Magic: The Gathering Tactics Hands-On Preview
PS3 | PC
Magic: The Gathering Tactics box art
System: PS3, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: SOE Denver 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Sony Online Entertainment 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: TBA 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Pending 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Even more turn-based than usual!
by Andrew Groen

The world's most successful collectible card game (CCG), Magic: The Gathering, has enjoyed a multitude of successful enterprises. Not only has the original game been a runaway success for almost two decades since its introduction in 2003, but it has also spawned several successful video games.

Magic: The Gathering Tactics screenshot

The most important of these, Magic Online, was a simple computerized port of the classic game in every respect. All the rules stayed the same, and most importantly the game was technically “free to play” but forced you to buy cards for your deck in order to play. On PC this game has seen phenomenal success for a number of years. Magic even spawned a relatively successful game on Xbox Live Arcade, and a somewhat less successful game for the original Xbox.

However, several successful adaptations of the brand clearly isn't enough for Wizards of the Coast, because they're now set to release yet another game under the Magic banner. This newest iteration, Magic: The Gathering – Tactics, is slated to be a major shift for the series and will introduce new ideas for how Magic can be played. Fans of the brand should ready themselves. This is not the Magic you know and love, but a wholly different experience altogether.

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The first thing you need to know is that the classic Magic play-style, playing cards on a table, is out. In its place is an experimental tactical grid map similar in style to something like Final Fantasy Tactics. The game will be based on the Magic 2010 rule set, and thus, Planeswalkers are in. You begin with your Planeswalker on the field of play, and are given a set of several spells to choose from (your “hand”). The catch here is that creatures you cast become controllable creatures on the battlefield.

Magic: The Gathering Tactics screenshot

It's one thing to have a slip of paper on the table with 9/9 (strength/life) printed on it, but it's another thing entirely to see that massive creature physically manifested on the battlefield. A lumbering colossal beast is more impressive, and a floating angel is that much more majestic. In that regard this is a fantastic move for the series. There is a sort of action-figure excitement to seeing all of your creatures as real things.

However, hardcore MTG players may actually be a little put off by this latest incarnation. For starters, the game will be based on the new Magic 2010 rules and card sets. While Magic 2010 has proven extremely popular, it also means that the game will ship with a very basic set of cards. Wizards of the Coast knows better than anyone how to nurture and grow a fanbase, and starting from a reboot may be the only option. However, experienced players may be bored by the relatively basic play styles and cards.

Magic: The Gathering Tactics screenshot

Another thing that may perturb some of the classic MTG fanbase is that cards are not necessarily the same thing they are in the card game. Due to the new structure of phases and turns, it became necessary to change a lot of the cards to a new meaning. Most cards retain the essence, but you'll have to relearn some cards as you go. Even some rules have changed. For instance, a card like Oakenform now adds +30% to the power and toughness of the creature. Due to that change, it can no longer be stacked either. For the most part the cards retain their original essence, but there will certainly be times when you have to restructure old strategies to make them fit with the new rules.

It's hard to tell at this stage (and with just a short demo from which to judge), but combat seems markedly slower than even the card-based version. Much of this has to do with the fact that you now have to wait for characters to saunter to their new tile locations, and if they're attacking, actually act out the attack rather than simply tallying the points. This can get wearisome, and during the final minutes of my sample game I was left tapping my toe waiting for the game to end even though it had been obvious I'd win for quite a while.

The latest attempts to expand the Magic franchise across several video games have been only marginally successful, and judging from our play session, this game probably doesn't have the opportunity to gain mass appeal like Magic Online. All these new installments have had one thing in common: basic card set. Magic players crave thousands of cards and hundreds of strategies. If you don't give them the room to branch out and explore creative new strategies then they will lose their interest and go back to Magic Online. However, starting from square one may be a fantastic way to introduce new players to this great, storied franchise.

By Andrew Groen
CCC Freelance Writer


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