Friday, 22 June 2012

Magic 2013 Duels of the Planeswalkers iPad

      Welcome to another of my reviews and this time I am turning to the iPad and the arrival of the new Magic game. If you have never played magic before then i better try and explain it here. The game involves a duel between 2 to 4 players. Each player has a deck of cards that contain spells and creatures, and they win by reducing the players' lives to zero. That is obviously a basic explanation, the variation of the cards and the strategy involved is vast, but short of having someone to teach you the game this App is probably the best way to learn.

      Magic Evolution

      When I got my new iPad and looked at all the great card and board games that were available on it I wondered why Wizards of the Coast hadn’t brought their Magic game to the device. I then discovered to my joy that the new version 2013 was indeed due to be also released on the iPad.

       I had been playing the card based of Magic since the beginning but hadn't played it for a few years. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2011 drew me back into the game as it was very reasonably priced and I could play against AI players. I got the game on Xbox but quickly moved onto the PC version as he graphic were clearer and you could play other on Steam without a subscription. I stuck with  DOTP on the PC for its 2012 version, formed a group on Steam for Uk players, and got back into playing real Magic again.

       So we now return to the 2013 version and it debut on the new platform of the iPad. The graphics are the crisp retina display so you can see them even clearer than on the PC. The interface is of course touchscreen so you can touch and flick the cards around much easier than with a control pad or mouse, this improvement was clearly shown when I nearly forgot to activate a cards power before the clock counted down but a quick jab on the card saved the day where a mouse would have failed. And of course the other benefit of the iPad is that it is portable, so you play Magic wherever and whenever you want, which actually might not be an advantage after all. You can also come out of a game in progress and return providing you haven't turn the iPad fully off, which is something the others can't.

       So judging the new version to previous ones I would say the iPad is the best platform for this game and shows how it has evolved over the three variations. But let's have a look at what it offers this time.


       Challenges, which are like Magic’s version of chess puzzles, return but are now separate from the campaign map and have been replaced on there by challenges, which I cover below. Archenemy has gone, but is hinted at by Wizards as a possible return in an expansion, and is replaced by Planecase, also covered below.

       So the game will be immediately familiar to old players and should be clear to new comers. There is a good tutorial for the game although it could have explained Planechase better as there was brief text that disappeared before I could read it, although working out the dice was quick.

       You get all the multiplayer and custom option that have previously been available so you can setup multiplayer games between two to four players, and play two headed giant variations, but let's now look at the new modes and what they offer.


       Magic Planechase

        The first new addition to this year’s edition of the game is  Planechase. This mode adds plane cards to the game where one of these cards is in play at a time, with a global effect that alters the game while in play. It also adds a planar dice, which the active player can role on their turn. There are two symbols on the dice and four blank sides, if you get one of the symbols then a new plane card is drawn. If you get the other symbol then the effect at the bottom of the plane card is resolved. The effects are varied and bring a great variation to the game.

        Planechase adds a good twist to the standard duel. After playing one game it seems to be a bit slower to play than a normal duel, but the global effects changing randomly does make the game an interesting variation, and brings with it the choice of if you want to try changing the world you are playing in, to alter the balance.

        Magic Encounters

        Encounters is the other new addition this year and brings more twists to the standard game. The opponent does not draw cards randomly like in normal duels but instead plays cards in a certain order and you have to work out how to beat them before their plan unfolds.

        This mode is very much against the clock as far as beating the opponent, and can involve variations like them milling your library or having an enchantment that gradually builds and gives victory after a certain amount of turns unless you remove it or kill the opponent.

        This mode has a lot in common with the challenges, but is greater in scope and allows you to play deck against them, so they have greater variety.

        Mono Magic

        One of the new game mechanic additions this year is the ability to manually tap your land, which many have been asking for, the only trouble is this is only useful for one of the ten decks you get with the game, as all the rest are single colour decks, so not much use until we get more decks that are more than one colour.

        I think this would be my only negative on the game. There are a lot of interesting new cards in the game but the decks are again mostly mono colour, and the greater challenges come with more than one colour in decks. But as I said, I expect more of these decks will be added soon.

        Unlocking Magic

        So what do you get deck wise? You start the game with two decks of sixty cards and unlock the other eight decks through defeating the opponents associated with them. You also gain cards through victory, one card per win. There are thirty cards to unlock for each deck so you need to win thirty games for each deck. This gives a longer campaign than the previous edition as in that one you gained multiples of one card with one victory.

        Price of Magic

        The price is the same across all platforms and some have complained about this, but I will say that it is value for what you get. If you went and spent the same money of the real cards you wold be lucky to get one 60 card deck. In this you are getting 10 decks and obviously someone to play against. Add in the additions on the challenges and plane chase variation and I can’t argue about the price.

        The iPad version is free, and you can sample a lot of the game for that. There is then an in app purchase to unlock the full game. I think they have done this to let people see just how good it works on the iPad before buying and is a sensible idea.

        Summing up Magic

        So there you have it, Magic 2013 has arrived on iPad and it is the best version so far. I got many months of play out of the previous versions and I see no reason why this should be any different. The game is intuitive to play on touch screen, the graphics look great, and it is Magic. If you play Magic and are looking for a game you can play on your own or against people in far away places then this is it. If you have never played Magic but like strategic games then this is a great way to get into it, learn the game and maybe start playing the real thing, if you can tear yourself away from this version of course.

        Magic Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is an excellent debut on the iPad, and I expect it will now hog a lot of my time until the 2014 version shows up next year. So its mark from me is of course -

        Five Stars

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Game of Thrones Series Two Review

      So the dust has settled on a Game of Thrones series two and we have been left with another dramatic final scene to keep us in anticipation for its return with series three, and what an ending it was. But how has this second series turned out and did it match up to what we saw in the first series?

      Returning to the Game

      Series two adapts A Clash of Kings, the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, and indeed a lot of kings do seem to clash during the tale.

      With this new series we get the introduction of a lot of new characters, most of who seem to be shaggy haired men with beards, or women with not much dress sense for cold climates, yes we are talking about you Lady Margaery. At some points this becomes a bit overwhelming, identifying who these people are and remembering just who was that guy again?

New presenter of the Voice for the BBC ?

      The book is a thick, tightly packed novel, and obviously a challenge to squeeze into a ten part series, and might have benefitted from being a twenty four part one instead. The increase in characters and story lines with this second series must have been something the makers quickly realised was a problem as we soon got a recap section at the start of each episode just so we could keep track of what was going on.

      The series gave us all the story and action we had seen in the first one as the various factions play the game of kings, but as the story expands it comes across as the edited highlights of a much more detailed story, which would be the original novel. We don't spend too long on an individual scene before we are spun back to another part of the story, and the only time we really spend any time in one part of the story is the battle for King’s Landing, a whole episode in fact.

      I have not read the second book yet but I had read the first one before seeing that series and in the novel we had long chapters spent in the company of individual characters, an hour or two developing their scenes and personalities. Obviously the TV series could not do this, and maybe it wouldn't have been so exciting to that type of audience. So we get the edited highlights of an epic story, and if we want to experience to full story then there is obviously the novels waiting for us out there.

      Memories of the Game

      We again got some outstanding moments during this series, and watching parts like the northern mountain scenes you realise the cost that must have been put into this series. The birth of the shadows was an interesting visual, and the ships advancing on King’s Landing was also a visual treat that showed the epic qualities of what we was witnessing and made you realise there probably isn’t anything like this on TV at the moment.

      But there were also some weak moments. The heavy handed mention of a farm having two boys pretty much killed the apparent death of the two princes, but was thankfully only one of a few let downs. On the other hand how many of us were worried when Tyrion seemed to be killed? I think I can safely say that was a large portion of the audience who hadn't read the novel, but I think this could be a weakness of the series.

Not good at the fighting stuff

      Tyrion is a scene stealer, when he comes on our screen he lights it up with his personality and pretty much puts everyone else into the shadows. You can see why his family hates him so much. And this is a problem, if he does get killed off who do we have left to entertain us as most of the others don't come anywhere near his level of character. He is like us, a person who doesn't really take all this pompous stuff seriously, and is eager to show what he thinks of it all with a sarcastic quip of gesture of defiance. He isn't very good at the fighting thing, but that doesn't stop him trying. He is a character we love to see on the screen and without a doubt the best thing in the series.

      Leaving our short scene stealer aside for now the other character who kept our attention was Daenerys, but this is where the edited highlights opinion comes into play. Her story arc in this series seems to be very short, and I would imagine there was a lot more to it in the book. We was given only brief glimpse of this new city and the characters within, but not really allowed to spend much time in their company before being whisked back to other tales.

Where are my dragons, you fiend?

      Summing up the Game

      The series has a lot to pack in, and reflecting upon what we get it all comes across as a very skimmed affair, some parts of the story seem to be left out as we stride forward with the epic tale, and it will be interesting to see how it all develops as I imagine it isn't going to get any simpler as it carries on. There is very much a feeling that other characters are doing interesting things when we are somewhere else and I am intrigued to read the book to see how it all played out there in greated detail.

      So the second series continued where the first left off and gave us more great action and intrigue from this world, and of course a whole lot more scene stealing from a very big actor. If we want to experience the full story then I guess we will have to turn to the books, but maybe this is what the author wants us to do. The TV series works within the constraints of that medium, and forms a sort of trailer for the fuller novels.

      Bring on series three and please don't kill Tyrion as I wouldn't like to think what that will do to the ratings.

Smug, me?

Tyrion gets five out of five stars as always, but for series two as a whole it gets -

Four Stars