Blizzard senior designer Ben Brode is absolutely giving bad cards to new Hearthstone players - but there's a reason for it.
Hearthstone may be a hugely popular digital card game, but it still faces a surprise criticism: That new expansions are already causing power creep. This occurs when new expansion cards overpower content from the base game, forcing everyone to adopt the latest expansions if they want to keep up. And sure enough, senior designer Ben Brode admitted many Hearthstone's Basic Cards are really, really bad - but that's the point. In his recent designer video, Brode explains that Basic Cards are less powerful to teach how the game works while giving new players a stronger sense of progression.
"We keep those cards incredibly simple to be that very slow learning curve for new players," Brode says. "We want some of the Basic Cards to be bad, really bad, to make that feeling of progression even stronger."
When you first open Hearthstone, you'll play through a series of tutorials and initial matches against live opponents. Beating these matches levels your Hero and earns Basic Cards, many of which are so weak they'll be crushed by advanced cards in no time. But according to Brode, experimenting with Basic Cards makes it far easier to learn Hearthstone than starting out with stronger, but more complex cards.
"Basic cards are what we give you when you first start playing Hearthstone," Brode says. "A lot of the people who come play Hearthstone, they've never played a card game before and it is somewhat daunting. So we have to kind of ease in those players and then layer complexity in things like Secrets and Windfury and Trigger powers and things like that."
In other words, Hearthstone's incredibly simple Basic Cards aren't meant to be part of your decks forever. They're about teaching players core game mechanics, while establishing a clear sense of progression as your decks become more powerful. That's how players can tell the 5/1 Magma Rager should be dropped as soon as possible, while a Truesilver Champion can stick around for your advanced decks.
"We do give new players incredible cards," Brode continues. "We give new players Truesilver Champion, Fireball, Frostbolt, Flamestrike, Consecrate. That's definitely intentional. We want new players to have some great cards, and we want high level decks to include Basic cards also. Just because there are bad cards in the Basic set, it doesn't mean we're trying to make sure we give players really bad cards to start out with. That's not our intention, but we do also want them to feel a feeling of progression and to learn what cards to put in the deck - some good choices, some bad choices."
As a specific example Brode points to Dr. Boom, referenced in power creep debates because it resembles the Basic (but weaker) War Golem. According to Brode the comparison is misleading, because War Golem was a barely-used card to begin with. "His existence has increased the power level of the game, but it's nothing to do with War Golem," he explains. "War Golem could not exist and he [Dr. Boom] would still get played in high level decks. War Golem is bad because it's bad - it has nothing to do with Dr. Boom and they shouldn't necessarily be looked at through a lens together. Dr. Boom doesn't represent power creep because War Golem exists. War Golem is just bad and was never played - it's not like people took out War Golem for Dr. Boom."
I don't know if Brode's arguments will change anyone's mind on the power creep debate, but it's certainly worth a listen for insights on Hearthstone's design. My personal favorite point was how Basic decks constructed by new players usually fare worse than randomly-generated decks of Basic cards - a surprising detail for a game which seems easy to grasp.