Magic: The Gathering, the oldest and most popular trading card game on the market, went digital in 2002 with MtG Online in a very successful operation that eventually garnered an estimated 300,000 accounts. Now, with Duels of the Planeswalkers it’s hitting the console market.
Magic’s concept is a simple one: two ultra-powerful sorcerers duke it out with summoned critters and slung spells. At first glance it seems like an ideal format for video games. Rare cards may be earned or bought, maintaining an artificial scarcity that otherwise wouldn’t exist online. With high speed Internet nigh ubiquitous, players can find opponents across the planet or in the next room, or play solo.
Recently, Wizards of the Coast announced they would be releasing Duels of the Planeswalkers for XBox 360 Live Arcade, as well as for Mac and Windows.
So, who are the Planeswalkers? I mentioned the ultra-powerful sorcerers dueling each other, right? Bingo. Last year the Planeswalkers Duel Decks were released, premade card sets tuned to the personalities and abilities of two Planeswalkers, Jace and Chandra. Because they’re already formulated with a single concept (e.g., all Red spells and monsters) they’re pretty much ready to play, taking some of the learning curve out of the game.
Much the same way, Duels offers a great opportunity for newbies to learn how to play both the online version and the "real" game. The built-in tutorial walks you through the game, and the lowest-level duel is so easy it’s practically a tutorial. During play, the program highlights only those cards you’re able to play at that moment. If you don’t have enough mana, a costly spell or monster in your hand won’t highlight. The game is easy to learn and intuitive — while I’ve played MtG before, I’m not much of an XBox user, yet I was slingin’ spells within 5 minutes. Furthermore, unlike other console adaptations of tabletop games, em>Duels is utterly faithful to the original rules, so once you’ve mastered the console game it’s a cinch to try out actual cards.
To learn more about Duels, check out Wizards’ Duels of the Planeswalkers site, though be warned there’s not much information there.
Here are some screen shots from the game: