During BlizzCon's Opening Ceremony on Friday, Hearthstone Lead Designer Cora Georgiou made sure to note that the last time Blizzard held a live convention, the team debuted Hearthstone Battlegrounds. It was a total change to the way the game was played, not replacing Constructed play by any means, but rather becoming an exciting new complement to it. This weekend, Blizzard revealed a fresh step forward for its minion-battling game mode called Battlegrounds Duos. Shacknews went to the BlizzCon show floor to try it out.
Battlegrounds Duos plays similarly to Hearthstone Battlegrounds in its most essential ways. Arrays of minions do battle and the side that's left standing at the end of the Combat Phase wins the round. In this case, sessions still consist of eight players, but now battles are conducted between four pairs of partners. The manner in which it is done is seamless, feeling both familiar and complex enough to feel like a total refresh.
The Battlegrounds Recruit Phase looks the same in many ways. Minions are purchased with 3 Gold and sold for 1, then placed onto the board for the next Combat Phase. For Duos, one partner's minion lineup will play first. If it is eliminated, the partner's lineup then steps in. Combat will continue until a pair of player's minions have been defeated. At that point, the losing pair's shared armor and health is depleted until they are collectively at zero.
Players will notice a portal along the right side of the board. This portal allows users to peek at their partner's Tavern, including what minions they have in play, what minions are available for purchase through Bob's Tavern, and any minions or spells they may have in hand. This leads to Duos' main mechanic, which involves sharing resources. Any cards in hand can be sent over through the portal to a player's partner for the cost of 1 Gold.
Used correctly, this can bolster the team's lineup in numerous ways. For example, if a player's partner is playing a Beast lineup, it's possible to send over a Free-Flying Feathermane or Monstrous Macaw to make their lineup even deadlier. A detailed ping system allows users to express to their partner that they've found a useful minion, maybe even one that will give them a precious Golden minion. Communication is key when laying out dual Battlegrounds lineups, especially since exchanging cards does come at a 1 Gold cost.
More intriguing, Duos opens the door to some exclusive heroes that specifically take advantage of the format. As one might expect from the Warcraft offshoot that is Hearthstone, the combative ogre Cho'Gall is featured as a tandem hero with one player playing Cho and the other as Gall. Cho and Gall's Hero Powers will brilliantly utilize the Duos format and make it so that if one player gets a triple minion, both Cho and Gall will be rewarded for it.
Other potential two-player synergies are being integrated across both heroes and minions. During my time with Duos, I played as Flobbidinous Floop, whose Hero Power transforms a single minion into the highest-Attack minion on his partner's board. Meanwhile, there are minions like the 1-Cost Passenger, which gains +1/+1 when any teammate passes a card through the portal. This opens the door to some fascinating new ideas that wouldn't otherwise be possible in standard Battlegrounds play and it'll be interesting to see what the Hearthstone team comes up with in the future.
Speaking of the future, that'll be when Battlegrounds Duos eventually comes to Hearthstone. Lead Battlegrounds Designer Mitchell Loewen and Associate Game Designer Jia Dee both expressed optimism for Battlegrounds Duos during a group press interview, but were both adamant in expressing that the game mode needs more time in the oven before going out to a wider audience. The team needs to sort out certain situations, such as what happens when a partner drops out in mid-game, how skill levels are matched up when solo queueing, and various other scenarios. With that said, based on my time with Duos, this is the update to Battlegrounds nobody knew they needed. Look for Battlegrounds Duos to join the standard solo Battlegrounds game mode early in 2024.