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Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2013 Review

There have been a fair few video games based on collectible card games over the years, from Yu-Gi-Oh to Eye Of Judgement, Culdcept to Monster Rancher, from Pokemon Trading Cards even to that weird Phantasy Star Online 3: C.A.R.D Revolution game, though no CCG-based video games have been as universally well received as the Duels Of The Planeswalkers series.

For those of you unfamiliar with how Magic The Gathering The little attacks that cards do is about as graphical as the game, I'll give you a crash course. You make a deck of 60 or more cards, with your cards comprised of 3 main types: Creatures, Spells and Lands. Every turn you can play 1 land card, and a land card entitles you to 1 mana point of the colour the land card is, for example, a blue land card will be able to give you 1 blue mana a turn. Simple so far. You lose any mana you had at the start of your turn, though you can still use mana to cast spells during your opponent's turn. Everything in the game you can do (except play a land card) costs mana, so it's important to include enough in your deck that you don't run the risk on not drawing any. Creatures you summon using your mana have 2 numbers attached to them (as well as various effects, but more on this later): The first number represents the amount of damage they can do, and the 2nd number is the amount of damage they can take. If they take that amount or higher, they are discarded. When you attack, you attack your opponent directly and they can choose if their creatures will block your attacks or not. And finally there are spells. Spells can do anything from bring a creature back from the discards, to damaging a player directly, to simply making your monsters stronger.

The basics of Magic the Gathering are very simple, but the beauty of the game comes in the form of the cards themselves. Because of the way the game is designed, whatever's printed on the card takes precedent over the regular rules. What this basically means is that in every new expansion and every new card released they can come up with whatever new rule, or gameplay twist they like, making the game extremely expandable.

The game's been going for almost 20 years now, and has amassed over 20,000 cards by this point. That's a massive barrier to entry, but if there's one thing Duels Of The Planeswalkers has always done it's welcome in new players. The game has a great tutorial system and tooltips popping up every time you encounter a new rule on a card you haven't seen before. It's also very easy to refresh your memory on what certain card effects do with a simple zoom into the card and a click of the "More info" button. If you ever thought about learning Magic The Gathering, this would without a doubt be the way to do it.

If this looks confusing as hell... That's because it is.There are several modes with which to flex your throbbing, Magic willy, the chief among which is the Campaign mode. In Campaign mode, you battle various other Planeswalkers and in doing so, you unlock more cards for your deck as well as the deck the guy you just defeated was using. Unlocking decks is your main incentive for playing through the game, and trying out new decks is genuinely really fun. Each deck has it's own style of play and own mechanics to consider, whether it be to do damage to you opponent's health without requiring battle, swarming the field with lots of weaker creatures or even to mass heal yourself while you chip away at your opponent. The decks are pretty well thought out, but you have very limited capability to edit them, and NO ability to create your own deck.

This has been the case, and main issue, with all of the Duels Of the Planeswalkers games. The incredible joy of a Collectible Card Game, comes from accumulating a collection of cards and building a deck piece-by-piece, possibly over the course of months. You start out with shit cards, you earn or buy better cards, you slowly build and improve a deck until it's exactly the way you want it and then you feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I've played my fair share of CCGs in my time, and it's fantastic fun, which these games do not even attempt to represent. I understand the technical limitations of including 20,000 cards in a game is massive, but without it, the game is always going to feel less than it could have been. You don't even have the option of creating a deck from all the cards you've earned, only in editing the decks you've won off other Planeswalkers. It's sad, I suppose there's not much to be done about it right now.

Revenge mode has you face off against computer players as they use the decks you've won against you, really showing off the correct way to use the deck. Numerous challenges are available of varying types and Planechase is a new mode that sees you face off against 3 other people in a free-for-all with daft rules, a weird dice and a shitty middle-of-the-table massive card which does imbalanced stuff and is completely pointless and not fun at all. The modes, for the most part, seem crammed in and just there to pad out the game instead of actually adding anything of interest, which is a bit of a shame.

What you'll be glad to hear is that the game supports multiplayer. The multiplayer is, for the most part, fun and challenging with options or fighting 2v2 as well as mono-on-mono with another human being. It's an obvious addition, and by obvious I mean necessary, but even the multiplayer gets old fast. The main problem is, that as you're using a deck from a set pool, nobody will have anything that will surprise you, in fact, if you've been playing the game at all before you get into the multiplayer, you'll recognise the very specific deck the opponent is using from the very first creature they play, which removes any surprise element at all. Not knowing what your opponent could whip out at any moment is a joyous thing in CCGs, but you're robbed of that feeling here, as with so much in the game, it fails to deliver on an actual, real-life game of Magic.

I imagine that the majority of my grievances with the Games rarely last very long in Magic, but occasionally you get a bit of an mainly come from my relatively extensive real-life experience with CCGs. I've been to tournaments, I've had a shit deck and slowly built it up into something that can actually beat people, I've traded for awesome cards and I've traded for bad ones and I've seen the look in a person's eyes when you draw that one card that wins you the game that they never even knew you had. These games cannot translate these feelings and they don't even try. What the Duels Of The Planeswalkers games (this one included) do do, however, is provide an amazing entry point into the wonderful world of CCGs, and I applaud them for that. A lot.

If you've played Magic before you'll have fun with the game up until you unlock the last deck and try out the multiplayer then you'll probably be done with it, and if you've played a previous Duels Of The Planeswalkers before, then you've already played this, but if you're new to Magic The Gathering, or even to Collectible Card Games in general, then I can safely recommend that you add a point onto the score below, because the game's made for you. Literally. And if you're nerdy enough to break through the initial barrier-to-entry, you could just find a love for a whole new type of gaming, and I can't help but have some love for the game for that.






Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers is out now and available digitally for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC and IOS devices for around £7.00

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