Nick’s 2014 Game of the Year: Hearthstone colon something about WOW

I am initiating this post in the heat of the moment. Yes. Fury percolates my blood right now. My eyes are twitching just as feverishly as my hands. I am yammering out loud.

I am am am am am am in a state of extreme agitation because I just lost four matches in a row in Hearthstone. Which is, in all honesty, nothing new. Losing streaks happen. But these were sloppy losses, achieved by playing stupidly. Each of the matches at one point were tilted ever so slightly in my favor. But then one critical misplay on my part ultimately led to an embarrassing, enraging demise. I should have walked away after the third loss, but I was stubborn and went back for one more match. After that defeat I was furious; I backhanded my can of Diet Coke from off the desk and sent it flying into the next room. This string of losses seems to sting more than the others.

HSCover

And so, in this state of mind – this state of what I shall call ‘rabid lucidity’ – I am hereby declaring Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to be my 2014 Game of the Year. Because I can! Because not doing so would be exactly what this stupid game would want! I have the upperhand, fool! Indeed. The fire which doth burn before mine eyes brings forth a clarity of understanding, a recognition of why this game stands apart from all the others I have played this year.

I still hate Hearthstone so much right now…

But there are times when I feel contrary to this, times when I hoot & holler with surprise & delight. There was that one time when, as a Shaman, I danced around two opposing legendaries for three turns, slipped through the cracks with a Spellbreaker and pulled off a miraculous, windfuried victory. I was so giddy I had to go for a walk, grinning from ear to ear the entire time, chuckling to myself, delighted at the flood of endorphins that unleashed as I watched the Paladin’s portrait explode. And hopefully that haughty Paladin had to go walk off the percolating fury in his blood after that loss, just as I may or may not have had to do an undisclosed number of times.

Indeed, no other game this year had me groveling and soaring as much as Hearthstone. It’s like being in a high school relationship all over again. Sometimes I swear that we are meant to be together forever; Other times, out of spite, I don’t even answer the phone. I have torn down Hearthstone desktop wallpapers so fast it would make your head spin.

Hearthstone has exclusively solicited other kinds of behaviors, which is the main criteria that I am using to declare this as my GOTY. (I’ve calmed down now, BTW.)

No other game had me talking out loud while playing. While Hearthstone certainly can churn emotions, its simplicity as a CCG and its unrepentant RNG-mongering keeps me on my toes. And the best way to keep from slipping into analysis paralysis each 90-second turn is to converse to myself about strategies and risk assessment. The extra step of vocalizing keeps me focused. Even if I’m tapping away on the iPad while laying in bed, and even after the elbow jabs from my wife.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

No other game was as methodically played. Meaning, this goes beyond ingame activity. I make sure munchies are within reach. I have tunes in queue to match my mood and at the ready to be changed on a whim. Music level and game sounds level need to be perfectly mixed and are futzed with constantly. My head needs to be covered, preferably with a drawn hoodie. I need a ‘nerves toy’ to fidget with while I wait for my turn – a deck of cards to endlessly shuffle or one of my kids’ slap bracelets.

No other game has as many logged hours this year as Hearthstone. Granted, I don’t know for sure exactly how many but I am guessing it to be somewhere in the range of one and infinity. And because the game is available on iOS it’s easy to sneak away with the iPad at a family holiday function and play a match or two. Either on iOS or Windows, I rarely have matches go longer than 10 minutes. There’s always gold to be earned, booster packs to buy. Sometimes I don’t feel like building and experimenting with a deck. Sometimes I don’t feel like playing Hearthstone at all. Contrary to a grand strategy campaign or story-heavy games, you can walk away from Hearthstone for a week or more and then be able to pick right back up – there’s always other players in queue. This is one of the reasons I enjoy staying within range 22-15 of ranked play; the opposing decks are never the same, always a mishmashing hodge podge. It’s fun playing below the meta threshold. Always fun enough to keep me coming back sometimes after sometimes.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

And finally, no other game was quoted so often by my family. There was a short while during the end of last summer where this was a thing. It was memorable and fun. In Hearthstone, soundbytes accompany every card placement and movement. If the card is a minion the soundbyte is some form of vocalization. And if something involves vocalization my kids are all over it. This mimicry was mindfully executed. Say, if I was arriving home after being gone all day Mitchell would shriek “Gimmie a big hug!” ala Leper Gnome. “Follow de rules” ala Aldor Peacekeeper was a parental favorite, though it didn’t always work – in fact, it rarely worked, but it was certainly fun to hope.

Hearthstone was, and continues to be, a game that always seems to be so near, even if I am on a self-imposed ‘break’ from it. Despite its simplicity as a CCG, Hearthstone still feels like a complete package. Its snappy response and interactive board are just as critical to its success as the swift match-ups and evolving playing field. The game is constructed in a way that the player still has room to ease into the hot seat; thus, cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship. This post would not exist otherwise.

And so, here’s to another year of facepalms and jubilee, backhanded Diet Coke cans and awkwardly-quoted Paladin cards. “Boys! Look who it ’tis!” Indeed, dear Innkeeper. Glad to be back.

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