To praise or to curse him

talks about Hearthstone and the problem of RNG

I play Hearthstone a lot. Like, a lot. Most of my spare moments at home are taken up with the bite sized experience. It’s not hard to see why. I have a history with card games, from my youthful days trading Yu-Gi-Oh cards, to my awkward pubescent years with the Pokemon trading card game, and finally to my sixth form career as a Magic the Gathering player. I am the perfect target to spend a lot of time (and money) on Blizzard’s time sink.

yogg saron

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To be honest I don’t know if I enjoy it anymore, I just play it, usually with a YouTube video open in another tab, sucking most of my attention away.

So why do I keep playing? I’ll get back to that question later. What must be first addressed is a recent drama in the Hearthstone community surrounding random number generation (RNG) in competitive Hearthstone. Especially surrounding the card of Yogg-Saron.
Yogg-Saron was introduced in the recent full expansion of Hearthstone, Whispers of the Old Gods, and has found his way into decks in recent tournaments. For those unfamiliar with Hearthstone’s expansion systems, they are released once a year, introducing a number of new cards into the collection. The competitive mode (Standard) allows only cards from the last two expansions to be used. Yogg-Saron, introduced in April will be around until April 2018.

The issue many people seem to have with this card is its massive swing potential. Its effect when played has the potential to clear your enemy’s minions, create your own, deal significant damage to your enemy, and heal yourself. Due to this potential, many players view this card as unfair because a losing player can win very suddenly.

From a game design perspective there are several things that defend Yogg-Saron. Firstly, he is a 10 mana card, which makes him extremely difficult to play. If he didn’t have a dramatic effect, there would be little point in playing him.

The other, and most important, reason why this card is fair is its delta of randomness. When you play Yogg, the only thing you know is how many spells will be cast, you have no idea what will be played and who it will target. All you can do is hope. This gives the card such a delta of randomness (potentially for a fantastic or terrible effect and all possibilites in between) that it is a huge risk to play.

Taking a more statistical approach, using the analysis of IgnatiusHS from Reddit, Yogg has a 42.04 per cent chance to cast a spell that has very little impact. It only has a 1.77 per cent chance to heal a random target, and a 7.96 per cent chance of dealing relevant (3+) damage to a random target. There is no guarantee this card will be good, hence its title as ‘Hope’s End’.

But for me, the biggest reason that Yogg-Saron is not the bringer of all that is evil is how much fun I have every single time he is played. If I am watching competitive play, when a player plays Yogg-Sarron it’s desperate. A random flurry in an attempt to claw back from the jaws of defeat. Even when it doesn’t work, it is always entertaining to watch the faces of the players as they react to each new spell.

Going back to my original dilemma, Yogg and randomness in general is the main reason I still play Hearthstone. A virtual card game is able to achieve randomness that a physical one would never be able to. Whenever Yogg is played, I pause my YouTube video, and my entire focus is on the game in front of me. The joy of a successful board clear, only to be met with dismay as I draw too far into my deck and enter fatigue, is a rollercoaster of emotions that I can not seem to quit.

At the end of the day, video games are entertainment. If a game wants to be successful then it needs to entertain a variety of player types, not just the competitive ones. I quit Magic the Gathering because I was sick of losing on turn three to a meticulously crafted token deck. I play Hearthstone for the colourful moments of pure luck that shock, scare, and excite me. If Hearthstone truly wants to be competitive then maybe it does need to limit the number of dramatic RNG cards at tournaments. As long as that doesn’t affect the game I play. However, I definitely won’t be watching anymore competitive play.

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