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Plants vs Zombies Heroes has a lot in common with Hearthstone but some solid design decisions make it stand on it own.

Let's dig into the Game Design, dissect some of the mechanics and see if we have a real contender!

Dominic Norman, Blogger

October 28, 2016

3 Min Read

Disclaimer: Author has played Hearthstone 100+ hours and Plants vs Zombies Heroes ~8 hours so far.

In the last couple of years, PopCap and EA have built Plants vs Zombies into a solid license. Heroes has a lot in common with Hearthstone but some solid design decisions make it stand on it own and continue pushing the franchise further.

Let's dig into the Game Design, dissect some of the mechanics and see if we have a real contender to Hearthstone!

Turn Order

In Plants vs Zombies Heroes, you pick a team (plant or zombie), pick a hero and make a 40 cards deck. You place minions in the five lanes in front of you, play tricks (spells) and fight until a player loses his 20 starting hp.

The turn order is where things start to get interesting:

  1. Draw

  2. Zombie player plays minions

  3. Plant player plays minions and tricks

  4. Zombie player plays tricks

  5. Fight!

This game flow may seem simple but it is original and really give character to each side. The zombies are automatically set up as the aggressor/bad guy and the plants as the defender/good guy. Then, helping balance the teams, the zombie are set up as being trickier, having the opportunity to play tricks last before each turn fight. It's a great achievement when a design can give personality to your game and the asymmetry of the system also makes playing each team feel different.

The Lanes

Plants vs Zombies Heroes did not invent the lane mechanic but use it very well.

Lane system is simple yet elegant.

You have five lanes. The first lane is high ground with some cards gaining/losing advantage from it. Then, you have three standard lanes in the middle. Finally, the last lane is water and reserved for special “amphibious” minions. Overrall, it is very simple but gives enough room for strategy.

For example, each lane is resolved in order and controlling left lanes can make the difference between a win and a loss in a very close game. The upper lane and water lane add depth for alternative strategies to emerge.

All in all, the lane mechanic is also well balanced and what really makes it shine is how well the minion's special abilities and hero's tricks use it in a variety of ways.

Hero Shield Mechanic

In addition to having access to specific card pools (2 out of 5 total pools for each team), each hero gets special “tricks” (spells). You get one trick at the start of the match and whenever you get attacked, a shield meter builds up. Once the shield meter reaches a threshold (4-6 hits), a hit is cancelled and you get a trick to use for free (or keep it for later).

The mechanic is easy enough to understand. For starting players, it allows a losing player to catch up when he gets beat up and give each hero a flavour. The mechanic also adds a lot of depth for more advanced players, as the prevented hits become important. On the offensive, you try to have an opponents' shield activate for weak minions (getting the big hits in). On the defensive, you try to do the opposite. Using tricks and cleverly reorganizing lane minions for a shield activation can make the difference between a win or a loss.

Final Word

All in all, Plants vs Zombies Heroes is a very fun collectible card game with lots of personality. As deck archetypes start to appear and people start to build collections, we will see how well-balanced it is and if the monetization breaks it or not.

In Hearthstone, strategy sometimes feels less important than luck or access to premium cards. When the most strategic aspect of a game is building your deck and not how you play it... it can become underwhelming.

With clever game design systems complementing each other, it seems like Plants vs Zombies Heroes gives more weight to strategy, making it a promising contender to the mostly unchallenged Hearthstone.

Who doesn’t like a good fight?



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