Card games are rare and far between. The days of sitting around the fire playing Uno with the family have been largely put aside, in favor of the big screen and gaming console. So when card games step back into the mainstream like Magic: The Gathering has been doing for the past few years with their next-gen games, it’s really refreshing. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but it’s nice to put the M16 down for a quiet round of cards, on occasion.
Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (henceforth referred to as Magic 2013) is the third title in the next-gen Magic: The Gathering series. It is, by all accounts, one of the biggest collectable card games available, in addition to being the first of its kind created.
The game puts you in the role of a “planeswalker”, which is effectively a powerful wizard who uses mana to create creatures, artifacts, and spells. You pick up new cards each turn, which can include a mix of any of the aforementioned - at random - which you then have to summon into the game in order to use them. Most important are land cards, which are a type of mana which, when “tapped”, allow you to summon a creature, spell, or artifact with the appropriate level of mana. The actual game’s depth is far too complex to explain here, and really needs to be played to fully appreciate, but the aim is effectively to beat other planeswalkers, both real and AI in games, with up to four players playing in any one hand.
It seems the developers have chosen an annual title release for this series, and this poses some concerns. The games don’t appear to have enough new features necessarily to justify the update - the new features are hard to spot. Even the presentation of your games is very similar to the previous versions, with the same controls and functions. That being said, if what you are paying for is an array of new content by way of decks, then Magic 2013 is surely a winner - particularly with Magic: The Gathering's hardcore fans.
Magic: 2013 is beautifully implemented, with a functional UI that serves the purpose well. This year’s iteration appears to be slightly flashier in a nice subtle way, and is littered with some stunning artwork which adds a special ‘flavour’ to the Magic universe. The cards are true to real life in the game, and can easily be pulled up for a closer inspection where you can read about what each card does in play. Some of the creatures you can summon, thanks to the amazing artwork, are just awesome to play, and you get a real rush when you have built up enough mana to unleash something special from your hand, such as one of the limited cards.
The campaign is well structured this time around, which makes it particularly good for newbies. Each enemy planeswalker is well thought out and plays with a very unique style, which allows you to learn more about the various tactics that can be implemented. As you progress through the campaign, the difficulty slowly increases, and you are pushed to pick the right kind of deck of cards and the right tactic to combat what comes your way. Another great aspect of this is that, as you flex your ‘mana muscles’, you unlock new cards for the decks which you use - really enhancing their playability and might.
Thrown in here is the puzzle mode, where you are faced with a range of challenges with only a single solution, which can be quite challenging but again has the impact of honing your valuable Magic: The Gathering skills. The beauty of this is that, once you finish with Magic: 2013 (which isn’t that likely if you enjoy the card game, at least until they roll out Magic: 2014), you can apply your skills to the real card game. This requires another level of commitment, however, given the financial costs involved, which makes Magic: 2013 a bargain in many ways. Another compelling aspect is that Magic: 2013 gives you access to thousands of opponents without having to stealthily sneak into your nearest card store.
Multiplayer allows you to combat other ‘planeswalkers’ online, as well as letting you join with a friend to play some co-op. The online mode is really quick to find a game - which is helped by the enormous amount of people who are obviously playing - and can also be used to unlock cards, meaning the campaign is not the only way to do this. This is the ultimate aim of playing Magic: 2013, and what makes putting the hard yards in during the campaign worthwhile, because there’s nothing like using your cunning - and the deck creator (the best addition to Magic: 2013, allowing you to craft your own decks) - to get an edge on an opponent.
Magic: 2013 is a blast to play; it's the combination of a wonderfully functional GUI, easy intuitive controls, and brilliant artwork and decks that makes for an addictive formula. It’s not surprising that even as the origin of card based RPG games, it is still finding popularity with so many players around the world. Even better is that it’s coming to a larger range of platforms than ever before: the Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, AND the Apple Store for iPad.
If you’ve played last year’s version, the new decks make it exciting enough to warrant the purchase, and if you have generally held off but enjoy Magic: The Gathering, it’s a no brainer. The best part, though, is if you are a newcomer, it’s never been easier or more enjoyable to get into Magic!