History: Magic: The Gathering has fallen prey to Microprose woes. First Microprose wanted to grow their company and the infamous mistake of going into coin op games was made. Hiring the talent needed for the expansion seemed to cause a rift from the management to the janitorial level that rocked Microprose to the core, and ended with Microprose co-founder Wild Bill Stealey leaving for greener pastures in North Carolina founding Interactive Magic.
An English company shored up Microprose with funds, and new management. More troubles lead vetran game designer, Arnold Hendricks to join Stealey in his new company. The acquisition by Spectrum Holobyte and some unknown problem at the troubled Hunt Valley company lead to a mass exodus of talented people, just another in a long string of layoffs and disallusionment. After this Microsoft co-founder, Sid Meier was assigned to the Magic: The Gathering project. In June, Sid left Microprose to start his own company, Firaxis. Now the game has been delayed and rebuilt to emerge as a game with the potential to be the next mega-hit.
Microprose’s Magic: The Gathering the computer game is based upon a trading card game of the same name which is the property of Wizards of the Coast (www.wizards.com). This card game has sold over one billion cards in six languages since it was introduced over five years ago. There is also a significant appeal to collectors with this card set. Many of the cards go out of print and increase in value due to their play value and power in the game. Single cards may sell for as much as $200 in good condition.
According to Microprose sources, "Meier is programming a new, adventure game segment that is based on the original card game. In this exotic, fantasy world, people will interact with AI (artificial intelligence) opponents with the goal of acquiring more cards for their computer playing deck. These AI opponents will be new characters that personify aspects of many of the Magic: The Gathering cards. He is also programming a stand-alone duel segment where people can challenge the computerís AI outside the adventure world."
Plot: There are five wizards who are competing for control of the magical world called Shandalar. In this installment, each of the wizards expects to dominate by weilding magical power. The powerful wizards have taken control of magical towers and enslaved the people from the safety of their home castles. You take the role of the liberator and retake the wizards towers to free those enslaved and perhaps even live to face the wizards on their home ground.
Interface: The screens we saw had an isometric overhead oblique scrolling map view of a landscape with characters, buildings, rivers, roads, lakes, castles, dungeons, and trees in the middle of the screen with command bubbles around the outside. Other screens were to resolve the conflicts in putting cards out on the table again within the screen mask with the bubble command areas. A bar along the bottom of the screen within the mask shows gold, food and drink, clerical power (or amulets), and magic power in numeric digital display. The mat and all graphics seem to be colored in subdued and textured earth tones resembling patchwork leather.
The Game: The first part of a Magic game is deck building. This is where two or more players, who take the role of powerful wizards, prepare the cards in their deck similar to memorizing spells for a wizards duel. Once the deck is built the wizards duel begins by placing cards out on the table to battle other cards played in turn by other players. The strategy comes in with how many cards of what kinds are in your deck and how they are played.
Its All in The Cards: The card sets that will be in the game include every card in the Fourth Edition, 26 additional rare cards, and twelve new Astral Set cards that Wizards will keep as unique to the computer game. The beauty of the game is that cards can be added later in expansion sets, and that any card past and present can be duplicated with the system. Although we doubt that Microprose or Wizards will allow the user to edit or create their own cards.
While you cannot create your own cards you can build your own decks and save them to play against or with in the computer game. You can also play against decks that the design team is building into the game.
Multiplayer: No multiplayer features are planned for the initial release of the game, severely compromising its play value. The greatest advantage of the Magic computer game is the internet, null and phone modem, and network play options. This is a game that many take as serious as chess, there are innumerable tournaments and a multiplayer game would allow players from all over the world to compete with people more near their skill level.
A free patch will be offered after the release which will allow network, null and phone modem connections. Shortly thereafter, Microprose will organize online tournaments and duels, that are the most attractive feature of the game. Finally, Microprose intends to develop an online fantasy world where Magic players can wander and compete. The fantasy world needs to have a plot structure to be effective.
There should be something to compete for and something to gain by competing. Some of the best online games, like Multiplayer Battletech, have an underlying social structure and heirarchy which depends upon the success or failure of encounters in the game. Players are ranked or rated, and they receive responsibilities proportional to their power in the game. It makes it more fun when you can own property, have a group of companions and novice trainees, and where you can go and live in familiar surroundings.
Game play: Your wizard will consume food and use gold to spend on supplies, so movement becomes another component when you are facing starvation or bankruptcy. Exploration of the landscape and structures and defeat of wandering monsters will give you gold, food, amulets, and spells. The adventure portion of the game is intended to be separate from the card portion in many ways.
Wandering spells will be separate and different from the card based spells. Many of the spells will protect you when traveling, or teleport to your destination. Towns are expected to be sources of quests that will also provide curses, blessings, gold, food, amulets, spells, cards, hints, or life points. Life points can be used in the adventure or card dueling portion of the game to provide an extra advantage.
Joe Grant Bell, Computer Games Strategy Plus, issue 70, September, 1996, pg.36-38.