A Heartstone interview with Mike Donais and Rachelle Davis

Senior Game Designers on their favorite Heartstone stuff!

You know Heartstone, right? The Warcraft-based digital card game, coming out of Blizzard Entertainment?

The game is responsible for introducing over 50.000.000 gamers to the best we yet have seen in digital card games. It builds on the feeling and ideas, some of us know and love from traditional paper card games like Magic: The Gathering or even Pokémon if you will.

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Heartstone principal game designer Mike Donais and senior software engineer Rachelle Davis on the game in general, and for the current expansion: One Night in Karazhan.

Now for me to be interviewing these very qualified people, you might want to know following: I’m a general Blizzard fan. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft on high level for some years, I don’t anymore (Even though I am revisiting Legion right now, on a more casual level.) I’m an avid Diablo-gamer. A loving Overwatch-noob and for the game in mention: A casual Heartstone smartphone-gamer.


With that in place, let me move on to my interview:

What is the big difference in designing digital card games versus traditional card games?

Mike Donais:

Online it’s a lot easier to find people to play with. The online environment means that you can play on your iPhone, on your iPad, play from anywhere anytime. If you have ten minutes, just waiting in the dentist office, you can get a game in. It’s really super accessible and quick to play. It’s one of the reasons that I love Heartstone. Another thing going on, is that we have this thing called Fireside Gathering. So people come together at like a coffee shop or a bar, and they play Heartstone together in an organized fashion. We’re putting some work into that, and there’s a lot of organizers around the world, that run those.


What benefits do you have in doing a digital card game as opposed to a traditional card game?

Rachelle Davis:

That’s a good question. One of the things that comes to mind, is definitely, that we have freedom to fool around with things in the digital space, that would be very difficult in a physical space. So for example, if you want to copy a card from your opponent's deck - and we have some cards that do that - priest class has several that do that. Then we can do that quite easily digitally, whereas if you were playing physically, that would be very difficult keeping track of. It also makes keeping track of how much damage your minions have taken, and have much damage your heroes have taken, or how many buffs you put on different characters all easier, because we have the ability to make that very accessible visually. So, it really helps making the games more accessible for everyone. Players of all types, that may or may not have experienced that sort of thing in a physical space, can easily get into Heartstone, because of these reasons in the digital space.

Are there any from traditional card games, that you would love to do online, but can’t?

Mike Donais:

One of the things that I liked about the classic paper card games, was to get together with your friends, hang out, and just talking while you play, or enjoy some chips. Um, and Heartstone is picking up that mantle, because we like that idea. We are doing it by this program called Fireside Gatherings, you can read about it on our web page, it brings people together in real life to talk and chat, it’s forging friendships and bonds, and that’s a really nice thing to have.


So these Fireside Gatherings, are they facilitated by Blizzard, or can everyone pick up an event like that?

Rachelle Davis:

You can actually host your own. We have some tools, and some directions to help you get started, if you’re interested in doing that. We are very very interested, in empowering our players to make their own tournaments and communities around this game that we all love, so we wanna make it possible for you to start whatever kind of Fireside Gathering you’re interested in hosting. We’ve got many around the world, that do that sort of thing all the time.


Fireside Gathering
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I’m really a casual player with Heartstone. I love the solo campaigns you do with Heartstone, it really strengthens and challenges my card-building abilities. Are the solo quests designed for strengthening the players ability to build decks? (As well as having fun)

Mike Donais:

Yeah, well the hope is that each of the solo adventures is a slightly different experience, so that it gives you a opportunity to build decks, that are good for that experience. You look at the opponent's hero power, and strategy, and you build a deck that is good against that strategy. And you learn a lot while having fun, because it tells a good story. A lot of people like reading about their characters from World of Warcraft.

In addition we have this thing called heroic mode, which is a much harder version, for the more invested player, that wanna be challenged by that.


´Member Netherspite?

Which challenge in the Karazhan expansion was Your favourites to design?

Mike Donais:

We really liked Netherspite. Netherspite is a dragon in World of Warcraft, and in his encounter in the original Karazhan raid, there was these beams shooting out of these magical portals, and players would have to block the beams with their bodies to gain advantages and block Netherspite of these advantages. And we captured that in Heartstone by making portals and beams, and you have to use your minions to block the beams, and it was kind of cool to design, and we had to iterate a lot on it, but I think it came out very well.

Rachelle Davis:

Another pretty novel design that we did on Karazhan was our chess-mission. Which is one of my favourites for sure. It’s different, in that people that played Heartstone before, they haven’t really had minions auto attacking, so in this encounter in Heartstone, we had a lot of chess pieces, which in the end of the turn would attack, whatever minion is opposite. It makes you think very differently about how to play and anticipate moves. You have to save up and lay out your board to be optimal to defeat your opponent.


Each of you, which card is your favourite amongst the Karazhan expansion?

Mike: So my favorite card amongst the new expansion is really cool. It’s Medivh, he has Atiesh, which is the great staff of the Guardian, it’s a famous magical staff for Warcraft Lore. Atiesh, when you play Medivh, you gain Atiesh as your weapon, and that let’s you, whenever you play a spell, summon a minion at similar cost. So it’s a really cool ability, and it gives you a lot of game power, and it’s really fun - and it has a great story.


Rachelle: I’m gonna say Barnes. Which, you know, it’s maybe not the most powerful card in the world, albeit you can do great things with Barnes. I just like to have fun, and play, and see what kind of magic I can make. So Barnes is the legendary that summons a 1/1 copy of anything in your deck, and you can do a lot of crazy things with that. You can get a lot of power very quickly, if you have the right stuff in your deck.


Are you both playing Hearthstone on a competitive level?

Rachelle: I’m actually more of a casual player like you. But it’s great, we have the whole thing covered with the team. We have players of all types, looking at it from different angles. I’m on the casual spectrum for certain.

Mike: I play a lot more. Basically it’s my job to really understand the meta, and how the cards is playing out, and what releasing a new card will change, so I really have to understand, how that would affect the meta


Which classes are your personal favourites?

Mike: It would be mage and priest, but often a new expansion will change my favourite classes, because there’s some new cards. And one thing that I enjoy doing, is just playing each class in order. Build a fun deck with each class, play each class in order, until I have three losses. That way I feel like I’ve done due diligence on all the classes.


Rachelle: I’m also a fan of the classes that Mike mentioned. But in the early stage I played a lot of Warrior. I like weapons. I like to hit things with my hero! I also like to play Shaman. I wouldn’t say so much, that I have a favourite class, as I like to explore the new stuff that we release with each expansion

Do you plan on making regular new quests onwards?

Rachelle: We definitely want to keep people engaged, on we’re alway looking on ways to do that, so we’re continuing to look at that sort of thing at all times. And we have a lot of designers that specifically are looking on that sort of thing right now.


Alright, that’s great! So what is the next one going to be about?

Rachelle and Mike does /laugh.

Mike: We haven’t announced anything about the next one yet, but I’m sure it will be awesome, because I’ve been pretty happy with all the things we’ve done so far.

Rachelle: We keep topping ourselves. Every Time I think we’ve done that best that we can - then the next one comes out, and it’s even better! So rest assured: It will be great.


Can we expect updates on that at Blizzcon?

Mike: You should expect some kind of update on Blizzcon. You should keep watching, and um.. Check it out.


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