One of the best computer translations of a non-computer game ever made, MicroProse's Magic: The Gathering not only deserves a Hall of Fame status for its faithful rendition of Wizard of the Coast's blockbuster trading card game of the same name, but also for the numerous innovations that are only possible as a computer game. |
For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering pits two players, as powerful wizards, against each other in a magical duel, where each wizard can cast spells, summon monsters, and invoke various enchantments or curses. The game is turn-based, with each turn comprising several phases. The rules are too intricate to go into detail here (follow the link below to a good beginner's introduction to Fifth Edition Rules) – suffice it to say that there are five colors, i.e. disciplines of magic, each with its own characteristics appropriate to that element. Blue, for example, is water, which prefers illusions and guile. Therefore, there are many blue illusion spells, and 99% of all blue monsters you can summon are something that can swim. Green, on the other hand, represents Earth. You will therefore find many regeneration cards and forest creatures in this discipline. There are many types of cards: enchantments (which typically last indefinitely), creatures, instants and sorceries (discarded after use), lands (tapped for mana), and artifacts. This computer game version, in contrast to the horrendous BattleMage game from Acclaim which is based on the same license, truly brings all the fun and subtleties of the card game to life via an elegant point-and-click interface and excellent graphics that do justice to the cards' original intricate artwork.
Not content with giving players just a card game rendition, MicroProse wraps the entire card-game mechanics around an epic fantasy storyline, set in the world of Shandalar. As a novice spellcaster, your goal is to defeat the five powerful evil wizards who are wreaking havoc upon the land. After creating your character, you start with a random deck, which includes very standard (i.e. not very powerful) cards, mostly of the color of your choice. You amass more powerful cards by winning duels with wandering monsters, or taking on quests in the various villages using the multiple-choice interface that is based on a simplified version of the Darklands engine. The game also introduces a new concept of gems, which are difficult to obtain, but can be used as currency to trade for powerful, permanent artifacts that enhance your wizard's power (for instance, magical boots that let him walk quicker than normal). The five powerful wizards, one for each color, each reside in a heavily-guarded fortress. The bad news (and my only big gripe with the game) is that you cannot save in these castles (or any dungeon, for that matter). This means that you will have to replay many, many hours of stressful duels if you die right before getting to the room where the enemy wizard is in. Of course, defeating each of them gives you a great sense of accomplishment, and the best news is that all the minions of that wizard disappear forever from the game. Another nice touch is that every time you defeat a monster, you will see its boss lose some magical power (they are all psionically connected, it seems). It is therefore possible to gauge your progress, and see when the wizard is weakened enough for you to summon the confidence to attack his or her stronghold.
Virtually infinitely replayable, with gorgeous SVGA cards and backdrops, an extremely elegant interface, and challenging AI, Magic: The Gathering is a definite must-have for every strategy gamer's collection. If you have never played the card game before, this computerized version could turn you into a hapless addict. And if you're a fan of SimTex' Master of Magic which is also based on the card game, you're in for a real treat.
Note: For some strange reason, Hasbro has stopped selling this original game, but they still sell Spells of the Ancients, a great expansion pack that not only allows you to use additional cards, but also adds the much-needed multiplayer mode (called "ManaLink"), and an authentic "sealed deck" option that is used in real MtG tournaments. Duels of the Planeswalkers, the last and best of the MtG games, boasts a much-improved AI, more cards, and multiplayer modes. It is therefore the most "complete" of all MtG games, and so is well worth hunting down on on-line stores and auction sites. Check our Links page for possible sources.
Reviewed by: Underdogs