Whispers of the Old Gods is still a ways out (probably further out than most of us would like). But that isn’t stopping Blizzard from giving us a slow but steady stream of new card reveals. We’ve seen our first few Old Gods (one of which everyone who logs in during launch will receive), Hogger’s tentacle-happy reincarnation, and many other minions and spells that we will hopefully be cracking open when Hearthstone’s new expansion drops.

Last week three class-specific spells were revealed. Forbidden Flame, Forbidden Shaping, and Forbidden Healing all have the similar theme of costing however much Mana a player currently has remaining and using that mana to directly affect the power of the spell. While these Forbidden cards’ value are being debated in many corners of the web, I’m interested in the design of the mechanic itself.
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Upon seeing these three spells I immediately thought of X-spells in Magic the Gathering. In Magic there are many spells that do X amount of healing, damage, or spawn X amount of tokens depending on the amount of mana a player chooses to spend to fuel the spell. Blizzard have put their own tavern-flavored spin on this with Forbidden spells. Instead of allowing a player to choose how much Mana they pump into these spells, the player has to spend the Mana that they don’t want used up by Forbidden cards first, then cast said spells. In another game the design route could have been to bring up a piece of interface with an up and down arrow to let the player assign how much Mana is pumped into the spell. But Blizzard have gone the route of letting a player’s sequencing determine how much Mana is spent.

Hearthstone has a history of designing mechanics and interface functions that favor simplicity over player-choice. In Magic there are damage spells like Arc Lightning which gives you 3 damage to dish out among one, two, or three targets of your choosing. While in Hearthstone we have spells like Multi-Shot. Here is a card that deals damage to multiple targets but the targets are decided at random. Staying in the Hunter family, Powershot is another example of multi-target damage where we do not get to choose any three specific targets and are instead limited to assigning the damage to minions that are placed next to one another. These seem to me as decisions made in an effort to simplify the gameplay and keep it fast and impactful.

When Brann Bronzebeard was first announced for League of Explorers my mind ran away with dreams of making two separate minions obey the rules with my Aldor Peacekeeper or creating two separate 3/3s with a Keeper of Uldaman. Alas, targeted Battlecries do not allow us to select more than one target. It seems as if multi-targeting will never be in Hearthstone after this sad realization. “Why not though?” is my thought. Why can’t we have cards that target multiple specific (not random) minions/players? Why not allow us to choose the amount of Mana to pump into Forbidden spells without having to resort to sequencing? This added depth could do even more to keep players in the tavern.

What is better for the game? I am definitely of two minds. Hearthstone has done wonders to open up the world of trading card games to the uninitiated and I believe much of that is owed to the simplicity of it’s design. Blizzard have also kept it deep and complex enough to satisfy those of us who have been playing since the beta. I would love to see more intricate spells and effects that would call for more detailed interface design but I also love how straight forward and impactful it feels to play a game of Hearthstone. There is a happy medium to be found and I think there is room in that place for a little more complexity. But don’t go too far Blizzard, you’ve been doing pretty great so far.