Hello everyone! Today’s topic is a little bit more abstract than our usual, so my apologies in advance for the wall of text. This is a concept that isn’t limited to just Hearthstone or just card games, but actually exists in the majority of the games people play (both digital and analogue). It’s not a new concept or a particularly innovative one but it’s something that is quite a bit different in Hearthstone than it is in other games: the defender’s advantage.
The concept of defender’s advantage originates from a real-time strategy game Starcraft. In essence, it denotes the difference in army power in engagements that occur at one of the players’ bases: the player who is attacking has to send their units across the map while the player who is defending (who we’ll say has the exact same army at the time) has additional time to build fighting units. The longer the attacker takes to reach their target the larger their army deficit will be; thus, the defender has the advantage of a larger army. This concept most often occurs in other games in the form of decision ordering: the attacker declares what they’re attacking with and where, then the defender gets to choose how, where, and with what to defend with (such as in Magic). The defender gets informational advantage and gets to make the most favorable possible decisions based on what the attacker does. In all of these games, the attacker has to be careful to mostly attack only when it is advantageous or to further their overall game plan. Hearthstone offers none of these things.
In Hearthstone, defender’s advantage is well… basically nonexistent. The attacker chooses where each minion attacks and the defending player is a puppet that gets to watch. The attacker has all of the advantages in terms of where combat interaction happens and if there isn’t a favorable trade to make, the minion can just hit the opponent’s face! There isn’t even a downside to attacking; since minions don’t defend, there’s no reason to hold any minions back. Because of the lack of defender’s advantage, games of Hearthstone go much more quickly than most other games; players are incentivized to attack early and often in a constant battle for board control and initiative. Defensive decks certainly exist; resource advantage, power, and efficiency are always important. But Hearthstone’s mechanics mean even the control decks tend to be more proactive with efficient spot removal, board clears, and card draw. Control vs aggro tends to be a constant battle for board control and initiative rather than the grindy, value driven games you see in other games.
In most games, aggression is generally good. Being aggressive puts pressure on your opponent and can induce them into making a mistake, giving you free damage, advantageous positioning, or a resource advantage. Being the aggressor often lets you dictate the tempo of a game, deciding when engagements happen and where. In most games, however, aggression also comes with a risk; you’re willingly putting yourself into a potentially disadvantageous position temporarily in order to achieve a goal, usually leveraging the opponent’s lack of information to gain a larger advantage than you might if your opponent knew everything that was happening. Aggressive play in Hearthstone is rewarded by giving a sizeable advantage to the player who can be more proactive while also avoiding the common disadvantages associated with being the attacker, all combined with the normal advantages of being the aggressor. They sometimes say “the best defense is a good offense,” but in Hearthstone sometimes the only defense is a good offense.