MicroProse Unleashes ManaLink

Now all purchasers of MicroProse's lineup of Magic: the Gathering products can play each other online.

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Over the weekend MicroProse released the full version of ManaLink, available for the owners of the original Magic: the Gathering computer game who had not already purchased any of the following add-ons that have been produced. Now all purchasers of MicroProse's lineup of Magic: the Gathering products can play each other online.

Recently MicroProse released Duels of the Planeswalkers, which included the original Magic: the Gathering game, about 80 new cards, and the ManaLink expansion module at a street price of US$50. Previous owners of Magic: the Gathering can still buy Planeswalkers as an expansion set and get a $15 rebate. This left many to debate whether or not it is worth paying the equivalent of $35 for an expansion set of only 80 cards and ManaLink, which can be downloaded for free anyway.

The problem is apparent right at the outset; the full ManaLink package is 60 megabytes in size, which does not include the Total Entertainment Network (TEN) front-end software, which is required if you want to participate in the online ranking and opponent-finding system. The Magic portion of TEN is free, but you'll have to tack on another seven megabytes of download time for the software. So is paying more money worth not having to bother downloading 67 megabytes? That's up to you. Note that owners of the first expansion, Spells of the Ancients, only needed to download a fraction of that amount.

Besides TEN, ManaLink offers several other ways to play: on a LAN or equivalent network setup, through a direct modem connection, or by using a null modem cable. For the sheer purposes of fun and finding random opponents, playing on TEN is best for now.

So what is it like? ManaLink allows you to sort through a list of online players in a number of different zones, organized by name, availability, and score. The scoring system is an arbitrary numbering scheme that awards points based on wins and losses. Each player starts out with 1600, and depending on the circumstances, a single duel will be worth around 15-25 points. TEN keeps track of the players' records.

Dueling someone is easy, just pick someone out of the list and hit the "invite" button. If he accepts your invite, you can then set the rules of the duel, and the other player must accept that as well. If all goes well the game will jump into the dueling engine, which Magic players are most familiar with. You can choose between any number of pre- or post-generated decks, as long as they follow the rules agreed upon earlier (typically these are official tournament decks like Type 1 or Type 1.5).

Unfortunately, due to Net latency and server lag, duels may be a bit slow, since there are any number of places the player must pause and think or delay the game. Every once in a while the two players slip out of synchronization that cannot be recovered and you'll have to "unregister" or forfeit the game prematurely. MicroProse, however, is working to correct the various problems; ManaLink is already up to version 1.2.

So has the wait been long enough? Some think that the online portion of Magic: the Gathering may be two years too late, but for now it's here, and it works. In the near future there will be real tournaments of various types and more exciting things to come. For now it's not too shabby.

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