This isn’t the first Duels of the Planeswalkers and I’m pretty certain it won’t be the last. Since Magic: The Gathering has taken a leaf out of EA’s book and started producing annual updates, they hit a rich vein of form and brought the hugely successful card game to the digital masses.
With each release the core has sensibly remained unchanged. This is seen in the continuing Duels tagline that singles out this particular branch of Wizard’s empire and the faithful recreation of the physical game itself. Not wishing to pander to a more casual audience or to try and make themselves more appealing to the console generation, it is unchanged. Not only is it unchanged, however, but it’s also wonderfully adapted for the joypad. Ample consideration has been paid to allow both experienced players to play swiftly and yet the novices to have full information on cards and abilities easily without diving through reams of menus.
And it is needed to begin with, for as quick and intuitive as Magic can become once you get a feel for you deck, it can prove a little overwhelming initially. Magic is a card game in which you battle another player – a Planeswalker – by playing the monsters and spells in your decks against theirs. Such powerful fiends need to be paid for though, and your deck also contains resource cards that are required for casting. Success is then a blend of having the best cards at home in your deck and hoping that luck will present you with the right cards at the right time. Though that may sound as though your success is in the lap of the gods, Magic is just as much about calculated risks and tactics as it is praying for the right card at the right time.
The basic rules are about as simple as can be. Starting with seven cards, each turn you draw another and then are able to play a single resource card and as many spells or creatures are you are able to pay for with your resources (which are refreshed each go). Most typical cards are soldiers, animals or supernatural beings with a damage and defensive value, any of which already in play can then be targeted at your opponent. In return however they may block with their own cards, allowing them to absorb the attack in order to protect themselves. The clash may wipe out one of both cards and so often a game of cat and mouse ensues as players seek to gain the upper hand without risking their assembled forces. Striking too early can often see both sides constantly scratching around with few options on the table whilst the more cautious games can see dozens of cards in play and waiting for their moment.
Knowing what is contained within your deck is key to everything. Initial games will no doubt see spells cast to see what they do as much as anything else, but as time goes on you begin to get a feel for what is possible. At that point the real depth of Magic becomes apparent. Knowing which cards to play early, what monsters are more effective when, which spells compliment others, all take it from a game of snap to a far more tactical one.
The sheer range of opponents you are pitted against really show this strength off. There are those who prefer vicious flying monsters, others focus on destroying your cards before going for the kill, whilst further still favour hitting hard and fast. Each will most definitely provide a challenge, and in the same way it takes a few games to get used to your own deck the same can be said with theirs. Knowing just what they are capable of and knowing how to counter them is almost as important as the offensive strength of your own cards.
Those who have played previous years’ offerings will definitely notice the increase in difficulty. This can lead to frustration at times, but the rewards for each victory sees new cards for your decks unlocked, increasing your potential. It’s a clever mechanism to slowly keep you hooked, pulling you further down the otherwise rudimentary campaign trail. Basically animated Planeswalkers will introduce themselves during each major battle but otherwise presentation is limited and perfunctory.
On balance, this is a reasonable sacrifice. Once I did wish for fully animated combat, even if it were only of a Pokemon Stadium level, but the level of interruption that would introduce would soon become untenable. Developers Stainless Games have done a fantastic job of creating a frictionless experience, understanding the balance between presentation and the flow of a general game.
They also include an interesting variety of games to tickle your fancy, too. Away from the traditional one-on-one there are also specialised challenges and a bizarre four-way battle. The latter is sadly a little too much, introducing locations and random dice events that sees chains of events happen with very little involvement from yourself. It’s an interesting addition but removes the strategy that I found so compelling in the other modes.
That in itself proves what has been Magic’s strength. The reason it has been so successful over the years can be put down to its core gameplay which is extremely simple. The depth and strategy comes from the cards themselves and the order in which they arrive, the random nature of which mean that no two games are the same.
Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013 is a must for fans of the series, providing a large array of decks for comparatively next to nothing compared to the price of their physical counterparts. For those new to the world then don’t dismiss it; for a small investment a very moreish world of strategy games could open up to you.