This past weekend, I was at a fighting games tournament (Northwest Majors) with a friend. I don’t play a lot of fighting games but I dabble a bit and I find them entertaining to watch. What struck me, however was the perception of Street Fighter 5 among a lot of players: “it’s super random,” or “it’s a 50-50 fest,” or “you just have to guess” were things I heard more than once. Unlike in CCGs, there is in essence no randomness in these games; Your characters do exactly what you tell them to do within the confines of the game. So what makes it random? In essence, the inability to predict who will win a given round based on the early game play is what these players are complaining about. So what does that have to do with Hearthstone?!
Randomness in Hearthstone is an interesting beast. In one sense, Hearthstone is mechanically less random than a game like Magic; You don’t have to mix resource generation and cards that do things so you can’t randomly draw a glut of lands and lose because of it. Similarly, you can’t draw too few resources and just be unable to play the game at all. Decks are also 30 cards so you can’t really draw too many copies of the same card. Yes, you can draw less important cards at inopportune times but card draw randomness is something that every card game inherently has to deal with. The problem? Forced randomization.
Early on in Hearthstone, Blizzard had the mindset of making it a more casual based game. Randomness is exciting! Randomness is fun! Randomness is silly! Random effects are great! Except… they’re not. Randomness created a lot of “feels bad” moments and the only random effect type cards that were played were ones that were already inherently powerful on their own.
Random effects ended up not being swingy, fun, and interesting but instead just created games that were occasionally just unwinnable due to a long string of 50-50’s or games where play didn’t matter early and all that mattered was the outcome of your random effects. The reigning Blizzcon champion, Pavel, got a lot of flak for being on the fortunate side of a lot of Rangaros hits to the point that many people ignored how well he played (spoiler: he played extremely well). Discussions were dominated by talk of RNG and not how Pavel played well or played to his outs or positioned himself to have winning chances in every situation.
So where am I going with this long, seemingly random (joke 100% intended) story? Well, Blizzard is actively reducing randomness in Hearhstone; Most of the new “random” effect cards tend to be gentler, less swingy effects on less aggressively costed minions or give the player random resources (usually from a specific cardpool) rather than taking them away from your opponent which I think is a big plus. Mostly I just wanted to highlight that different games think of random a lot differently than we do in Hearthstone. We have a lot of control over how much randomness we choose to play with in Hearthstone because most of the random effects are printed explicitly on our cards and other random aspects were preemptively removed. With Blizzard actively removing random effects that affect the opponent’s board we don’t even have to worry as much about our opponent’s random effects either. As random as card games can be (and as random as Hearthstone has been) we actually have a lot of control over how random our games can be. Next time you feel like complaining about randomness, maybe stop and consider how other games view randomness and the luxury we have in Hearthstone of controlling the randomness that most other games don’t have. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play some Shaman in wild with 30 cards that say “random” on them somewhere and after that I’m going to play some Paladin in standard with 30 cards that don’t say random on them and be grateful that I have the option to do both of those things.