There is something about the physical card game Magic: The Gathering that makes average people run in the other direction. I had assumed it was the money necessary to build decks, or maybe the intimidating beginner’s learning curve of deciphering the abilities written on the cards. It has been a question burning in me for a long time. I spoke to an average person recently and asked him how he felt about Magic, and he said, “The cards are weird-looking, and only geeks play that game.” I was discouraged. I had feared that his response would involve name-calling. There’s just something about those cards.
That same average person, though, plays the Xbox Live Arcade game Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers daily. And I know diehard Magic fans who possess the same level of commitment to this videogame. There’s just something fantastic about this game!
I discovered Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers for Xbox Live Arcade while looking for a traditional card game. I downloaded the demo, and I was immediately struck by the artistry of the game board and the simplicity of the user interface. The interface is ornate and magnificent looking, and it complements the artwork featured on the cards. The game’s graphics were amazingly impressive for a card game; I purchased the full game the same day I downloaded the demo. I learned the game by following the brief tutorial. It familiarizes players with the basic gameplay rules and controls. I highly recommend everyone who gets this game play the tutorial.
Duels of the Planeswalkers offers Campaign, Challenges and Xbox Live modes. The Campaign mode has players going head-to-head against NPCs. The Challenges mode gives players one turn to work through a given duel scenario against an NPC. The Xbox Live options include player-versus-player duels, allowing for two to four players and a mentoring system. The mentoring system is relatively unused by players, but it’s a nice option. There are also wonderful co-op opportunities. A partner must be a member of Xbox Live to join in the fun. Dueling with friends against other players is a blast!
“Duels” are simply card games. Each player begins with 20 hit points, seven cards in their hand and 60 cards in their deck. Players take turns playing spells, attacking and blocking. The first person to defeat their opponent by bringing his/her hit points to zero wins the game.
Gameplay is identical to the card game. Players choose from a series of decks that are based on color. Magic, for newcomers, features five card colors based loosely on the elements — red, white, green, blue and black. Each color has corresponding mana (land cards) essential for playing creature and spell cards. Beginner decks are single color and introduce new players to the personalities of each color. For instance, red decks contain aggressive attackers, and black decks possess destructive spells.
I was immediately frightened that I would need to create my own deck to play. I am a novice to Magic. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the game has preset decks. However, once my skills grew, I realized that I could not customize a deck for gameplay. I could unlock dual-color and tri-color decks, but I could not build my own deck from all the cards available. Also, I could not move cards between decks. This does strip the important customization element of the card game from the Xbox game.
I feel that the game loses nothing from these preset decks and actually may benefit from this guided system. Instead of a win being contingent on a deck build, it is based on actual skill and cunning. The strategy aspects of Magic gameplay come to the forefront through this deck system.
The Campaign mode is quite short. A novice can easily tackle it in three days. It does increase in complexity each time it is played. A player also needs to continue to play in Campaign mode to unlock cards for all decks, and this may seem a little monotonous at times.
The Planeswalkers in the Campaign mode are NPCs with short biographies. This is the extent of storyline that is available. I’m aware of the vast number of novels and fan literature surrounding the Magic universe, but none of this makes it into the Xbox Live Arcade game. I wanted a card game with strategy, so I was happy to find these elements absent from gameplay. If a player is looking for role playing or storyline, this is not the best option.
However, Magic lovers should not be discouraged by lack of story or customization. Duels of the Planeswalkers has all — yes, all — of the classic card artwork that made the collectible cards so desirable. (For complete newcomers, the artwork is akin to typical fantasy art paintings.) Remember the incredible dragon on the Flameblast Dragon card? It is just as amazing in-game. Cards are small in size when in play, but they can be enlarged with the click of a button to half the screen. This feature also allows for complete readability and an additional option that explains the functions of the enlarged card.
The sound effects for card animations are nicely done. Sounds of fire, wind, water, animal growls and buzzing flies lend themselves to the gameplay and the characteristics of the cards being played. A theme song plays throughout the duels. This song will audibly drift in the background and is sure to go unnoticed by players concentrating on the game. Since sound isn’t essential to gameplay, it can be muted if players prefer to play their own music while dueling. I leave the sound on because of the sound effects. I feel they improve the quality of my experience.
I have a few suggestions for players beginning Duels of the Planeswalkers. Again, complete the brief tutorial. Don’t be afraid to jump into PvP duels. Of course, don’t be afraid to lose. Against seasoned players, strategy becomes complex and essential. New players who are interested in PvP should find a comfortable deck and unlock cards immediately through the Campaign mode to increase their available spells. I also love the available Challenges mode and recommend it to all players who want to begin learning advanced tactics.
Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers is currently available only on the Xbox Live Marketplace. It costs 800 Microsoft Points for the full game. I consider this a steal! For card game enthusiasts or strategy game masters, this game offers nonstop gameplay in PvP mode. Duels of the Planeswalkers is fairly popular, so there is never a wait to find a sparring partner. Buy it now! Everyone else should download the demo to be safe. Card games aren’t for everyone.
If you’re not on Xbox Live, listen to this: Recent press releases have indicated that both a PC and a PlayStation 3 version are in the works for late in 2010! Personally, I look forward to playing the game on my PC, too.