The incredibly popular card game Magic has spawned yet another computerized offspring, but this time it's the long-awaited adaptation from MicroProse. With the recent release of two translations of the same card game, it seems as if Magic's popularity will continue to grow as it moves from a printed to an electronic medium.
For those of you who have never played the card version, here's the story: You assume the role of a wizard with a deck of magical cards consisting of creatures, spells, and mana-rich lands. The more lands you control, the more mana (magical energy) you have at your disposal, and therefore the more powerful spells you can cast. OK, it's not an easy game to learn, but herein lies the real beauty of MicroProse's translation: Anyone who has played the card game can jump into MicroProse's adaptation immediately. For the beginners, MicroProse has included a detailed tutorial that will get you up and running with Magic in under an hour, an amazing feat given the complexity of this game.
MicroProse's translation allows two types of gameplay: Duel or Campaign. In the Duel mode, you match your custom-built decks against a computer opponent or simply choose from over 60 pre-built decks included in the game. Campaign mode allows for more variety in gameplay. As with most fantasy-based games, your ultimate goal is to defeat the supreme embodiment of evil. In this case, the planeswalker Arzakon wants total control over the land of Shandalar and it is your mission to stop him. The game itself is similar to most hack-and-slash favorites: You travel around Shandalar, visit towns, explore ruins, and so forth. However, the biggest difference lies in the combat system. Instead of slaying a rival dragons and wizards, you challenge them to a game of Magic cards. If you win, you get more cards to add to your deck; if you lose, your opponent takes a card from your deck.
Although this version is much better than Acclaim's translation of Magic, there are still some disappointing aspects. It is often difficult to control where your character is moving on the large map. The gameplay is rather jerky and it is often difficult to avoid combat. Also, as in many other fantasy games, gameplay is rather repetitive. Every creature you happen upon (and let me tell you, Shandalar is packed with creatures) wants to challenge you to a card duel. It would have been nice to meet some friendly souls on the roads of Shandalar. However, the most disappointing feature in Magic: The Gathering is the lack of multiplayer support. People are just more fun to play than computers, and although MicroProse promises a multiplayer support add-on later this year, it may be too late to satisfy the incredible number of Magic players who have been impatiently waiting for this game.
These features (or lack thereof) don't take much away from the fun of MicroProse's Magic: The Gathering. This translation looks beautiful, plays decently, and has all the qualities - except the ability to play with other humans - that made the card game a hit.