I haven’t played Magic: The Gathering since I was in primary school. That’s a long time ago. I was never any good at it though, and I always got my ass badly kicked by the older kids at school. I pretty much gave up shortly afterwards and haven’t touched my deck since. It’s probably still in the house somewhere. When I got the chance to pick up Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planewalkers, I jumped at the chance to relive my childhood of spending Wednesday lunchtimes in an old Geography room with a bunch of 8 year olds “tapping” cards and having my best card stolen.
Duels of the Planewalkers is aimed at Magic newbies, with a lot of hand holding and coddling due to the on-screen popup hints and break downs of the rules. The tutorial is extremely laborious, but so is the process of learning the game from scratch with just a manual. It is a very effective tutorial, and the rules and process of playing the game becomes much easier to understand as the hints pop up throughout the game. But the whole hand holding aspect is a bit irritating for seasoned veterans of the game.
In Duels of the Planewalkers you play as a sorcerer with a set of special cards. These cards will either allow you to summon creatures or spells to use against your enemy or in your favour. This is where my first annoyance arises. The thing that I really loved about the card game was the customisation of your deck; ensuring you have a good number of land cards as well as good creatures and a hearty selection of spells. With DotP, however, you seem to just get a basic deck which you aren’t allowed to customise. I can see why this restriction is there, to allow the newbies to get a grasp of the game with the more simple cards, but I’d still like an option to customise my deck.
You start with two different decks, and as you progress throughout the campaign you earn more cards and more decks. Annoyingly, you aren’t able to mix cards into one super deck. If you earn a White card, it will only appear in your White deck. However, one thing about these cards that is quite impressive is that every card shown is an exact replica of the real card down to the art and quotes on the card.
The game is still as addictive and challenging as I remember it being from my childhood,which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes the game gets too challenging for it’s own good. Being unable to customise your deck to suit your opponent means you are left with a pot luck of cards. One instance of this was when I drew a hand with only two lands and a bunch of high-level monsters, then drew no more lands for the entire game. Of course, I lost relatively quickly and it just got extremely frustrating to the point of exiting the game. The addition of challenge mode, which sets up a scenario in which you must beat your opponent in a certain way, is definitely something that made me come back to this game time and time again.
A nice improvement I would have liked would be the existence of actual monsters in the game space rather than just the cards. It feels like you are watching a webcam of a number of people simply following your instructions to place a card down or attack. Shimmering lights aren’t enough to make me more engaged in the game unfortunately.
Online play is essentially what I experienced as a child. Getting my ass kicked by someone a lot better than me because I made some silly mistake. Still, it is a lot more fun to play online against a real person, although the trash talking gets slightly annoying after a while.
Card games on XBLA do tend to do quite well. Take for instance UNO or Lost Worlds. Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planewalkers is one of the better card games on XBLA. For those new to the world of Magic, I would suggest checking out the demo first, just to see if you’re into this sort of game. For those seasoned veterans, it will give you a lot more features than playing in some dark basement, so it is definitely worth your time.