Collectible Card Game Week: Magic 2013

The second recent event that prompted CCG Week here was the release of Magic 2013 (a/k/a “Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013”) for the iPad. At long last the granddaddy, the O.G., the 800-pound gorrelephant in the room, Magic: The Gathering, is now playable on my iPad.

There was no way I wasn’t getting this, honestly. I don’t play it anymore, and I got rid of my cards a while back, but I still love Magic. I rate it a 10 on BGG and would possibly rate it higher if I could. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, it’s by far the game I’ve had the most fun with. When I got my very first starter deck I carried it around in my pocket, adoring the fact that it was made to look like a little book. It really felt like I’d stumbled into something special.

Magic 2013 isn’t completely Magic: The Gathering. For one thing, there’s limited deckbuilding in it. There are a number of pre-constructed decks and you gradually unlock cards in them that you can swap in and out of those decks. So you can tune each deck a little, but there’s no way to straight up build your own deck. A lot of folks are unhappy with this, but for my purpose, it’s fine: I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to do deckbuilding anymore, so this is a good compromise for me.

The gameplay is pretty solid, though the interface took me a lot of getting used to. Since there are various points in the game where you can take actions that affect the game, even on an opponent’s turn, being able to jump in and do so is key. The game handles this by allowing you to pause the action to presumably play or activate cards, but often when I tried to do so it would tell me that I couldn’t do that action at that time, and it wasn’t clear to me when I could. I’ve worked things out a little, but it’s still kind of annoying a lot of the time.

The other thing is the graphics overload. I realize that today’s gamers, when they’re not playing FPSes in which everything is some shade of black, slate, ebony, charcoal, or dark gray, demand constant visual stimulus, so it seems like everything on the screen glows, sparkles, vibrates, or does some other thing. You can turn off “battle animations” but cards with the “Flying” attribute will continue to delicately hover on-screen and certain other spells will put on light shows when cast. I kind of wish you could turn all that off as well. More to the point, there’s a LOT of space going to waste on the table, and though you can swing the camera around to look at the scene from your opponent’s point of view, be prepared to do some squinting.

The cards themselves are interesting as well. I haven’t kept up with Magic in several years, and it shows; apart from basic lands, I am completely unfamiliar with every card I’ve seen so far, except for the Master Decoy. I’m also unfamiliar with a lot of the mechanics, even the ones that are things I used to know, only now with new names. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to zoom on a card and find out what these abilities are.

There’s been some talk about it not working well on an iPad 1, resulting in a lot of crashes. I’ve certainly experienced a fair share of this. There’s some kind of multiplayer thing called Planechase that bombs the second I try to play it. That’s not so big a deal, as I’m not that interested in multiplayer Magic anyway. However, I’ve also gotten crashes in regular games, even when shutting down all other apps first. The other day I was busy getting my ass handed to me by an AI named Odric when I cast Rain of Embers in a feeble attempt to delay my doom. As soon as Rain of Embers began its light show the game crashed. I tried again this morning and this time my game survived Rain of Embers and even Flamebreak and I won! But then after the match ended, it crashed. Word is, WOTC is working on stability updates, so this may settle down soon. Or I’ll just buy an iPad 3, whatever.

And yup, you can play online, though only in realtime (which makes sense; asynchronous Magic wouldn’t work very well.) I haven’t yet done that, but I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

You can install it for free and play a few matches, and then unlock the whole thing for ten bucks, which is not a bad deal. (You can also pay an additional buck to unlock all the cards, but that seems kind of dumb, since you unlock those by playing the game.) I went ahead and dropped the sawbuck for the full game, even with the crashiness, because I figure that will be worked out in the fullness of time.

I’m really thrilled to be able to play Magic again, even in this slightly limited fashion. It’s a great game and this is a nice way to have access to it without having to spend too much money or store a bunch of cardboard. Definitely check it out.

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