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If you were just a little too old for the Pokemon boom, then it’s likely you remember its precursor, Magic: The Gathering. It may not have been the first game to shake kids out by their ankles, but it was a cultural phenomena. The game has continued to grow and thrive in the back of game shops and has been given digital makeovers in the past. The game has made its way to the iPad as Magic 2013. It is an effective translation of both the assets and liabilities of the physical card game.

Making the object digital

Magic defined the physical object micro-transaction, you could get just a starter deck, but often players with hundred of booster packs and rare gold foil cards would end up winning games. Translating this to a digital game isn’t an easy feat. No one is going to want to keep shelling out three or four bucks every couple of weeks for bits.

In-app purchases might not be the same exact economic model, but anyone keen on handing bagfuls of money to Wizards of the Coast can do so. Although Magic 2013 is free, to get anything more than the early campaign levels, you’ll need to pay $9.99. You can spend a lot of time unlocking full decks playing through the campaigns, but you can also unlock full decks for $0.99. For some reason each deck can also be converted to have a gold foil appearance for another $0.99. The latter is likely for nothing more than bragging rights when playing online.

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Skip the shuffling, keep the cards

If you’ve played Magic with cards (or any of the previous digital incarnations), you will be able to pick up and play Magic 2013 pretty easily. If you haven’t, there are extensive tutorials if you’re still interested. The turn structure might be the only facet of gameplay that feels counterintuitive. Rather than giving each step in your turn either an action or a pass button, each step is given a timer with the exception of picking creatures for combat. There are a few other places where the timer doesn’t seem to function either. It’s a weird oversight, as if half the development team thought that it was making a game with timers and the other side missed the memo.

The game has an extensive campaign. There are four modes to the campaign you can play through, though this is only if you have the full version of the game. Even after buying the full version, some of this remains locked until you make more progress in the game. The challenge mode is a puzzle variant of the game, and sets up scenarios that you have to play though. Strategy fans will get a big kick out of this mode. You will find in some of the campaign proper missions that you get opponents with scripted card orders.

Multiplayer may be the most interesting to people, and both standard and Planechase modes are included. I had a hard time finding games on the server for the latter, though. The games are connected through Game Center, which should make getting a game together pretty easy.

Pretty like a postcard

Magic has always had beautiful card art. Magic 2013 not only has all of the card art, capable of being blown up and zoomed into on the iPad’s Retina display, but also a lot of great art just in the loading screens. Fans of fantasy art are going to be inundated with as much as they can handle here.

The game has a good mixture of utilitarian graphics with design flair. There is a pretty plain black surface the cards are played on. You get a lot of visual cues for turns with outlines in various areas to give you a quick idea of what’s going on. One of the best flourishes is the damage animation for instant effects that actually uses fire, water, etc. to animate the dispersal. It’s nothing fancy, but it is enough to show that they did more than just plop cards into an engine and recreate the analog experience.

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Conclusion

This is a huge IP for gaming nerds, so it’s not surprising that Wizards of the Coast really pushed to get the game on the iPad. That 2013 at the end of the title seems to indicate that Magic 2013 is going be the RPG nerd Madden. The trappings of the freemium model are apparent here; it’s clear that this model is intended to siphon money from your pocket with incredible speed. Gold foil digital cards still has to be the silliest thing since horse armor.

Aside from that, this is a well crafted game. It joins a lot of hardcore board games/RPG on iOS and Wizards has done a great job making this more than a dull and straightforward translation. If you played any of the earlier digital versions, you may have felt that they actually overdid the backgrounds and animations. This version doesn’t contain those trappings. Magic 2013 is free on the App Store, so you should at least give the game a try. You need to pay that $9.99 for the whole game, though.

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