Getting StartedLiked: After firing up the game, players begin a tutorial where they are tasked with defeating five or six AI players using a basic mage deck. This is where you're taught how to actually play Hearthstone. Having never played a card game like this before---no Magic, no Yu-Gi-Oh---I felt pretty well educated after I'd bested each of the AI players, some of which required more than one attempt. The game does a nice job here of giving players glimpses of strategy and playstyle---veteran card game players are going to have an extremely easy time diving into Hearthstone. While I didn't quite feel ready to go toe-to-toe against a human after completing the tutorial, I definitely wanted to experiment with decks and check out other classes.
Didn't Like: It would be nice to have the option to repeat the tutorial---maybe you've got young ones at home or a significant other or friend who'd simply like to try the game without having to create their own account. While the point or goal of the game and how to get there is generally illustrated during the course of the trial, I'd also like to see more on this---perhaps various difficulty levels for tutorials, like a beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
UI & DesignLiked: Design is very clean and functionality is mostly intuitive. At most, you're two or three clicks away from playing a game. The art and music is clearly of the Warcraft universe, though they've been given a fresh twist. There are three game modes: Practice, which pits you against AI of standard difficulty---once you've unlocked all of the classes you are able to face expert AI; Play, which pits you against other players in either Ranked or Unranked mode; and Arena, which requires an entry fee and pits players against other players while using a random deck for a chance at special prizes.
Didn't Like: Multiple chat conversations going at once can get kind of messy, even if I do like the IM chat bubble style of it. The deck and card building interfaces confused me a little. At first, it wasn't clear to me what card building/disenchanting was all about. I was too scared to click the "Disenchant Extra Cards" button, for fear it'd destroy all but one of the duplicate expert cards I had acquired, so I went through my cards manually. Turns out clicking that button will destroy only cards left over after the max number of that type is in a deck. Apparently, this interface was updated in the most recent closed beta patch to make it more user-friendly, but I still think we'll see a new iteration or two before it goes live.
GameplayLiked: The sheer amount of fun this game can provide. While there is a large RNG factor, I felt myself becoming more situationally knowledgeable with the more games I played, even if it was just against the AI. Play moves quickly, and animations make playing cards a dynamic event. I've played a mage and a priest to level 10, which means I've unlocked each class's basic starter cards and have a decent idea about what is in their toolkits. I must say, the priest deck has been a lot of fun---late last night I did 27 points of damage during one turn in the mid-game (player heroes start with a 30 HP), though there's a rumor that priests may have been buffed a little too much in the last patch. Time will tell.
Didn't Like: The shaman deck. I haven't played all of the other classes, but the shaman's hero ability, which summons a random totem, seems extra punishing when compared to other hero abilities. Perhaps I wasn't using the right combination of cards, but it wasn't clear on how to use the shaman to the best of his ability. Granted, I am a bit partial to shamans, too. I've been playing one in World of Warcraft for quite some time now and was expecting the class to feel a bit more familiar to me. At this point, I'm hoping they revisit the shaman hero power before the game goes live. What about a Wind Shear, silencing the target? Anyone? Either way, some pointers regarding class strengths/weaknesses would be appreciated by this noob.
Acquiring CardsLiked: It's nice for players to earn a couple of packs early on by simply making their way through the tutorial and some of the class leveling. Packs contain five cards and are guaranteed to provide at least one card of rare quality or better. I was quite lucky and received both a rare and legendary card---Al'Akir---in the first pack I opened. Actually purchasing packs using real money is scarily easy. If you have a payment method attached to your account, just a click of a button (and your password) is all that separates you from opening pack after pack of cards.
Didn't Like: The rate at which players earn in-game currency is slooooooow. In order to acquire new cards, you need to play a decent amount of Hearthstone. With the cost of a pack from the store at 100g (the in-game currency), you're looking at either two daily quests and nine wins or one daily quest and eighteen wins in order to reach it. The temptation to pop over to the store to quickly purchase a pack or two will always be there.