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Most of you reading this review probably play the card game version of Magic: The Gathering. So do I. And I knew that it was a complicated game, but I never knew it was THIS complicated.
For those of you who haven't played the game before, it's a 'collectable' card game. There are thousands of different cards (not just 52) and some are much more rare than others. These cards represent lands, magic spells and creatures, all of which you must use to kill you opponent before he kills you.
Much of the strategy goes into designing your deck, because you can put any of the thousands of cards you wish into that deck (within certain rules). Then your deck is shuffled, and it's off to battle.
With thousands of different cards, the rules are pretty complex. My friends and I play pretty informally, which allows gameplay to progress at a reasonable and fun rate. Come to think of it, the rules are VERY complex, if you follow and understand all of them. I salute Microprose for creating a workable Magic engine at all. A truly impressive feat.
Microprose also added a whole adventure scenario in the land of Shandalar and a dozen new cards called the 'Astral Set' which are unique to the computer version of the game. In Shandalar, you can wander about, explore dungeons, fulfill quests and venture from town to town. Most creatures, humans, and others that you run into during your travels will want to try and defeat you - a duel, Magic style, your deck against theirs.
You begin with a fairly sorry collection of spells and lands. But you can take some of the cards (spells) from defeated foes and either sell them in town, or include them in your deck. You can also buy and trade cards in town. Eventually you will need a lean, mean deck to challenge the more powerful creatures and the 5 wizards who are trying to rule Shandalar.
The graphics during the duel look great (best run in 1024x768 in high color mode). All the original artwork from the cards is there, along with some terrific backgrounds. The overland part of Shandalar has more primitive graphics, however.
The sound is very basic, with sound effects for some actions and many spells. There is no background music at all. I actually prefer to play with the sound disabled.
Current Magic players will find the computer version fairly easy and can just dive right in. You already know how to play, and you have a good idea of how to build a deck. I found all the picky rules to be a bit irritating. There are more 'phases' of play than I ever knew, and after each one you have to click on the 'done' button. Done. Done. Done. Sometimes you must click on it dozens of times for a single turn. The Magic engine runs well, getting (nearly) all of the picky rules correct and the AI is an adequate, but not brilliant player.
Newcomers, however, will be intimidated by the 200 page instruction manual. This is 14 pages longer than A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking which chronicles the physical history of the entire universe. The online tutorials are well done, reducing the learning time to only 100 hours or so. But hey, its actually cheaper to play than the card version.
Another problem is that the current version is full of bugs and errors. If you buy this game, the first thing you need to do is download 2 megs worth of patches from the Microprose web site. This fixes more than 50 known problems with the game. I know it was a difficult game to program, but still... shame on you Microprose for releasing it too soon.
Despite these problems, it's still a good game for Magic junkies. The new adventure scenario adds a little depth to the game. You get to play with expensive cards without causing them wear and tear, and the promised Internet patch will let you duel with your distant friends. The general public should probably avoid this one though.
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