I used to play Magic the Gathering a long, long time ago…it’s one of my many dorky pastimes. When I saw that a Magic the Gathering game had come out on Xbox Live Arcade, I decided to give it a shot and see if the game was as fun as I remember. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, the game was pretty easy to get back into since the rules really haven’t changed much in the 10 odd years since I played last. While Duels Of The Planeswalkers doesn’t have flashy graphics or over the top animations, it makes up for it through standard Magic the Gathering game play (and I think that’s what I like most about the game, it doesn’t try to do more then it is). Duels Of The Planeswalkers sticks to the basics of the card game and doesn’t go much beyond that, which is all I really want with a Magic game.
I won’t go into great detail about the rules of Magic the Gathering, but here are the basics (if you’re up for some…light reading, you can view the comprehensive rules here):
There are five different colors of land (Black, White, Red, Green, Blue) and decks are build around one or more of those colors. You start the game with a hand of 7 cards and every turn you begin by drawing a new card from the top of your deck. You can play one land card per turn (if you have one in your hand), and the land cards allow you to cast spells and summon creatures. The goal of the game is to kill your opponent using those creatures and spells, who will be trying to defend themselves with their own creatures and spells. The game ends once one players life reaches 0 or they run out of cards in their deck. It’s a lot more complex then that (many of the cards directly contradict the rules, so interesting situations can come up), but that’s the basics.
- Online play – I loved being able to play friends online, we would probably never be able to play Magic the traditional way again since we live so far apart now…and it would kind of seems weird sitting down to a game of Magic at this age…playing it on the Xbox somehow seems slightly more appropriate. Another great thing is that now there’s no fighting over the rules, the game handles that for you (there’s a lot of ambiguity that can arise in the game, card description sometimes aren’t clear enough, so it’s great to not have to worry about that anymore).
- Unlocking cards – You start off the game with a pre-constructed “core” green deck, and by playing through the campaign (a series of card games versus different colored decks) you unlock more cards for the deck you win with (most decks have 17 cards to unlock, the multi colored decks only have 15). Unlocking cards is extremely rewarding because you get some amazingly powerful cards. You also unlock more decks (8 total, 5 mono colored decks and 3 multi colored decks), each with a different theme that brings a huge variety to the game play. For instance, the green deck is based around large creatures and hitting your opponent with overwhelming force, while the white deck is focused on flying creatures and protecting yourself from damage. You can customize the decks to a point; you can remove any of the unlocked cards you get, but you must keep the core cards in place.
- Pre-constructed decks – It’s nice to not have to worry about making your own deck, which would result in casual players (me) getting the crap beat out of them by more hardcore magic players who have figured out the best combination of cards to ruin your day.
- Pre-constructed decks – I’m listing this in the disliked section, too, because really 75% of the game is making a good deck. You only feel like you can do so much with the deck you have, and if you’re playing someone using, say the green deck, you know exactly what cards they’re going to play (weak anti air, no direct damage spells, no “destroy target creature spells”, etc), so everyone loses the element of surprise. Yes, there’s still strategy involved, but you can only do so much with the decks, it just doesn’t feel customizable enough. While it might turn off casual players if some hardcore magic player destroyed them, I still think there could be more of a balance. Allow users to remove any card they want from the deck, even core cards. Just enforce the rule that a deck must have sixty cards, and no more then four copies of each card in the deck.
- Freezing – I’ve had the game freeze up on me a few times. I’ve also had issues where my turn would start and I couldn’t play any cards from my hand…for the rest of the game. There are certainly more then a few bugs still in the game. Other users have reported having a zoomed in card stuck on their screen for a whole game, and some sync issues with online play.
- Auto-tapping land – You tap (turn the card sideways) land to cast spells (you can only tap land once per turn). The game automatically does this for you when you play a card, which isn’t a problem for mono colored decks. However, problems arise when playing multi colored decks. For instance, say I have three forests (green land) and a mountain (red) in play. In my hand I have two creatures that I want to bring in to play, one costs one mountain and one colorless (any colored land) to play, and the other costs one green and one colorless to play. If I play the green/colorless first, the game might automatically tap the mountain as the colorless source, meaning I couldn’t play the red/colorless card this turn (since the mountain is already tapped). It’s really, really annoying.
Overall, Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers is a solid game. It’s great for people new to Magic, and I think that’s what it’s aiming for. There is a walkthrough which shows new users all the rules, and a mentoring system where experienced players can help explain any questions you might have. Despite being so focused on people new to the game, I think it still remains fun for more experienced players. For me personally, the nostalgia of playing the game again for the first time in years has been great. While I have some issues with Duels of the Planeswalkers, overall I think the good far outweighs the bad. The price is reasonable, for the $10 it costs you can spend a ton of time unlocking cards and with online play. I still haven’t even unlocked all the cards. Check out the trailer below if you want to see more about how the game plays, or check out the free demo, which allows you to play a little of the campaign.