Published on August 9th, 2013 | by Adam Lee
Cards to the Face: Magic 2014 — Duels of the Planeswalkers
Magic the Gathering, the game even the most hardcore card-hater will recognise — admittedly, the lucky few actually making a living from the thing does help spread the word. We’ve had an on-off love affair for many years, but until recently I’d never thrust my hands into the digital version. Fully aware of the vast array of cards, combinations, and game breaking combos of its real-world counterpart, I donned my pointy hat and proceeded with trepidation.
For the uninitiated, players assume the role of super powerful mages known as ‘Planeswalkers’, able to summon mighty monsters or weave potent spells to defeat other enrobed fruitloops. It’s a bitter-sweet mix of luck and strategy — if you’re not launching pets across the room in frustration at least some of the time, you’re a better man than I.
Fortunately, Magic 2014 is a slice hewn from the giant all-encompassing cake that is Magic the Gathering; a leaner interpretation, happy to throw you a line rather than watch you drown in the immeasurable complexity of the full game. Instead of building a deck from scratch you’ll select from a handful of presets, crushing your enemies unlocks extra cards to tune them to your preference. Decks can also be unlocked for around 80p each if you don’t fancy the story mode, and if you’re feeling particularly fabulous £1 upgrades them to foil versions. Ooh, shiny!
I wish there were more to say about the campaign but it’s clearly just a primer before you get stuck into multiplayer, where the real meat and potatoes of this hefty card stew are found. Aside from end-of-chapter bosses, enemies appear to draw the same cards each time allowing you to adapt your deck or choose another to guarantee your progress. Perhaps in the interests of animal welfare, there’s no penalty for a restarting a battle, I would however suggest you strive stoically on. You need to learn to roll with the punches, and carrying bad habits into the merciless world of multiplayer is a recipe for disaster.
Multiplayer is where Magic 2014 really shines. All your hard-won (or shamelessly purchased) customisation and knowledge of your decks combine with luck and planning to give you a taste of why Magic is being played all over the world. Traditionally battles are mano-a-mano, but my personal favourite is two-headed giant — two players on each side opens the door for entirely different tactics. Those who play together regularly have the advantage here, but it can still be a lot of fun even if you jump in alone.
The final mode is sealed deck, an entirely new addition for Magic 2014. Constructing a deck from random cards is much closer to the actual experience you’d get playing the card game, so if you’re a stalwart of the series this is probably the one for you. Obviously luck plays a part here and you’ll only draw from your unlocked pool, so it’s something you’ll want to get stuck into after you’ve completed the campaign, and hopefully know what you’re doing. You can make some really interesting setups or, to be fair, total piles of donkey poop too! Thankfully, the game can automatically create a set out of what you’ve got if you’re not confident in your own creation.
While functional, the interface doesn’t offer a whole lot more than the card game on a digital surface. Fans will notice the faithful translation of the often outstanding artwork, some rare ones even have tiny animated parts — you’ll generally not notice but it’s a cute addition all the same. It won’t surprise you to learn there’s tablet version if that’s your preference, and it’s clearly made with touch screens in mind. Thankfully, it doesn’t cause any issues and mouse control is perfectly adequate. After all you’re basically just choosing between “use this card” or “block that card”.
If you’re looking for something with a lot of shiny graphics then this is probably the wrong game for you. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, or like your strategy with a hint of card, then it’s well worth trying. While there are quite a few strategy games around the same price mark, Magic 2014 has pedigree of over 20 years. Its balance and strategical depth is hard to beat, and you can bet it’ll keep going strong for the foreseeable future. As long as you’re mainly intending to throw your cards at some real opponents in anger you’ll have a good time. Just look at the single-player campaign as prolonged training. Oh, and try not sigh too hard at the ending cinematic…
Magic 2014 is available now for £6.99 on the Steam store.