'Hearthstone' comes to iPhone, Android phones: Taz'dingo!

One of the most groundbreaking and addictive games of 2014 has just given itself a whole new set of teeth -- with a release for iPhones and Android phones.

Free-to-play games get a bad rap, being (often rightly) associated with shallow gameplay, repetitiveness, excessive grind and mechanics that push you to win by paying ridiculous amounts of money.

Blizzard’s “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft” is an exception.

Setting a trading card game in the world of their vastly popular Massively-Multiplayer-Online game “World of Warcraft” seemed an odd move when first announced, but has proven to be an astounding success -- winning a whole host of awards last year and becoming an e-sport in its own right

Although there are certainly strong incentives to buy card packs, arena runs and solo adventure “wings” using real money, it is entirely possible to play without spending much, if any, money.

Nor is it a pay-to-win game. Buying more packs does give you a much greater chance of getting better cards faster, but if you don’t know how to use those cards in a good, synergized deck, then you can comfortably be beaten by someone who has only weaker cards but in a better deck. While the quality of the cards help your case -- it’s how you use them that counts. To prove this, professional Hearthstone player “Trump” last year progressed to “Legend” rank by starting out with just the free cards and not spending any money.

Also, there are no parts of the game that are off-limits unless you buy cards. Everything is available using gold earned in-game, it’ll just take you longer than if you wield the credit card.

The downside is that if you don’t use the credit card, the game will often feel like a grind sometimes, and although no individual card will win a game on it own, if you face an opponent who has managed to accrue a host of the top “legendary cards” like Ragnaros, Ysera, Sylvanas Windrunner and Dr. Boom, 9 times out of 10 you’ll probably lose. “Hearthstone” is still at its heart a free-to-play game and never quite shakes that off.

Adding to the game’s appeal is its incredible strategic depth, the superb graphics and sound effects, and perhaps most of all -- the ease with which you can jump into a game and be matched with an opponent immediately.

“Hearthstone” expanded from PCs and Macs to Android tablets and iPads last year, and gamers have been itching for a phone version since launch.

Now it's arrived, released on the App Store and Google Store on Tuesday -- and it’s very good.

Instead of just transporting the game onto the smaller screen, Blizzard has redesigned a great deal of the user interface. Cards are now snapped into a corner, and when you are ready to make your play, the hand expands to take up 75 percent of the screen so you can make your picks easily and without making mistakes.

The system is intuitive, and I was quickly flicking through the various modes and playing games like I was on my computer. The only fiddly part I found was creating decks in the “My Collection” mode.

What surprised me the most was how easily it ran on my iPhone 5. Running on both Wi-Fi and 4G, I found no noticeable slowdown or connection issues. Nor is it a shell of the game, the majority of the sound effects and graphical quirks have remained, and it links up perfectly with your existing account if you already have one. It did use a lot of battery, and while not as data-sapping as it could potentially have been -- this isn’t a game you’ll want to play with cellular data for more than an hour or two a day at most unless you have a hefty plan.

If you were on the fence about “Hearthstone” before, the move to phones is a perfect excuse to give it a shot. It’s not for everyone, requires a lot of repetition and ultimately -- it’s a card game. But despite that, it is still perhaps the best free-to-play mobile game available right now, and it just got a lot more accessible.