It’s rare for me to enjoy so much something at which I am so dreadful

As my friends and Twitter associates may know, I am on vacation in Turkey at the moment. So far I’ve spent 8 days here, 2300 miles from the comfort of my own home, my girlfriend, and my PC. Granted, it’s nearly as hot in the UK as it is here at the moment, but at least there i’d have my Xbox to distract me.

It might sound like I’m complaining but I’m really not. There’s plenty of food, plenty to drink, and most importantly I’m not getting up for work at 7am every morning. But it’s just started to get to that inevitable point where the novelty has worn off, and I’m lounging around doing not much of anything. It comes to this point when Brits abroad start wondering what to do with themselves while reality looms on the horizon.

Hearthstone, then. I downloaded the mobile app a few days before my flight out, just on the off chance that I had a few hours spare with no purpose. As per, my intuition was right, and I started loading it up a couple of days ago.

Now it’s important for me to mention here that I am not new to this game. I’ve played it since it was released, but my interest just dropped away since they were bringing out expansions quicker than I could keep up. It’s only just recently that I’ve decided to plunge back in, and being away from home and work has transpired to be the perfect time.

I am, however, crap. For whatever reason, I can’t get above Rank 18 at the moment. If you ask me why, I’d say it’s because I don’t have a great deck. It all seems to go well, I’m on the brink of victory, and then my adversary whips out some legendary card I’ve never heard of which turns the game in their favour and thoroughly spanks me. Part of this is my own fault. Back in the day, I had a habit of trying to follow the latest decks. I would disenchant all the epics and legendaries I’d collected so I could afford to build the ‘strongest’ deck at the time. Then I’d leave for a couple of months, come back, and that deck’s now old hat.

Pictured here, definitely not helping: Turkish hotel WiFi

So I was sat by the pool, a couple of hours until the restaurant opened, and I thought… Why the hell not. I built a hunter deck with some fairly good synergy. Beasts mainly, with some of the Un’Goro expansion cards that adapt and do various fancy things. I took a few hours sat there, swapping cards in and out to try and optimise it. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad deck, now it’s on its 5th or 6th iteration, but it just isn’t good enough.

(Note: it is good enough to beat my dad, who hasn’t played Hearthstone since it launched)

I figured that if I wanted to climb the ranked ladder, one of two things would have to happen. I could win the lottery, and spend £500 to buy hundreds of card packs to really beef up my collection and get access to the most recent and most popular cards. Or, like the sensible guy I am, I could wait until I was home again, look up some guides, and basically teach myself how to not be a noob. I went with the latter.

Sitting in the 38° heat and being unable to progress further in the rankings, I was slightly frustrated. It was then that I had my eyes opened. I tentatively hovered my sun-burned finger over the ‘Solo adventures’ button. Now, when I last took a look in Hearthstone’s solo adventures, you had to pay. Either real, hard money, which I would never do, or a ridiculous amount of coins, which I could never amass. That seems to no longer be the case, at least not for the latest expansions.

Witchwood and Kobolds & Catacombs both feature a sort of arena-type game mode called Monster Hunt and Dungeon Run, respectively. In each, you pick a class, are provided with a set deck, and need to defeat 8 ‘bosses’. Along the way, you pick up more cards and some fancy treasures, which persist through your whole run. One of them draws you an extra 2 cards at the start. Another gives all your minions an instant +1/+1. If you lose, like I often did, then you don’t gain anything and you get to just try again.

Each AI enemy you play against has their own strength, or their own sort of playstyle. Some of the earlier ones are quite gimmicky and they’re fairly easy to overcome. They quickly ramp up in difficulty though, and the synergy from some of the later decks you’ll play are devastating. The most frustrating I’ve faced so far had the passive ability ‘All spells are Echo, which means as long as you have the mana, then you can cast it over and over.

At one point in that fight, I was one turn from victory. They had a few weak minions out on the board that were no cause for concern. My opponent’s hand consisted of the single card he’d just drawn as he started his turn. It was a spell. ‘Give all friendly minions +1/+1’. I looked on in horror as he cast it not once, not twice, but nine times. In the space of a single turn, his deck of nibbling cannon fodder minions became a hoard of face smashing power. Had I not been sipping on a Mimosa at the time, I’d have screamed.

Enjoy this screenshot of me, with Ragnaros on the board twice, confident in my imminent victory over the 8th and final opponent
Now enjoy this screenshot, taken 2 turns later, in which I lose brilliantly

I’m still yet to win one of these dungeon runs. I’m enjoying them massively, and doing better each time. I’ve gotten very close, I promise.

The thing I’m most enjoying about this mode, though, isn’t the constant defeat and misery (surprisingly?). It’s the fact that I’m playing classes other than what I’d usually play. Hunter and Paladin are my favourites, but I’ve done best with Mage and Shaman so far. It’s opening my eyes to exactly how these other classes play, and the kind of cards they have at their disposal. Relaxing here on vacation whilst playing these, ultimately, inconsequential games is actually giving me the experience and insight I may need to improve at Hearthstone. Hopefully, this time next year, I will have used this power and knowledge to have reached at least rank 15. I’ve never heard it said that I’m not ambitious.

It’s also fun just to make silly plays and somehow come up roses. It makes me feel like I’m better than I really am.