isn't good, but most smart players will dust extra Golden cards they get and put them toward making Legendaries. I just made Leeroy Jenkins myself.

      • http://gquiller.tumblr.com/ gquiller

        WOW-Thanks!

  • araczynski

    Card game? Seriously? That's the best blizzard could do? A me-too-cash-cow... JFC people are easy.

    • Jake7905

      I guess trolls don't like card games.

      • Bliquid

        Trolls don't like. Period.

    • falco

      Ouch, blizzard making this card game was a AWESOME idea!!!

    • SaintStryfe

      Well, if you want something a bit more intense, Blizz' next Freemium game (which I think is only going on the PC/Mac, sadly) will be called Heroes of the Storm, and will be a Multi-universe MOBA game, similar to DOTA 2 or LoL, using characters from all of Blizz' games.

  • vapourtrail

    Been playing this on mac for around a month now. Really fun. Only spent money once for an arena run just cos I wanted to do a run one night without grinding for coin.

    I've been averaging close to a pack (5 cards) per day between dailies, wins, other rewards (100 wins, unlock all characters basics, etc).

    There are a few things I'd recommend:

    Use your coin for arena runs over straight packs. Even if you suck and lose in 3 you still get a pack and 25 coin. Which at 150 coin, you're only losing 25 coin. But if you go on a good run your rewards become better.

    I don't recommend dusting cards at first even if they're of a class you don't think you'll play. Because you never know. I only dust cards that i have over 2 of, or have 2 of and a golden then dust the golden as they're worth more dust. I dusted a bunch of cards at first not knowing what I was doing and regret it now.

    And I'd definitely not dust legendaries unless you have duplicates, even the bad ones. You never know when Blizzard might change those which then you could get full dust for that not so great Millhouse Manastorm card instead of just 400.

  • Ultima12

    It's finally out!!! My ipad is going to be getting a major workout for the next undetermined amount of months!!!

  • Phil_Lapineau

    Hearthstone was developed using Unity, so the porting to iOS wasn't that big of an effort aside from higher-res art for Retina displays.

  • b7ad

    Does anyone know if it's necessary to delete and re-download the app now it's out in my region since I downloaded the Canadian version or will I still be able to get updates without doing that?

    • falco

      You should delete it and redownload in your region because all is saved on their server.

  • SoyGreen

    Anyone else not get their free pack on the iPad? I got a free pack from the new Diablo 3 expansion - but not for just playing it now on the iPad.

    • SoyGreen

      If anyone else has an issue with this - simply do one game in "Play" mode - and it'll show up.

  • speedyph

    Game is awesome

  • Tommy Filliater

    On the iPad 2 (whatever the 2nd iPad was, don't remember how they actually numbered them), it runs horrible. Lags on opening a deck, lags on the opponent screen, lags on selecting a menu, lags on hitting "End Turn", lags on...(etc)

    Pretty upsetting, I need to update this damn thing.

  • Foghorn Irrascible

    Not a huge fan, personally, but only because the wealth of tactics possible means I get hammered every. Damn. Game. That's not much fun for me.

  • !nsomn!ac

    Make it for iPhone damn it, I have too much time at work and no ipad.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Reviewed by Chris Carter on . Rating: 5