Three card game alternatives to Hearthstone

Caller Wallpaper W Logo scrolls

The observant Murloc botherers among you will already know that we’ve got a lot of love for Hearthstone and the effect it’s had. But not everyone’s convinced that it’s the digital CCG for them. Hearthstone still gets criticized for lacking the depth of Magic: The Gathering, for relying on RNG effects, and for the grind of ranked ladder play. When we run our weekly article about the game, someone in the comments invariably suggests we take a look at something else. Well, here we go.

I've taken a look at some of Hearthstone's key competitors. They may not have the production value of a Blizzard game, but each one provides something different in terms of style and systems which may pique your interest in a way that Hearthstone doesn’t. And, if nothing else, there’s no danger of encountering a Knife Juggler in any of them. “Put this apple on your…” NO BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.



Scrolls is the second full release from Minecraft-makers Mojang. First announced at the start of 2011, it spent a year in closed testing, then another in open beta, before finally launching publicly last December. Apart from the regular versus mode, the results of that protracted development cycle include daily challenge scenarios against the AI, ranked play, and an Arena-style drafting mode called Judgement.

How’s it different?

Scrolls shakes up the standard CCG format by adding that classic strategy game staple: a hex board. When you play a creature card, you choose a spot on your side of the board for it to appear, forcing you to think not just about what creatures you put in your deck, but also how you’ll position them when they hit the battlefield. There are a few other digital card games that focus on careful positioning, but none quite so heavily as Scrolls. It almost feels like a board game, but the card collecting and deck building aspects keep it within the CCG realm.

Deck building

Scrolls deckbuilding

Click the arrows in the top-right corner to enlarge.

Instead of a life total, you and your opponent both have five idols, one at the end of each row. Destroy three of your opponent’s idols and you win, so trying to capitalize on exposed idols while blocking off your own is key. Each creature attacks after a certain number of turns, striking whatever is directly in front of it. You can’t do anything on your opponent’s turn, but the attack timers on creatures give you long enough to set up your defenses to disrupt their next move.

Scrolls is lovely to look at. There are a suite of different battlefields to play on, and each playstyle has creatures and card art that suit them. You can purchase different looking characters and idols with in-game or real money to add a more custom personality to your fights. It would be nearly impossible to reach the level of detail and ease of use that Hearthstone’s interface has, but there's a lot more going on in Scrolls.

Another significant difference is the way Scrolls handles mana. Each turn, you’re allowed to sacrifice a card to either draw two new cards, or gain a permanent increase to a specific kind of mana. Your mana regenerates at the beginning of each turn, but it doesn’t automatically scale up as it does in Hearthstone. This can force you into some unpleasant discards, but it also frees up your deck building options. For those familiar with Magic: The Gathering, you don’t need to fill your deck with mana cards that could possibly become dead draws. For those familiar with Hearthstone, you don’t need to worry about putting card draw into your deck as much.

Scrolls card

Why should I play it?

Scrolls is a great choice if you are looking for a CCG that has a bit more depth without a lot more complexity. While there aren’t nearly as many unique or surprising card mechanics as found in Hearthstone, the hex board adds an extra layer of thinking to each turn. Additionally, collecting cards feels much less exhausting, with gold for packs coming quickly and the option to buy different specific cards each day.

Scrolls has a free trial, which can be upgraded to the full version for $5 on its official site.

Tom Marks
Tom is PC Gamer’s Associate Editor. He enjoys platformers, puzzles and puzzle-platformers. He also enjoys talking about PC games, which he now no longer does alone. Tune in every Wednesday at 1pm Pacific on to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.