Hearthstone Goblins vs Gnomes interview

gvg Bolvar wide

Going back to the set itself, what were the hardest of the cards to tweak for balance?

BB: With a card like Bolvar Fordragon, the community responded really differently than I expected. That’s a card that I think can be pretty good, but players were sure it was one of the worst cards that we announced. And part of that is just that it’s so different, there’s really nothing to compare it to in the way that it works. Those types of cards where they’re brand new in the way that they work, those are the hardest ones to figure out how good they are.

Can you talk to me a bit about the thinking behind Unstable Portal’s costing, because I’ve used that quite a bit and it feels very powerful based on the overall range of outcomes that could happen.

Unstable Portal

Unstable Portal

BB: That’s a card that we were very excited about. Really, the experiment with Webspinner in Naxxramas set the stage for Unstable Portal. Webspinner we were very excited about, we thought it would be fun and it turned out to be even more fun than we thought. Players responded very well to that mechanic, so we doubled-down with it a little bit in Goblins vs Gnomes with the piloted shredders and Unstable Portal.

Yeah, it’s definitely a card that you have to play a lot to figure out how good it is, because it’s tough to just look at a card and say, 'Oh, you get about 2.5 stats worth,' you know, or whatever. It’s mostly a feel thing: 'How often do I get something that makes an impact on the game, and then how do I use that card to actually make the best impact on the game?', because I had no idea that I was going to draw Archmage Antonidas or Jaraxxus or whoever I got. So we really liked the way that it felt to play, and tried a bunch of different numbers, and that was the number that we felt ended up being the best.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about “doubling-down” on RNG because that’s exactly how I described your approach after BlizzCon, and now that the cards are in people’s hands do you feel vindicated in going down that approach, that it is fun?

BB: You know, I definitely feel like—and we felt this going into Hearthstone at the beginning—randomness is really important. Cards like Stampeding Kodo and Ragnaros, they’re really important to the feel of the game and we knew that we need to keep randomness around. It helps create these really great player stories, and it actually does increase the skill required to play the game sometimes because you’re presented with all these novel scenarios and have to do a lot more problem solving.

There definitely was a moment where we previewed a lot of cards with the word random on them at Blizzcon and players got worried, but once you start playing with the cards the pervasive theme we’ve heard from everybody is Goblins vs Gnomes is really fun. And that’s kind of the link from randomness to fun is hard to recognize sometimes, but it’s definitely there.

[Flame Leviathan] is kind of an experiment in the same way that Webspinner was an experiment for us in Naxxramas. We're seeing: "How does this type of effect feel for Hearthstone?"

At your talk at BlizzCon when you had the word clouds up on the screen showing what people liked and disliked about the game, the word Zoo was still absolutely huge on the dislike side.

BB: [Laughs]

I’m actually kind of over it, but do you think the RNG elements of these new cards helps mitigate what can be otherwise oppressive deck archetypes? Because, the people who’ve made those brutally tuned decks then can’t account for some of the randomness. As you were saying, Unstable Portal might pull, as it did for me last night, an Ancient of War out of nowhere that you then pay 4 for.

BB: The fact that Ancient of War exists is the type of thing that can be good against Zoo, but we also put some new cards in the expansion that are good against Zoo and also other archetypes. I think in general we need to have cards that are good against a variety of different effects, and if you’re frustrated by a certain type of gameplay you can tune your deck to be good against Secrets or Deathrattle or whatever it is you think you’re going to see a lot on the ladder.

So it was about four and a half months between Naxx and Goblins vs Gnomes. Do you think that's going to be the standard amount of time between major expansions?

BT: I think it’s going to take a little more time before we’ll have a firm answer on that. We have to really see how Goblins vs Gnomes takes with the audience. Right out of the gate, theres 30 new cards in Curse of Naxxramas and over 120 in Goblins vs Gnomes, so what's the time to shake out with all that? It’s hard to say, as of yet. There’s still a lot of fluctuation in deck styles and deck types. I mean, five days in is not going to be near enough time, will five weeks? Will five months? Who knows, it really is hard to say. We like providing the right amount of content for the players at the right time, determining what that time is is going to be a real focus in the weeks and months to come.

Just before the launch of the new set you preemptively changed a handful of new cards. One of those was Gadgetzan Auctioneer, which felt like it had been long predicted. Was that because you were worried about the interaction with the cheap Spare Parts spells? Because normally your policy is 'Let’s see how the meta shakes out and whether people come up with ways of dealing with a problem.'

BB: Yes, that was definitely part of the impetus for that change. There were always some concerns we had with that card. Anytime you can draw basically your entire deck consistently, it makes the games feel less varied. Games start feeling more same-y over and over again, and feeling like you’re solving new problems and having new situations each game is part of what makes Hearthstone really fun.

So that was a concern for us, and the Spare Parts made it even more concerning. But really we do want to keep players feeling empowered to solve problems on their own. We did feel like with the launch of a new expansion, and everything changing, that it might be okay to change a couple more cards. We kind of relaxed our view just very slightly and changed more than we would normally I think, with those three cards, just because it was all going to be an upheaval anyway.

GvG Darkbomb Wide

Since the Soulfire change, which went to 1 mana, almost everyone has switched to using Darkbomb. Was that something you anticipated? Do you think there’s still a place for Soulfire?

BB: I certainly think Soulfire is very good and very playable. I think people are experimenting. Darkbomb is also very good, and I think depending on what deck you want to play, and what style of play you’re interested in, there are options for either one.

Can you explain to me the card Flame Leviathan? I had it in my free Arena run, and I couldn’t understand the logic of why, in constructed, you would ever want it because you’ve got so little control over the effect.

BB: Basically, the idea with that card is that it’s a 0 mana, 2 damage to the entire board spell, which is very powerful, and the downside for that effect is that you don't control when it goes off. It’s kind of a new take on the Warlock thing where you discard a card to get some very powerful effect, like Soulfire. In this case, the drawback is uncontrollability. It’s kind of an experiment in the same way that Webspinner was an experiment for us in Naxxramas. We’re seeing: 'How does this type of effect feel for Hearthstone?'

Flame Leviathan is the first of its kind, and it’s definitely a little challenging to figure out when it’s best used. Obviously it’s very good in decks with very few minions, and you could potentially see it in decks with Enrage mechanics in the future, but it is difficult to get it to go off, and you have to feel a little risky for putting that card in your deck—but the turn when you get a 0 mana AOE against a Zoo deck it’s going to feel really good.

Next Page: Undertaker and deck slots

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.