This morning, I was lead to a Hearthstone job posting for Game Designer, Balance. As a person who truly loves the game would consider a career with Blizzard a dream, I checked it out. And lo and behold, I was out of the running with the first job requirement bullet point of “Legendary status in Hearthstone.” I also did not qualify with the second bullet point of having professional work experience designing games. But I think I qualify for the rest of the requirements. While I was little bummed of this requirement, I get that there needs to be barrier to entry that would prevent any scrub from being accepted for the job. Speaking of which, where is the validation for being good at the Arena? This Constructed bias is getting out of hand.
While the job application includes boilerplate materials in resume and cover letter, there is a little essay requirement. It states “Choose 5 cards in Hearthstone that are well designed and write a paragraph explaining why each is great.” Though I am not applying for the position, I thought it would be fun just to think about 5 well-designed cards and explain why.
It is exhaustive to go through every single card to find 5 cards to talk about. I put forth a set of eligibility criteria to help filter out what a well-designed card is.
- Card shouldn’t be OP in Constructed or Arena
- Card design should not be misinterpreted with a card’s playability. I think Azure Drake is an example of a well-designed card, that is quite common in Ranked play. However, I do believe the most often played cards are broken in balance. Ranked meta card lists, and those posted by competitive streamers are usually meant to win games. With a lean deck of 30, it is prudent to run doubles of cards, and have very efficient winning cards. Cards that are considered staples are likely not the best designed. They just win too many games with their current design.
- Card shouldn’t be horrible in Constructed and Arena
- On the flip side, I think a well-designed card should not be unplayable in both Constructed and Arena. While it is entirely possible that a well-designed card doesn’t fit in the Ranked meta, it should be playable in the Arena. A card that is unplayable in both game modes seems to have failed in card design, or is overtly underpowered. Stoneskin Gargoyle is close to unplayable in Constructed and Arena, and is overtly underpowered to prevent it from being too good.
- Card cannot be rebalanced in a patch
- Rebalancing is the definition of a card being imbalanced. While card balance often affects mana cost and stat distribution, some card effects have been permanently erased. Some cards have been nerfed to oblivion, and don’t have a good card design at all.
- Card cannot be too simple
- Card games borrow from predecessors and slap new names on things. There is no way around some base mechanics in card games. So a card with no effects, or just one common effect (taunt mechanic) isn’t groundbreaking enough in card design.
- Card cannot exist outside of Azeroth
- This doesn’t have much to do with card design, but more the flavor aspect. People sometimes float the idea of having Diablo or Starcraft characters appear as Hearthstone cards. I think this is lunacy, and cards should only exist, if they are believable of existing in the Warcraft universe. While ambiguous characters are introduced now and then, they should fit a racial group in Warcraft at least.
5 Well-Designed Cards
4-mana will provide 9 stat points on a fair basis, and Twilight Summoner, in both forms, provides 12 stat points. The downside here is that playing the initial 1/1 for 4-mana is a horrible anti-tempo play. As a defensive play, the 1/1 troll could be a good counter against random 1-damage pings from Flamewaker and Knife Juggler, as well as AoE spells. Further there is a deathrattle synergy with any associated cards, and trade up usage. Twilight Summoner is not a complicated card, but the combination of initial anti-tempo with plus stats is a great design.
Pretty easy pick here, as Moat Lurker has a truly unique effect. As a neutral hard removal against the enemy, Moat Lurker can provide this “Assassinate” ability for any class. This type of removal is actually more exclusive, as it could remove untargetable minions, and cannot be countered like abilities are. Further, Moat Lurker could be used on your side of the board, to take advantage of various deathrattle synergies. The decision to destroy your own minion, with some remaining value in stat points, will provoke deeper thinking. Finally, Moat Lurker could be silenced, which essentially seals the removal effect. That is a lot going on for just one card, but it just shows how the design of the card opens up a myriad of possibilities. Plus, it is a 3/3 for 6, which is pretty serious anti-tempo.
Discover is a mechanic that combines some RNG and more evaluation of the best card to select for the game state. While Discover is pretty cool as a whole, some cards make it too easy to select the desired card, as the card pool is too small. In my book, Jeweled Scarab is the perfect Discover card. The limit of 3-mana stretches a wide pool of cards, and doesn’t discriminate by minion, ability, or weapon. Because almost every deck runs certain 3-drops, this card opens doors in Reno decks as a way of getting the needed second copy. As a beast, the card could be drawn by The Curator. Further, the 1/1 body for 2 is akin to Novice Engineer, a card that is definitely not overpowered.
OP minions usually provide good enough stats for the cost, and have powerful abilities. Bloodsail Cultist is that 3-mana 3/4 Spider Tank, with plus abilities. What makes Bloodsail Cultist such great design is that the plus abilities are predicated by 2 conditions: 1) having a Pirate alive on the board, 2) and having a weapon equipped. In a way, this type of design punishes the opponent for not keeping the board clean for the trigger. The “Upgrade” ability of this card on a weapon provides good offensive sustain, and is balanced with the 2 conditions. In a flavor aspect, this card helped push Pirate Warrior, something that makes sense in Hearthstone.
Blatant class convergence is bad design, as every class starts looking the same. Classes will muddle and lose their individual identity. If every class had weapons, Acidic Swamp Ooze and Harrison Jones would be deck staples across the board. Wrathguard is essentially class convergence, providing a early game “weapon” for the Warlock, without a being a weapon. The Warlock is using his face, like a 4/2 or 4/1 weapon to clear early game. Further, there is some thinking provoked (usually in Arena) in the late game. Would this card be worth playing in the late game, where it could take game-ending damage? This card is more than an early game stick!