Magic the Gathering Online Review

Magic The Gathering, the collectible card game, has built itself a strong and loyal following over the almost ten years since its release.  Chances are you might have heard of the game at some point, even if you haven't played it yourself.  Now it has made the transition to the PC in a game that tries to preserve the best elements of the original.

When a game such as Magic The Gathering (MTG) makes its way onto the computer, there are generally two groups of people who will read its reviews.  The first group are those that are curious about the game and want to learn more about it.  The second are those who are fans of the game and want to see if the computer version captures the excitement of the original.  If you are in the second group, you might want to skip ahead a little as I explain the basics of the game to the first group

ScreenshotsMTG represents a duel between two wizards.  Each comes to the battle armed with a library of spells and powers, represented by a deck of cards.  The cards themselves are divided into two major groups: lands and spells.  Lands generate the power, called mana, needed to cast spells.  Spells can summon creatures to attack the other wizard, cause damage to the other wizard or his/her creatures in play, or even to bend the rules of the game.  It is this last characteristic of spells that make MTG such a dynamic game.  The game never plays the same way twice, because you never know what spells the other player will have in his/her hand and when they will be played.  Adding a further level of strategy to the game is the division of the lands into five spheres or colors of magic.  Lands produce mana of a certain color, and most spells require at least one point of colored mana.  Furthermore, each color of magic has its own character: white heals and protects, blue is the color of trickery, black is death and destruction magic, red magic is all fire and rage, and, finally, green magic is attune with nature and can be used to summon mighty creatures.

Play proceeds in turns, with players alternately given the chance to put cards from their hand into play.  The current player can also direct creatures he/she has in play to attack the other player, and the other player can use his/her creatures to try to block the attackers.  Any attacking creatures that are not successfully blocked then deal damage to the defending player.  Players start with 20 health each, and once this number is reduced to zero the player is defeated.

MTG is a collectible card game; players can try to build better decks by buying more packs of cards.  The cards are not distributed evenly, and some can be quite rare.  This means that you either need to spend a lot of money in pursuit of a card that you want or you'll need to trade for it with another collector.  To make things a bit easier for new players, game-ready decks are available that have been pre-balanced for play.  You can enjoy playing the game with one of these decks, but before long might be tempted to tweak it a bit by purchasing additional packs of cards.

MTG Online attempts to capture the feel of its card-based version by providing player matching at all levels from beginners games to tournaments.  The duels play out the same way as the card game (using digital versions of the cards) except that the computer is there to enforce the game's rules and resolve all of the spells for you automatically.  The card collecting and deck-building aspect of the game is present in MTG Online as well.  You can purchase decks, starter sets, and booster packs online, just as in the physical world.  Once purchased, you can 'open' your new pack of cards and use them to build a new deck.  There is even an online card folder that allows you to browse and admire your collection.  Should you want to trade for the cards you need, the game provides a trading room and allows players to swap cards online.

MTG is one of those games that is pretty straight-forward on the surface, but has a lot of strategic depth to it.  These types of games can be daunting for beginners to learn and master.  To make things easier for beginners, MTG Online provides a large rulebook for the game and online tutorials.  From there, players can go to a beginners' area and play against other newbies with pre-made decks provided by the game.  While the game does a good job of explaining the rules of the game to new players and giving them the opportunity to learn the game's basics, there is not much help in terms of learning game strategies.  When venturing into the regular play areas, beginners will be at a decided disadvantage to those who've played the card game in the past.  Some help with deck-building and game strategy would go a long way to bringing players into the game without experiencing too much frustration from losing too often in the competition rooms.