The best part of Hearthstone is the little orange outline that shows around a card when your opponent is looking at it.
At some point in Hearthstone’s development, somebody at Blizzard realized that they could not possibly allow the players to talk to each other. While many (if not most) competitive multiplayer games allow for text chat between players, Hearthstone does not. Instead, if you click on the portrait of your character, you can choose from a number of preselected statements, each a variation on one of nine phrases: “Greetings,” “Oops,” “Wow,” “Thank you,” and so on. Although the game does feature an in-game chat client, you can only use it to talk to people on your friends list, not the other player in a game of Hearthstone.
This is good. People on the Internet are horrible. There is no reason to ever talk to an opponent in an online videogame. Nothing makes me more certain of (and hopeful for) the eventual extinction of the human race than the way people talk to each other in videogame chatrooms. I have this problem a lot: I love competitive videogames, and love playing games with people, but I am so allergic to the usual trash talk and hypercompetitive alpha nonsense that so permeates competitive videogames that I find myself physically nervous before I press the “Ready” button while playing Heroes of the Storm. I love videogames – I am deeply distrustful of gamers.
The problem, however, is that without the ability to talk to the other player, it is very easy to forget that you’re playing with another human being rather than simply an AI. I don’t want to play against computers, I just don’t want to have to talk to the other person I’m playing with. It’s always more fun to play against a human mind than a computer – humans are unpredictable and prone to psychological warfare in ways that computers aren’t. Given that Hearthstone doesn’t let you communicate much with your opponent, it would be easy for you to forget that you’re playing with a real person. That’s where the orange outline comes in.
Hearthstone is a very tactile game, and it plays beautifully on a touchscreen. You play cards by tapping (or clicking, if you’re playing with a mouse) on the screen and dragging the card to wherever you want it to go. Playing a minion to the board has a delightful feeling of just flicking it out, like you’re Gambit throwing a card at a wall. If you want to get a closer look at a card, you hover over it with your mouse cursor or press your finger on it and wait – a zoomed-in version of the card will appear in the center of your screen. On your opponent’s screen, whatever you’re looking at will be surrounded by an orange outline.
The game thus shows you (in approximate real time) not only the moves your opponent is making, but the cards they are looking at. This gives you a window into your opponent’s mind. When you play an obscure card with a drastic effect and an orange light appears around it for a few seconds, you know that your opponent is looking at it, perhaps to remember what it does or to decide what to do next. You can see your opponent cycling through their hand trying to decide what to play.
Hearthstone’s reliance on random number generation means it behaves in a way that a physical card game can’t, but by allowing you this insight into what your opponent is thinking, the game brings you back to the feeling of sitting across a table with an actual human being, rather than cradling a glowing screen in your bedroom in the middle of the night.