I got in on the ground floor. Only a few sets released, and the game was still fresh in the mind of the public who were unclear as to whether this was a harmless diversion or a tool for worshipping the devil, and I had hundreds of cards in my possession.
I never had any really amazing or rare cards. I wasn’t enough of a collector. I didn’t spend the money. My friends did – Mark, Tim, David, Dean – and I managed to get some of their castoffs and to trade for those cards that I really wanted.
In college, I joined the Gaming Club where we, as you might expect, played games. Mostly, we played larger games – games with six or more people – that took forever and managed to give those who hadn’t spent hundreds on the game some chance of actually winning. Of course, there were some people who had spent thousands of dollars on the game.
There have been a number of games based on the Wizards of the Coast game, the earliest released in 1997. The only real success story came with Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers, an on-line card game designed with a level-playing field in mind. You earn extra cards through playing through the game’s campaign, but every player who has completed the game receives the same cards. Essentially, this version of the game reduces Magic the Gathering to its base elements of strategy. The focus is on the player and their skills rather than on the decks people have built (and whose building relies on the money that player has spent).
A few years later, enter Magic the Gathering: Tactics.
Magic the Gathering: Tactics takes the game into strategy-land. Much like other games that Sony offers through their Station game service, the game is focused on player vs. player combat within a small, restricted battlefield. As Drew suggested, it’s like playing chess, but with variables. Whee!
Actually, the game is a lot of fun. It’s addictive, just like the original card game, and the fact that the game is strategy-based – rather than completely card-based – gives the illusion that any player can beat any other player at any time.
Sadly, this is not the case.
What Magic the Gathering: Tactics does that Duels of the Planeswalkers did not, is that it returns the crux of the game back to money. Those who have the most money to spend on the game will do the best.
Partly, this has to do with the cards, of course. The rare cards are rare for a reason, and the abilities that they have often far outstrip the cost of casting them within the game. But that’s a problem (or “feature”) that is endemic of the non-virtual game as well.
Mostly, though, this imbalance has to do with two factors particular to the Tactics game.
1. The game gives you, automatically, one mana for every turn that passes. (For those who haven’t played, mana is what allows you to cast spells, and, as you might expect, Magic the Gathering is all about casting spells.) This means that, unlike in the real game, where every turn counts, and if you don’t play a spell from turn two then you’re at a severe disadvantage, you can load your spellbook with high-cost spells. Because the game is played on a chessboard (essentially), you can run from the other player’s creatures and spells until you have enough mana to cast your heavy hitters and then blow the other player out of the water.
2. Tactics introduces the leveling of your character. The wizard that is your avatar gains experience through playing in tournaments and through completing solo quests. The main draw here is that from level six up your character gets talent points that give your wizard individual bonuses, making each fight with another player unpredictable and unique.
Those two facets skew the game towards those who spend money.
In order to take advantage of the automatic production of mana, you need to have specialty cards, which means either buying random packs of cards yourself or buying individual cards from the auction house. Both of these avenues require money.
In order to level quickly and effectively, you should play all of the solo campaigns. The first one is free, but that only brings you to level six. To play the rest, you have to drop twenty bucks, and that’ll bring you up to level twenty-five.
Of course, I’ve spend twenty bucks to buy the solo campaigns. I’ve spent four dollars to buy a pack of cards (mostly with the idea of selling what I get at the auction house). And all of this is in order to make myself competitive in the basic game.
And that game is fun, no lie.
As to whether it holds up over time (and without spending more money), that is the question.