Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013
Magic 2013 might just be the iPad's best card game.
You've almost certainly heard of Magic: The Gathering before, but like many will have viewed the series with either irrational fear or suspicion. It's far too complex, you might think. It's too hard-line fantasy. There's no way of learning how to play without looking rather stupid against an experienced opponent. Fortunately, software card games have come a long way in introducing newcomers to the finer points of the strategy involved, and Magic 2013 is one of the best yet.
We'll start with the very basics. Magic 2013 is a turn-based card game, with each player passing through a series of phases during each of their turns. From the selection of cards that you've drawn, you'll first need to lay out those representing land, as they provide you with the magical energy required to cast spells and power your combat. Next, you'll need to choose and prepare your combat cards, before finally entering the combat phase where your carefully-laid plans are put into action.
Were it purely as simple as that, the game would frankly be rather boring, and so you and your opponents have to make careful choices about when to strike, or when to play the long game and add enhancements to your active combat cards. You also can't play your combat cards immediately (unless they're a special 'Instant' card) and so your opponent almost always has a chance to revise their strategy on the fly and counter your attack.
Magic thus becomes a constantly evolving game of cat-and-mouse as you seek to stay alive while also eroding your opponent's health bar. If things are going badly, you can use one of your active creature cards to block an incoming attack, although that will damage the unit in the process and potentially destroy your offensive capability.
It's taken us three paragraphs simply to outline the very fundamental basics of the game, and yet we haven't even scratched the surface of Magic's depth. Auras and enchantments add further magical effects to the cards you have in play. Different flavors of creatures carry unique benefits and disadvantages, evolving the strategic combat even further.
There's a strategy for every situation, and one of the joys of Magic is witnessing your opponent pull off the kind of off-the-wall quick-thinking you don't believe you could ever have dreamt up yourself. Store it in your personal mental armory, you never know when you'll need it in another session.
The single-player campaign involves working your way through an increasingly difficult series of opponents, unlocking new and more powerful cards for your deck along the way. Challenges place you in seemingly impossible scenarios with the job of fighting your way back to an unlikely victory. The Revenge mode simply ups the power of the opponents you've bested in the campaign in order to really test your skills, while Planechaser is a complex beast where dice-rolls determine player actions.
Suffice to say, if you're looking for depth and variety, Magic represents fantastic value for money, even taking into account the game's ten dollar price-tag. And this is before we've even discussed the multiplayer aspect of Magic. With full ELO ranking support for both open-house random battling, or the more complex multiplayer Planechase mode, this is a game with potentially endless longevity.
This is an immensely deep and rewarding game, and even if you're an inexperienced deck gamer who eyes the genre warily, then we urge you to at least consider trying out the free portion of Magic 2013. The artwork is exquisitely beautiful, the music is every fantasy dream come true, and while it may be a complex game, it also has a very solid tutorial. If you can pull yourself along the initially steep learning curve, we'll be amazed if you find a more satisfying game this year.
The free app offers up just enough content for you to make an honest decision about whether this is the sort of game for you. If we had any complaints about the game it's that we would like to have a way of speeding up our AI opponents phase progress, and the game occasionally forgets to stop showing you a hint that you've very nicely asked it to stop showing you. But these are easily overlooked considering the overwhelming amount of value the game offers.
In much the same way that certain people will rage against the Kindle out of of principle, favoring lovely musty-smelling books, there will always be those who prefer the intimately social experience of playing deck games face-to-face. But there's no denying that tablets offer a unique opportunity to both breathe new life into the genre, as well as open it up to a new audience. Certainly Magic 2013 is the best game of its kind that we've played on the iPad.
What's Hot: The best of its kind with beautiful artwork, deep strategic gameplay, endless variety and a play-style for everyone.
What's Not: Tutorial aside, it can still be a steep learning curve for newcomers. We also found some obstinate hints that wouldn't disappear!