Digital Distraction: Magic: The Gathering Tactics Review

There's no doubting that Magic: The Gathering is a monster of a game. The collectable card game has been going strong since its inception in 1993 and shows no signs of stopping. There have been many videogame adaptations of Magic; some bad, some woeful and some of them playable. Magic: The Gathering - Tactics takes a fresh approach, rather than being straight port of the classic card game it recreates many of the card game’s mechanics in a turn based spatial combat arena adding an extra dimension of strategy.

What is it with giant spiders? Why is it never giant woodlouse?
Tactics takes the mechanics of the original card game tenuously. You take the role of a Planeswalker, a powerful wizard who can summon creatures and cast spells. Your Planeswalker can move around the world and make melee attacks against the enemy. You use your deck of spell cards to summon creatures and then take control of them and move and attack with them as you see fit. In addition, you have access to direct effect spell cards such as healing, lightning bolts and various buffs. All this magic is powered by mana that comes in five different flavours; different spells require different amounts of each type of mana. In the physical game mana is gained by playing land cards but in this version mana simply regenerates at the beginning of your turn based on the construction of your deck. Between games you get to build you own decks based on new cards that you win or have bought with real money.

Watching Magic's creatures coming to life is fun but it soon gets dull.
The game's problem is that everything about it is average. The graphics are functional but look around six years old. The sound is weak and the sound effects of the various spells and attacks quickly become annoying. But worst of all mechanics of the game lack any real depth and quickly devolves into using everything in your arsenal as soon as it becomes available. This appears particularly odd when you compare the level of strategy available in the physical card game. An attempt to add a layer to the Magic mechanics has resulted in removing much of the tactical depth that is present in the original. Gone are the difficult decisions of when to attack and when to hold back your creatures to defend. Gone are the attempts to combine effects and spells with devastating results. Also missing are the instants; in a traditional game of magic instant spells can be cast at any time, even during your opponent’s turn. Instants exist in Tactics, but can only be used in your own turn removing the ability to react to your opponent.

Considering the game is called 'tactics' the game has very few tactical options.
Tactics is a free-to-play game, well at least that is what you are led to believe and this is the biggest issue with the game. You’re not going to get far in this game without acquiring some more powerful cards for your spell decks. Cards can be won by completing the initial single player campaign or by completing challenges. There are several campaigns available to play but these must be purchased. The initial campaign is relatively short and can be completed in a couple of hours. Attempting to gain cards in this manner is a grind, theoretically you could take this approach but it will take months to build up a usable selection. The quickest way to obtain cards is to buy them using cold hard cash and they’re not exactly cheap. This means that the multilplayer aspect of the game is completely dependant on how much the player is willing to spend, if you go into a match without buying better cards there is a good chance you are going to be completely massacred by an opponent who’s willing to stump up the cash.

Your deck is going to be pants unless you spend some real money.
Magic: The Gathering – Tactics isn't a terrible game, it's just terribly average. Nothing about it feels particularly new or innovative and if it didn’t have the Magic name attached to it would quickly vanish into obscurity. What is terrible is the implementation of the free-to-play concept. It is nothing short of a blatant lie and though it is possible to play the game without paying any money it would take months or even years of grind to bring the game up to scratch.
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  1. Wow... that one slipped under the radar; sadly, I can see why. Thanks for the review! And also, thanks for the follow on!

    1. It was originally released in January 2011 but it became available on Steam only last month, which is what brought it to my attention.