Apparently the games industry is no less prone to synchronicity than any other creative pursuit. All at once, everyone has come to the same conclusion that the time is finally right for digital collectible card games. Where once we were limited to the walled gardens of the annual Magic: The Gathering videogames, now, amongst numerous Kickstarters, we also have Scrolls, the next game by Minecraft studio Mojang, and Hearthstone, a collectible card game by Blizzard.

Hearthstone is a free-to-play card game based on the immensely popular Warcraft universe. The conceit is built around the idea of heroes coming together in one of the world of Warcraft’s many inns to rest their battle-weary limbs and engage in friendlier competition. The game shares World of Warcraft’s more vibrant colour palette and slightly cartoonish aesthetic. Players choose from nine different heroes, or decks, each based on the classes in World of Warcraft, and each with a corresponding kind of gameplay.

Each player receives and hand of cards composed of creatures, items and spells – again, all based on the Warcraft universe – which they are able to play dependent on a casting value and available mana crystals. Unlike most collectible card games players might be familiar with, Hearthstone deemphasises resource management. Instead, players can receive one additional mana crystal per turn, and these crystals replenish every round.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft hands-on

Each class also comes with a unique ability that the player can choose to use or cast each turn. For example, the warlock has life tap, which allows the player to trade two health for another card, while the priest can simply cast +2 health on any of his creatures, or himself. Heroes can also equip weapons and attack their opponents directly.

Players aren’t able to designate a unit to block attacking units. Creatures with Taunt must be attacked and killed first; otherwise it’s a free-for-all. Creatures can even ignore an opponent’s creatures altogether and attack the enemy directly. This increases the speed at which a hand of Hearthstone is played significantly.

Altogether it means Hearthstone is very easy to pick up and understand, but also rapidly escalating.

While Hearthstone’s gameplay has peculiarities that distinguish it from other digital (or digitised) collectible card games, where it really begins to differentiate itself is in card accumulation, deck-building, and creation. Players are able to complete simple daily quests for which they’ll be awarded booster packs, or these can simply be purchased.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft hands-on

Hearthstone is designed to replicate the sense of anticipation that comes with opening a booster pack of cards. Each pack is composed of a random selection of cards, but players are guaranteed to receive at least one card that is rare, or better.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft hands-on

All cards can be disenchanted in order to craft new and powerful cards that the player may want for a particular deck they’re building. It’s a clever innovation that fits in perfectly with the Warcraft universe, and is only possible in a fully digital card game.

It’s far too easy to lose track of time playing Hearthstone. The approachable aesthetic and easy rule set makes Hearthstone less intimidating than other collectible card games, but it also hides real strategic depth. Anyone who has played StarCraft II will also recognise that Blizzard’s matchmaking services on Battle.net are now second-to-none, meaning that once the game launches, it’s very unlikely that players will be matched against opponents they don’t have a fighting chance against. Most importantly, Hearthstone’s booster pack system, its deck-building and its crafting are already coming together as a package that could stand head and shoulders above the competition.

Hearthstone is coming to PC and Mac in the near future, and to iPad at a later date.