Friday, 6 December 2013

Making a physical Hearthstone set

I've been playing a lot of Hearthstone recently, and while I love it dearly, I do feel the lack of the physical element that accompanies other board/card games. In particular, I can't play it with my fiancée because she doesn't have a beta key. And even if she did, playing a game like this on two separate screens or tablets just feels silly. So, how can I make a physical version of the game that we can enjoy together? No, I don't mean a box with a tablet in it, cool though that undoubtedly is. I mean a real actual card game with cards and counters and the like.

Before we start, let's lay down some ground rules.
  1. No-one is allowed to say "but that's impossible". You can recreate the entire game with nothing more than a pen, (a lot of) paper, dice and a stop-watch. If you have a digital stopwatch you don't even need the dice.
  2. However, we want to make it as simple and easy to play as possible without changing the mechanics. Paper and pen (or more likely a small wipe-clean board and marker) is a last resort for cases like Lightspawn being buffed to 80HP and so on. I'm aware that other, real TTG/CCGs like MTG have wonderful things like damage counters and indicate status through card orientation and so on. Ideally I'd rather have something more obvious, even if it requires extra gubbins, because I've never played any other games like that and neither has my fiancée.
  3. Finally, we want to make it as cheap as possible. This is going to be horribly expensive and I don't want to declare bankruptcy until I've accumulated enough debt to really hurt the bank. Obviously this is in direct opposition to our second objective, so it will have to be something of a balancing act.
Right, let's get on with it.

First of all, the cards. This is probably the biggest problem - Hearthhead tells us that there are 381 cards. However, even if this is a complete and accurate figure, it's missing the fact that not only do we need duplicates of most of these cards, but we also need a load of extras such as the Whelps spawned by Onyxia and Leeroy and so on. Getting an exact figure for this would require quite a lot of tedious work that I'll do later when I need to procrastinate, but for now let's take a rough guess at 800 cards. I've written to a number of UK printers asking for quotes, but they haven't got back to me yet so for now the only figure I can find online is from a US firm who would do a pack for about £30 (plus £30 shipping). Of course, for a two player game we'd probably want two packs, which sets our running total at around £90. It's probably possible to work this down - I'll know more when the UK printers get back to me - and of course there's always the option of home printing, though that's still expensive and a lot more work. But let's settle at £90 for now.

We probably don't need a board (being the high-flying jet-setter I am, I own a number of tables). However, what we do need are ways to indicate health/status/etc. and this is where things get interesting.

The simplest way of displaying minion health and attack (without resorting to pen and paper) is through dice - just drop a couple on the bottom of each card. A d20 is probably sufficient for the vast majority of cases - if it goes any higher than that I can't think of any good way of indicating it without making a note on our trusty whiteboard. We'd want one for health and attack for each minion, plus an attack die for each hero, a d20 armour die for each hero and possibly a d30 for health (or maybe a d20+d10 or one of those little rule-slider things). You can have a maximum of 7 minions each, so that's a total of 14+14+1+1+2+2=34. Coloured dice would be best, and you can get those of 50p each (plus £5 postage for the whole lot), plus £3 for two d30s, which comes to £25. However, if we're feeling cheap we can get 40 plain white d20s for £12. We also want some way of determining RNG like Arcane Missiles and Mad Bomber so let's take a d16 as well for an extra £1. An alternative method would be to have stacks of numbered tokens that were swapped out, but as this would require over 300 tokens I think I'll stick to dice.

Rough running total: £115.

Next, we want status indicators. As far as I can remember there are three different states that need showing: Divine Shield, Frozen, and Silenced. To cover all options, we'd need 14 yellow counters for DS, 16 blue/white counters for Frozen, and 14 purple counters for Silence. You can get all of those as nice little 4mm wood counters for a total of £7 including UK shipping.

Rough running total: £123.

Finally, we want mana crystals. I'm rather taken by these nice plastic marbleized ones which are 20 for £4. I'm not quite sure how we'd indicate locked/used crystals - probably by painting one side of each crystal black and flipping them.

Rough running total: £127.

I think that's about it. We could add a whiteboard I suppose for keeping track of the occasional oddities, but to be honest you can get away with paper and I have plenty of that. So, what's left?
  1. Getting the card images together. I'd like to get the game files for this before they're reduced to the rubbish quality things shown on Hearthhead and the like, but I don't know where to go. All the data is in protected .unity3d files which I can't get in to (the obfuscator just throws errors).
  2. Finding the best value/quality printers. That's the biggest expense at the moment and reducing it is pretty important to make this viable.
  3. Working out the more involved mechanics. There are lots of these and there are always solutions, but it's a case of finding the simplest and most elegant solutions that require the fewest extra parts.
If anyone out there has better ideas please let me know. I'd like to make this a reality.



  1. This is awesome dude, i've been thinking about doing this for a couple of days now. Just didn't figure out if it would be too expensive or not, but the numbers you came up with would be around €150,- which would be doable for me.

    Your post is almost 2 months old now. Did you go through with it? If yes/no, why? I'd love to hear how it turned out.

    1. Hi,

      I never actually got this finished due to other, less interesting business (you'll notice the blog itself has been left untouched for a few weeks now). I also missed out a few factors such as taunt, windfury and spell damage, which need to be indicated on buffed cards etc. somehow.

      If you're serious about doing it yourself I recommend you have a look at and search for 'physical deck' or similar; since I wrote this post quite a few people have had the same idea and some have actually made it, so it's worth seeing their approach.

      Good luck,


    2. Well there are plenty of coloured plastic crystals to get in addition, for the buffs like taunt and windfury. They aren't expensive, so that's fine. Like you said, getting the right company to print them (as a cost vs quality thing) is the hardest part.

      Thanks for the links, i'll be sure to check those out. This guy ( apparently made them at home, and they're a surprisingly good quality.

      Thanks for the quick reply,


  2. Hello,

    I also started to make the physical version of the game. Here are the results so far:

    Good luck,