Let me begin with a confession: I used to play Magic: The Gathering every day. Alongside rugby league, drums, and the Super NES, this collectable wizard-duel card game was my thing. I had a deck full of rare cards, and the guts to fight with anyone who'd dare to throw down the gauntlet.
I even belonged to a small clan, informally dubbed the "Power Triumvirate". It should have been called "Two Men and a Baby" though, because I sucked at Magic. I really, really sucked, and I had no reason to think I'd fare any better when I installed Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 on the family iPad and Xbox 360.
As it turns out, I'm not too bad at Magic nowadays. The AI is a very good teacher and understanding the game is a simple process. If you choose to leave the hints on, the game will prompt you through each phase of play as you - a Planeswalker, fighting other Planeswalkers - use your resources, creatures, artifacts and spells to destroy your enemy's cards and reduce their life to zero. How you actually get the job done depends on the hand you're dealt, quite literally. There is a degree of luck involved, but the skill in understanding your cards and when to play them is something the campaign mode AI will teach you as you play against foes with decks of various capabilities, each designed to test you on different aspects of strategic play.
Magic 2013 ignores some of the key features of offline play, such as advanced deck building and the ability to trade your cards with others, but it may also be a good way for first-time players (or those whose cards have been sitting in a box in the closet) to develop some tactics before getting involved in the game for real.
Magic has always been very well regarded for its high standard of fantasy art, which richly illustrates the cards' surfaces, and comes to life in the animated cutscenes. The game board is neatly laid out, and it is easy to keep tabs on what's happening at all times.
Outside of the active game, the user interface is mostly friendly, but the menus could be a little easier to understand. The iOS version, I'm told, bears great similarity to the PC version but I found it's not very different to what I played on my Xbox. So not only do iPad players not lose out on the functionality of Magic 2013, but they may find it the perfect mobile game for the platform, for only a few bucks.
I started playing it on my daily commutes to and from work, with the average duel time of 20-25 minutes being perfect each way. Then I'd get home and play it on the couch. Then again just before bed. Then first thing in the morning - wouldn't you know, it's like 1995 and I'm addicted to Magic all over again.
Only this time, I know what winning feels like.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, iPad, PC