Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Four Perspectives

Hi I'm StarGazer, I play Hearthstone, I have many strong finishes on the legend ladder, and this is my blog about Hearthstone and game design.

Since this is my first post in this blog I figured it was necessary to provide the fundamental approaches I use when thinking about games.  I learned these mindsets from Patrick Chapin's Next Level Magic, and they've been fundamental to my learning and success in Hearthstone.  So I'm going to outline each of the four mindsets in terms Hearthstone players will understand.

A top down approach does not bother with the nitty-gritty details.  It looks at the big picture and sees what there is to exploit.  A top->down approach in deck building is to look at the very strong cards and then seek to exploit them: “Dr. Boom and mech warper are unreasonably strong cards, I want to build a deck that uses these very powerful cards to exploit their power level.”  Or, “The hunter hero power provides a source of card advantage if my deck really cares about face damage, this is a class that I should consider when I want to play a burn-like strategy.” 


Alternatively, we can seek to exploit decks in which our own life matters a great deal by playing a warrior deck.   Top down provides jumping off points in deck building, but it can also be used in gameplay, “my opponent is playing control warrior, and I’m playing midrange hunter, I really need to focus on playing to the board for the 6-7 turns until I stick a big threat, freezing trap is also a very important card against my opponent’s strategy.”  Top down isn’t just about big picture though, it is also about accumulating helpful information.  We can get this information by asking ourselves good questions “What do I already know about this deck/metagame/matchup that is useful to me now?”

Summary: The Top->Down perspective wants to look at the big picture.

This perspective is all about the nitty gritty details.  OK so you’ve decided to build a mech mage deck, but what threats are the best right now?  Do you want piloted shredders or mechanical yetis or water elementals, or 2 out of the three?  What payoff cards matter, blastmage? tinker town? cog master?  What removal spells are good?  Flamecannon?  Frostbolt?  Fireball?  Polymorph?  Harvest golem or spider tank?  Or do we want to double down on removal spells and play sorcerers apprentice+tinkertowns to fill our turn 3 slot?  
Which seat spell should I take?

Bottom-up also aims to eliminate the choices we don’t want to make.  Flying machine is just a poor rate for 3 mana, we probably don’t need to test that one out.  We can also apply this to deck building, if 70% of our games against warriors, we probably don’t want to be playing a face hunter deck.  Fireball is great for burning opponent’s out, but what if you’re opponents are looking to win the game with a turn 6 highmane?  Polymorph looks a lot better in that world.  Are you bringing the right tools to the job?  This also applies to “pet cards” that some players love to include in their decks.  You have to be able to objectively look at that card and ask yourself, “is this card doing the job I need it to?  or should I be playing something else in its place?”  Bottom->up can also be used when taking the hottest new deck that just got #1 legend, if that deck has arcane explosion in it as its dynamite tech card, you have to realize pretty much everyone else knows about arcane explosion now too, are people still going to be playing decks that fall prey to it?  On the other side of the coin, after someone gets #1 legend with arcane explosion in their deck, those 2/1’s for 1 in your hunter deck don’t look so great anymore do they?

Summary: The Bottom->Up perspective is all about the details.

This perspective can simply be described as reverse engineering.  How do you see yourself winning a game with control warrior against face hunter?  What about control warrior versus mid-range shaman?  What about mech mage vs mech shaman?  Mech mage vs face hunter?  None of these are the same, they all require different game plans.  

Imagine the turn that you win the game, then ask yourself what has to happen for you to get to this position?  This changes from matchup to matchup, from game to game even!  It is important to ask yourself every turn, “How do I win this game?”  I recently played a game where I was at 11 on turn 4 against a hunter with patron warrior, I could have thrown my hands in the air and said “well you just had a god start!” but I didn’t I asked myself each turn, “What do I need be doing in order to win this game?” Sure I wasn’t favored, but I figured out what I had to do to win the game and what had to happen for me to win the game.  When you reverse engineer a game, the goal is to figure out what matters and when it matters.  We are trying to create some type of advantage in the game, we seek to gain an advantage in one of the three fundamental resources of the game life, tempo, or card economy (“value”).  The resource we’re looking to maximize will likely change from stage to stage in the game.  I know when I’m playing against face hunter both of our life totals matter, but do they matter on turn 1?  Turn 7?  What should I be using as my heuristic for the best play on turn 2?  It likely is very different than on turn 7.  It is very important to look back at games and think about what cards shined and what didn’t, sure grommash dealt the final blow but you wouldn’t have made it there without the huge shieldmaiden+shield slam swing?

Back->Front can go hand in hand with bottom->up thinking.  In our earlier mage deck that has to beat a deck that plays a turn 6 high mane, if by turn 6 we expect to no longer care about tempo (we care about burning him out) then fireball it the clear choice, but if we have to keep playing the board we should either consider polymorph or expect to get a beating from the turn 6 highmane.

Summary: The Back->Front perspective looks to reverse engineer the game to figure what matters at what point in the game.


Front to Back thinking is where the learning takes place.  We use the feedback of actual game play to examined what we gleaned from the other three perspectives.  So if we used Top->Down thinking to come up with a warlock board-aggro deck featuring flame imp and pit lord, as we are playing, we should ask ourselves “Are these cards performing as well as I expected them to?  Do I still think these cards are powerful enough for me to have them as the focus of this deck?”  You can also examine your bottom->up observations.  “Harvest golem just isn’t as good as I thought it would be in mech mage, I’ll try spider tank since there are so many 2/3s for 2 now, and it hits harder.”  The same goes with Back->Front thinking.  We can ask ourselves “Was I right to try to maximize tempo at this stage of the game?”  and then we can apply that to similar situations.

Summary: The Front->Back perspective is when we learn from feedback while actually playing.  It aims to test and challenge the assumptions we make using the other 3 perspectives.

Well I hope this was informative and I hope you can use these approaches to better your understanding of Hearthstone.  Stay tuned for my next post.


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