Wizards of the Coast has released a new phone app spin-off of their world-famous game, called Magic the Gathering: Puzzle Quest. At first glance, it looks like a game I’d ignore when someone suggests it on Facebook. In fact, I ignored it for several days before my interest was piqued. Is it really any better than Candy Crush? I decided that I wanted to find out.
Just like Candy Crush, and other match-three games, the basic mechanic is the swipe. Swipe to switch two orbs with each other, to make a match of at least three of one color. What I wasn’t prepared for is turns. You take turns with an AI enemy, and you play on the same field. The goal? Gather mana to cast M:tG cards!
Basic Magic match mechanics form the basis. Both the player and AI have a lifepool, and library. Gather mana, cast spells, win the duel. But the mechanics are a little more complex than I thought they could be. Here are the critical differences:
- You play as an Origins Planeswalker: Lilliana, Jace, Nissa, Chandra, or Gideon.
- As you progress, you level your Planeswalker up, unlocking Planeswalker abilities that use “loyalty” to cast.
- Decks are made up of ten cards, with three types; Creature, Support, Spell.
- Creature cards are similar to the card game, they deal damage and protect you from harm.
- Support spells include artifacts, enchantments, and field effects. When one is played, a mana orb turns into a counter. Match it with like-colored orbs to destroy it!
- Spell cards work a lot like the card game, too.
- There aren’t any Land cards, instead, match orbs to gain mana (and loyalty!).
On your turn, you organize your spells, with the next spell you want to cast at the top. Then you can activate one of your Planeswalker’s skills, if you have enough loyalty. Finally, you make a match, which pumps your mana. If you get enough mana, your spell is automatically cast. Don’t worry, mana pools don’t drain between turns! After you gather mana, all of your creatures attack, except those unable to. Then your turn is over, and the AI gets to go.
There are a few problems as you go, however. Little hangups that you’d never have in the card game:
- You can’t block without a Defender, or the ability Vigilance. You can’t choose to not attack, so it can be hard to defend yourself. You also can’t assign defenders. Bummer!
- You can only play one color. So far, I haven’t found any way to mix colors for synergy.
- Each Planeswalker has color disadvantages. You can’t just go for good match-3-actions. Gideon, for example, gets less mana from red and black orbs, but sometimes, those are the only matches possible!
- The 10-card limit makes it hard to find a good mana balance, a bane in every Magic format.
- Sometimes the program will suggest matches. But just one, with no preference for color (dis)advantage. It can literally suggest the worst match on the board.
- The “RPG” part is rubbish. The story doesn’t progress significantly, it’s the same story we’ve been seeing all year from Origins, and it’s not very baked in. It feels slapped on top of a game for flavor, but it tastes bad.
Finally, in-app purchases are actually not too bad. you can get in-game currency easily enough, and if you save it up, you can get great deals. No need to spend real money, unless you’re in a hurry to max out everything, which I think is stupid anyhow. If you do decide to make a purchase, the first (and only) purchase initially is a whopping $8.99, more expensive than many of the best paid apps on the market, especially puzzle games.
- Is it fun? For me, yes.
- Is it for everyone? Probably not.
- Is it easy to begin? Yes.
- Is it easy to play without in app purchases? Totally.
- Is it okay for kids? Use your judgement. Some card art is gross/scary/violent.
In the end, it’s a fun way to swipe around. Not overwhelmingly better than other match-3 games, but much more dynamic. There’s basically no risk involved, either, because it’s a free app. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, unless matching games make you run away screaming.