Ben Brode Talks 'The Coin'

by Zenstyle on         follow RobertAWing

There’s been a lot of talk about The Coin since closed beta went live, specifically whether or not it offers too great of a benefit for the player going second. At present, common consensus around the tournament scene is that The Coin is in fact too powerful and offers too much of a benefit when interacting with Rogue combos, as well as minions such as Twilight Drake and Gadgetzan Auctioneer. Hearthstone Designer Ben Brode took to the official Hearthstone forums earlier today to share his thoughts on The Coin, including the reasoning behind its existence and what we can expect to see in the future.

Throughout the development of Hearthstone, going first had been a tremendous advantage. Winning the coin flip during our alpha testing meant you were 20% more likely to win the game. Losing the flip 3 games in a row was a table-flipping experience.

Being Player 1 has two advantages:
(1) You get to spend 3 mana before you opponent does. (And 4 mana. And 5 mana. Etc.) This means that you can respond to your opponent’s 2-mana play with a 3-mana card, but your opponent only had 2-mana to respond to your 2-mana play. It also means that you are usually the one choosing who you want to attack, which ends up being a huge advantage.(2) You get more total mana than your opponent. Imagine a game that ends on turn 7. If you went first, that means you had access to 1+2+3+4+5+6+7 total mana (that’s 28!), but your opponent has only had access to 21 mana up that point, since they haven’t had a 7-mana turn yet. If player 2 wins, both players have had access to the same amount of mana throughout the game.

We had already given Player 2 an extra card to help resolve the problem, but a 20% advantage for going first still felt too high. Our goal was a 5-10% first-turn-advantage, which is what it is in Chess.

We tried a number of ways to juice the Player 2 experience, starting with granting +5 Health for going second. This actually helped get us close to our target, but we noticed that going second still felt like losing, since you always have less mana to spend.

After a few more tests, we tried “The Coin”! The biggest benefit was that it allowed the second player to respond to a 2-mana play with a 3-mana card (this is how player 1 feels basically every turn of the game), thereby giving Player 2 the opportunity to turn the momentum of the game around.

Here’s what we’re seeing so far since we added The Coin:
Across all leagues – 4.4% better to go first, on average
(i.e. 52.2% of the time, Player 1 wins)
Master League Only – 0.7% better to go first, on average
(i.e. 50.4% of the time, Player 1 wins)

Now some classes are actually slightly better going second, in Master League only (Priest and Rogue win 51.5% of the time when going 2nd in this league), but this is much better than where we used to be, where winning the coin flip had such a strong correlation with winning the game.

We’ve heard a lot of feedback that The Coin doesn’t feel like it should activate Rogue combos, or trigger Questing Adventurer, but given that we are still in a world where going first is better in almost every case, we don’t mind this slight advantage for Player 2. (And it’s much simpler to understand for new players than other solutions we’ve considered.) Some specific interactions might be a little too strong (This is our town, Scrub!), and these are cases where we could see balance changes in the future. We’re keeping our eyes on it!

One thing I’m pretty excited about – We’ve added a cool animation for gaining The Coin at the start of the game in our next patch – it looks pretty rad and should help teach new players about how and why they are getting the card.

Oh! One more thing – thank you all so much for providing feedback on everything you’ve seen so far in the Beta. There are a lot of changes in the works (some of them are hitting in our next patch) that are a direct result of this feedback, so seriously: it’s been awesome. Keep it up!

It’s interesting to see the win rates across all leagues, and then Masters. It definitely suggests that going first is not as damning as is being suggested across social media right now. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see the tweaks going forward, and it’s nice to know that decisions will be based on empirical information, and not forum witch hunts.