I finally got around to write this all down. I've posted this on the official forum first, but I suppose, some of you like to read about the game, too. On with the quote:
So, I thought, putting that in the title was the simplest way. I am grateful for the opportunity to playtest this game and I can say, that I like it. It's just not as good as Magic imo. And by Magic, I refer to its digital offspring "Magic 2014".
Before I start with the gameplay, I want to say, that I really don't like the circus atmosphere of the game. I've been a WoW player for years, but this is getting too far. I much prefer the darker, traditional fantasy setting of Magic. Also, the chat system in Hearthstone is even worse than in Magic. Please no bubbles and please don't let them disappear.
However, on to the important aspects, the gameplay flaws.
I'll explain some things that are known to active players so that others can understand this too.
In a game like this, you have cards that represent creatures or spells and in order to play them, you need mana first. Every card has a mana cost attached to it and playing it will deplete your mana pool by that much for that turn.
Now in Hearthstone, obtaining mana is very simple. You get one per turn, so on turn 1, you have 1 mana, turn 2 2 mana and so on up to 10. It's a perfectly fine and simple system. So why is this a flaw? You can't know unless you have played Magic (or maybe similar games). It is too simple, too generic. Magic doesn't even have generic mana but five different colors of mana. Black mana is used for black cards (Undead theme, deadly, vampiric magic), green mana for green cards (nature based creatures, restorative magic) just to give two examples. Now in Magic you can either play a mono-colored deck, which behaves basically the same as Hearthstone, mana-wise or you could combine different colors in a deck. In that case it is important if you draw a black mana card or a green one.
Hearthstone does have one tiny advantage: No game gets decided, because one of the players draws too many or too few mana cards (because mana isn't done via cards). But compared to the multitude of possibilities in Magic that I've just described, I suppose that doesn't cut it at all.
What Magic has in its different mana colors, Hearthstone addresses with classes. The Mage hurls fireballs, the Priest heals his creatures and the Paladin buffs his guys. Sounds ok at first glance, but in practice, most decks play very similar. I've checked the amount of total available cards and the ratio of neutral cards to class specific cards is about 5:1 (per class). In Magic, only a very small fraction of cards are neutral in that regard, which means, if you play a green deck, you get to play elves but not dragons and your opponent won't play the same cards that you have all the time (unless mirror of course).
In both games you play creatures and use them to smash your opponent's face. In Magic, the active player declares attackers and then the other player declares blockers. The latter player has most of the control over combat in this case, as he decides, which creature will fight against which creature. In Hearthstone, the general rule is: Attack whatever you want, even the opponent himself, ignoring his creatures. There's one exception: Creatures with the ability "Taunt" must be killed before any other creature (or player) can be attacked. Nevertheless, in Hearthstone the inactive player is helpless, which leads to..
Turn based game
In Hearthstone, the inactive player is not only helpless in combat, he can do absolutely nothing until it's his turn again. It may not seem to be an issue to new players, but if you're familiar with Magic, this is horrible. There, you can often react to your opponent during his turn. So he pumps up his small creature with buff spells and sends it to kill you? In Hearthstone, game over, in Magic you can still destroy that creature with an instant spell or summon a blocking creature or, or, or..
Again a matter of complexity > simplicity
Both games have the basic 1on1 game mode. You select one of your decks and play against a friend or a random opponent. Magic also has a 2on2 mode, which is pretty nice, but lacks matchmaking features, I haven't seen a 2on2 mode in Hearthstone so far.
Hearthstone has an own mode called "arena". in this mode, you don't start with a premade (by yourself) deck but get to choose one out of 3 random cards 30 times in a row, which results in your deck for this session. You then get to play with this deck until you lose 3 games. Then you get rewards based on your success. I'm not a big fan of this mode. It's nice every now and then, but I prefer a simple 1on1 mode with random decks (out of my custom made decks).
A 2on2 mode would also be much more interesting to me.
Hearthstone games can last really, really long compared to Magic games. I don't really know, why, but it feels too long. Magic games are often over too soon, though, that's a tie
Hearthstone lacks a lot of Magic's features, therefore it's more of an introductionary game, not a real competitor. In my opinion that is.
This game lets you *build* decks, Magic 2014 doesn't. The latter game is extremely crippled so it is little more than an introduction to buying actual Magic cards or moving to Magic Online.
Youtube Magic Online and you'll understand why there is a void in the market for Hearthstone to fill.
You are right, that neither of the digital Magic games uses the full potential of the core game, which is exactly the spot for Blizz to get into the market. I'm more comparing the core games, ignoring the technical flaws of the Magic digitalization.
The quintessence is, I'd prefer Blizz to program a Magic game.
I came up with this analogy:
It's like champagne in a paper cup (Magic)
beer in a champagne bottle (HS).
I'm disappointed by both as they have such a nice basis but so much room for improvement.
And by the way, I used beer intentionally instead of dirt water or some other insulting stuff. While I don't like it, a lot of people do, it's just a simpler drink catered to the masses. Just like it, HS will have more players than Magic, just because it's from Blizz.
To me the 2 big pros for HS is both the animations (which make a card game that much more enjoyable to play or watch, and which people might take for granted but it's a crapload of work for a developer) and the setting/lore (in a Blizzard world that pretty much everyone knows and love).
They're just getting started, testing things, laying the ground work for a good card-game, and once that's set they can bring in tons of new cards which can make the gameplay a lot more complex.
Also, simplicity might be a bad thing for some, but it actually means accessibility to a lot of other people. It's not really fair to compare HS to the Magic of 2013, Magic has had 20 years to evolve into what it is now, while HS is still only finding out if their "base structure" works or not. Same argument serves for 2x2 battles.
And the fact that their base structure is different (Mana instead of "x", minions that behave like this or that) is also a necessary change. They can't just "copy" old TCG's rules and be succesful, it has to be its own thing.
Arena gives you random cards to choose from to create a good balance between "game knowledge" and "on the fly decision" when creating a deck, while also incentivizing people to try out different stuff (based on the cards that they get). It's not my thing, but most competitive seem to be really digging it.
One criticism that I think is very reasonable is the fact that during your opponents turn in Magic you can do some things, whereas in HS you're really left helpless. That's something they can change without scrapping their entire groundwork, but it's still a matter of preference. The current system forces the player to plan ahead more carefully, there are no "save me I'm screwed" cards.
Anyways, a lot of it is a matter of preference. You left it pretty clear what's your preference. I played Magic for about 2 years (very casual, back when it launched), and I like both games. Let's just not call intentional game design decisions flaws only because they're different from another card game.
To me the 2 big pros (... ) setting/lore (in a Blizzard world that pretty much everyone knows and love).
To me, that's a big con, because I much prefer the traditional Forgotten Realms (D&D) setting over the freakish WarCraft world, but I didn't name that a flaw as it's obviously a matter of preference.
The other things, I really think, Magic has more to offer in those regards, I don't consider them just different.
About the arena, well, it's nice idea that could use some polishing. The biggest problem I see with it, is long-term: Good decks will stay in the rotation whereas bad decks leave it rather soon. That might eventually lead to the average deck strength in play being above the average strength of a newly created deck, thus ending more and more arena streaks at 0-3 unless you really luck out.
Also, I'd consider it better if I could revert some decisions after I have selected all 30 cards and before entering the arena.
I'm going to be honest, I kind of like the fact that Hearthstone doesn't have classic interrupts. It was always annoying wondering if the spell you were about to throw out was going to be countered by some quick dirty card. I haven't played magic in some time, but I remember blue decks being notorious for this. I remember a blue/black I made to just counter cards and drain half their deck so they would have to forfeit. This can be rather fun for the one doing it, but be more annoying to the one on the reciving end as you can't really do much about it unless you try to counter the counter.. and then it just gets confusing. I also like the automatic gaining of mana. It prevents not only mana starvation but mana overflow, of which I've been a victim of far too often. Lastly, I rather like the inclusion of Trap type cards (secrets) so it's got this Magic/Yugioh vibe that just kind of works.
I do certainly agree that there could be more 'class specific' cards as everything is so based on the neutral cards right now. There's time, we are only in the beta and basically the "core" set. Once 'expansions' start hitting, it could be interesting. one thing I would like to see is a way to do arena with constructed decks. It just seems a little off that draft gets all the fun, you unlock all these cards that you can only use in the 'casual' mode and you can only get gold through dailies. I'd like to see it expanded so if you have this really cool deck you can show it off in a mode that might win you something (y'know, like a torney or something). Since it would be a seperate mode, you could still just play draft (arena) if that's your thing.
One more thing that I find really annoying, is the sheer amount of effects with "random" in it, that can have dramatically different outcomes. There's a reason, a card like Amulet of Quoz is banned in virtually every mode of Magic. Its (optional) effect is: Flip a coin, if you win the toss, you win the game, if your opponent wins the toss, you lose the game.
I suppose, most sane guys consider this absolutely stupid, therefore it's banned for a very good reason. Now in Hearthstone however, there is a myriad of cards that are very, very close to this. Ragnaros or Brawl, for example.
To me, even the Shaman Hero ability is too random, but that might just be me. I prefer control over a Pandora's box