IN 2009, Wizards of the Coast released a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade title based on its wildly successful card game Magic: The Gathering. Appropriately dubbed Magic: The Gathering—Duels of the Planeswalkers, the title translated the card game's labyrinthine rules to a virtual setting. Hardcore Magic fans were elated, at least until they realized that many of the card game's mechanics had been stripped in favor of making the videogame more accessible to the average person.
Fast forward two years, and developer Stainless Games is back to take another shot at the property with Magic: The Gathering—Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012. Sneer at the obvious title all you want, but it's perfectly fitting: This isn't a sequel so much as the version of the game we should have been given originally.
Gameplay-wise, this Magic is almost exactly the same as its predecessor. You draw cards, you accrue "mana" to fund your army, and you murder people with intricately illustrated playing cards. If you've played Magic in card form, you know how this works.
The real beauty of the 2012 edition, however, is in its phenomenal learning curve. Throughout the first half of the game, each mission doubles as a subtle tutorial, and even the slowest neophyte will grasp the gameplay rules after only a few hours. If nothing else, 2012 is the most accessible Magic tutorial in existence.
That said, it's also a phenomenal alternative to the card game. Admittedly, the deck building is still a bit simplified, but if you can live without crafting a card collection entirely from scratch, there's no better way to play the game.
And yes: This game carries a hyper-geeky stigma that is only amplified by its virtual setting, but, ego issues aside, 2012 is perfect evidence of why its card-game forebear is so successful. Endless gameplay variations, gorgeous fantasy art, and none of the actual set-up and logistics hassles that come from having to maintain an actual deck of cards: What's not to like?