Quick Thoughts on Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers

Recently, I’ve spend some time on the new Magic: The Gathering port for X-Box Live Arcade. I have played Magic a couple of years ago for quite some time. I even organized a Magic tournament. I got out when I moved to Cologne due to lack of people to play with. By the way: the nice thing was that I was able to get rid of all my cards and recover some of my considerable investments. Go non-virtual goods!


“It’s a kind of Magic…”

I know there has been an Online PC version of the game but I never liked it. It was too much like the real game. Which is characterized by over-zealous opponents collecting obscure cards you’ve never seen before to pull off ridiculous, devastating combos again and again. In oder to keep up, you need to constantly research and invest money. Meh.

That’s why I really like the X-Box live version. It’s quite a smart product. You get a certain amount of very basic pre-constructed decks and you “level” them up as you win. Each win earns you a new, powerful card you can upgrade your deck with. Nice RPG mechanic they did there. You still get a sense of collecting stuff but it is restricted to casual levels.

There are a couple of interesting articles from the Magic people on what the thoughts behind the game were. One focuses on how the AI works which also struck me as I was playing it. It is a very technical article but quite interesting if you are into programming AIs. From a game design standpoint, the other article is more interesting. It deals with how the card game was adapted for play on a console. Some mechanics were simplified (like Mana tapping, which happens automatically). Also, the cards were chosen carefully so their mechanics work well on a console interface. I really liked both articles as each of their choices clearly enriches the final experience.

Looking at the big picture, it is a very smart move to adapt an such existing game. Magic has received 15 years of play and has been polished to almost perfection. The game’s creators have a huge team of designers who have a extremely good idea of how the game works. It shows. Even with the simple cards of the pre-constructed decks, you get a quite fun, challenging experience.

On the other hand, there are some things that just don’t work hand so well on a console. Especially the fact that players may respond to each other’s actions work intuitively in real life but requires you to jump through a bunch of hoops on XBLA. So right now, there is a 5 second (or so) timer every time somebody does something. During that time, the other player may hit a button if he wants to respond. It works well but it makes the game much more slow-paced than in real life. And that’s even though don’t you have to shuffle anymore. It’s not a deal breaker but you can tell that the game wasn’t born on this medium.

But they did a good job all things considered. The result is quite exciting and I recommend it if you are into such stuff. I have some thoughts and observation on the availible decks, I might post soon.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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