Oh Magic: The Gathering. Thanks to you, we were accused of gambling during lunch in high school. Thanks to you, we were once accosted by a religious nut who claimed we were practicing witchcraft. And thanks to you, we spent many a Friday night partaking in ‘Magic Fridays’ playing cards instead of hanging out with girls. Ah yes, the memories. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic, have decided to tempt us once again with an amazing version of the hyper-addictive card game for the iPad. Just when we thought we were out, they pulled us back in.
A real quick primer for those not in the know. Magic: The Gathering is a card game that first came out in 1993. You take the role of a ‘planeswalker’ (basically a mage) who has control of the elements represented by colors, and who does battle against another planeswalker. Each player takes their turn, with a deck full of all manner of spells they can play, including creatures (that can attack the other mage or other creatures), enchantments, sorceries, and artifacts. You power these spells with ‘mana’, represented by land cards (planes, swamps, forests, mountains, water) which you play and ‘tap’ to give you the power you need to cast your spells or summon your creatures. You use these spells and creatures to duel with your opponent.
Bolster your defenses.
Each mage has 20 hit points, and the game is won when one of the mages loses them all. That’s the basic idea behind the game, but there’s an amazing amount of variation in the cards and how they’re used and interact, plus a complicated set of rules that govern when and how you can play them. It can take a while to learn the game, but once you do it’s hard to stop playing. The word “addictive” doesn’t do the game justice. It’s affectionately called ‘cardboard crack’ by those who play the game, and it’s an apt description.
Magic 2013 for iPad does a rather impressive job of duplicating the experience of playing the actual game, and there’s quite a bit of content for you to delve into. It’s initially free to play, and even the free version gives you quite a bit, but the paid version is the version you’ll want to play, as it expands the game enormously. You can also pay, via in-app purchase, to unlock all of the various decks and cards, but it’s honestly much more fun and rewarding to unlock them yourself through playing the game and winning battles.
Prepare for war.
The game has a Campaign Mode in which you play against a computer opponent posing as some of the most infamous characters from the Magic universe. There are also ‘Encounters’ in which you wage battle against a certain preset AI strategy, and ‘Planechase Mode’ in which the rules are radically changed and decks are randomized. There’s also head to head multiplayer through Game Center, which is where the real fun lies. Playing against the computer is great and all, but playing against other people is what Magic has always been about. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of willing opponents to play against you either, which isn’t surprising.
As you play through the game, you choose a different colored deck before every battle (although you can very much use the same deck throughout if you want). Then you manage your deck (decide if there are certain cards you don’t want to use for that particular battle) and choose an avatar to represent you. Gameplay is done on a ‘tabletop’ with your opponent across from you on the top of the screen and your deck and cards on the bottom. You play a card by dragging it from your ‘hand’ and onto the gaming area. The computer automatically taps your lands for you when you play a spell, so you don’t have to worry about that.
How would you like that cooked?
Each player’s turn is divided into phases, when you’re allowed to do certain things like play particular kinds of cards or do battle. You also have the opportunity to pause the game if want to play a card in response to what your opponent is doing. Battle is done during the Combat phase, and you do this by dragging your warriors into the battle area. Creatures automatically attack the opposing mage, but during the ‘Block’ phase the other player may choose to use their creatures to defend them, and if that happens then the creatures battle in the middle of the screen. It sounds like a lot to take in and to try and manage–and it is–but thankfully the game has an excellent tutorial you can play through, and help buttons littered all over the place in case you get confused.
If we had any problems with the game it’s that sometimes the ‘Phases’ move a little too fast and can pass without us even noticing, but on the flip-side Battles seem to take too long. Also, some cards allow you to target other cards, and this can be a little tricky to do as ‘miss-taps’ happen a little too frequently and assigning blockers during combat can also be difficult. To help with this a little, you can change the views of the gaming area.
Wizards of the Coast has done a phenomenal job of bringing the tabletop game to the iPad. The gameplay, despite a few small problems, is incredibly well done and we honestly can’t think of a better way to do it. The graphics are amazing (all of the famous Magic artwork is incredibly gorgeous) and the sound effects and music are quite good. There’s a tremendous amount of material to play through, and there’s also the multiplayer mode to keep you playing for as long as you want. Taken as a whole, it’s almost as addicting as the card version. We’re still not sure if we should be thankful for that or not.