Friday, February 10, 2012

2011 Games of the Year #3 - Magic 2012

As Anthony put it, "The game so nice you bought it twice!"

Many months ago, Xbox Live had a sale that dropped Magic 2012's price down to $5, and so I jumped on it. I've always been intrigued by Magic: The Gathering, but it's quite a complex system, which makes it a bit intimidating. And when you're a nerd like me, you're easily intimidated. I had bought the previous version, and I found it fun, but frustrating, as it was pretty buggy. Interesting enough that I was willing to give the new version a half a shot, and boy am I glad I did.

The game is...well, it's Magic. But there are a few things that the game does particularly well to bridge the gap between Magic neophyte and total nerd-bomb.

The first thing is the decks. They start you with just two decks to choose from, and they're fairly straight-forward decks. That's not to say they don't have their own intricacies and nuances, they're just a little easier to spot. As you play the game and win matches, you unlock more and more decks, with escalating levels of complexity. So by the time you win the last few decks, you've learned enough to actually be able to use them effectively.

The second bridging factor is the use of "puzzles." The advanced puzzles are mostly exercises in frustration, but the first 6 or 7 are learning tools. They help you learn about some of the more common keywords and activated abilities, and teach you (often through trial and error) how the different cards work together, and how to generate synergies. Some of it can be frustrating, but it's pretty damn gratifying when your plans come together perfectly.

It's got online multiplayer which is entertaining enough, but the most fun I've had playing the game is playing local multiplayer, using the Archenemy feature. Archenemy is a 3 vs. 1 game, where the solo player gets bonus "schemes" that give him a distinct advantage. Only by the three players working together can they defeat the Archenemy, and Nick, Eddie and I have spent several hours working together to try to take down the super-villain.

In Steam's end-of-the-year sale, the PC version of Magic went on a deep enough discount, and enough of my friends purchased it that I grabbed a second copy so that I could play with them. And in fact, I purchased a third copy that I gave to Scooter, so we could play some cross-continent battles. They've come out with three deck packs that offer two new decks apiece, and I've purchased all three for PC, as well as two of the three for 360.

It's a good strategy game that takes some time to get the hang of, but when you do, it's a lot of fun. And the games are short enough that you don't have to play for four hours to feel like you did something. I'm looking at you, World of Warcraft.

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