I was quite intrigued when I got to spend some time with the Wizards of the Coast crew over at E3, where they demoed the latest Magic: the Gathering title, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. Though I’ve never been a Magic player myself, I have delved into various other collectible / tradable card games (Star Wars, I’m looking at you), and so jumped at the chance to review the game when it was released for the iPad last week.
For those of you who are new to the Magic series, a basic game goes something like this: two or more players, assuming the roles of wizards called Planeswalkers (so called because they are able to move about from plane to plane in the Magic ‘multiverse’), duke it out by attacking each other with spells and summoned creatures. Each person starts out with a health of 20 and the main way to lose the game is if this is reduced to zero or less.
Gameplay is turn-based, with each turn consisting of different phases. In one phase you might play what’s called a ‘land’ card, a move that builds up your pool of available mana, or ‘magical fuel’. This mana is then used to cast spells or summon creatures, each with the aim of dealing damage to their opponent, or the creatures protecting him or her.
The phases themselves are pretty simple, but the complexity of the game comes from all of the different card decks, known as libraries, and the synergies between different cards in a deck. What’s more, different decks play out in different ways, and there’s a real skill in knowing how to get the best effect out of the cards in your hand. Equally important is how to strategically play your deck against the deck of your opponent.
Magic 2013 (shorthand for MtG: DotP2013) manages to incorporate all of this gameplay, and offers something for all levels of Magic players. Never played before? There’s an extensive tutorial available for you, as well as helpful hints and tips that display while you take your first steps. If you’re an experienced Magic player then you can hit the ground running by ramping up the difficulty, or going straight for Multiplayer mode to take on some real people online.
The game has, as you’d expect from a Magic title, loads of unlockable decks and plenty of unlockable cards within those decks. There are also a lot of different options in terms of the types of playing styles available. In the Campaign mode for example, there are four different ‘sub modes’, including Planechase, which pits you against three others in a chaotic game where the roll of the planar die can send you all from random plane to plane. Different planes have different effects that come into play for the whole battlefield and can be everything from limiting the number of attacks players can make, to restricting fighting unless your creatures are werewolves (bizarre!)
For the statistically-minded, there is a plethora of information available about your character, your decks, and your position on the global leaderboard (for single player I am a woeful 35,107th out of 40,173). In the deck manager, you can view statistics about any given deck, with a 5 star rating for variables such as deck speed, flexibility and card synergy, to help you decide which deck to use against a given opponent.
While my iPad 1 struggled with some of the more demanding scenarios (more than two players usually crashed me out of the game), the iPad platform, generally speaking, is perfect for this sort of game. The interface is easily navigated with a finger and the game controls are covered by a combination of single and double taps, or an upward or sideways flick. The artwork of the cards, as well as for the menus and avatars, is completely first rate and though there are a range of styles (and contributing artists) it is all keeping within the wide fantasy theme.
It really is the equivalent of a toe put into the edge of an ocean, especially when you then take into account all the encouragement Wizards of the Coast also put into getting people away from their computers and out to their local game stores. There are offers of physical decks for new players and the community-based ‘Friday Night Magic’ get-togethers are already established in ten locations around New Zealand alone.
Of course it’s worth pointing out that Magic 2013 is available on the PC via Steam, as well as on XBox Live and the Playstation Network. But with such a great experience on the touch screen, if you have an iPad 2 or better, then it absolutely behooves you to check out the Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 demo via the app store.