When someone brings up card games as video games, most gamers cringe – and rightly so. Card mechanics have been used in many games, and even more real-world card games have been converted into video games. Solitaire may be a staple of the PC, but most card-based video games have been awful. Magic: The Gathering – Battlemage and Yu-Gi-Oh! Falsebound Kingdom are examples of card games turned video game, and they’re horrendous. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, on the other hand, took a wildly successful third-person fighting RPG and decided that the combat mechanics would be better if it used cards, instead.
This isn’t always the case. Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelists of the Roses, while not mind-blowing, was pretty darn good. Unfortunately, it’s from 2001 and only released on the PS2, which makes it a bit of a relic. In a turn of good luck, though, there is a card game you can play in 2018 that doesn’t feel ancient and won’t make you throw your controller at the screen.
In 2009, Magic: The Gathering (or MtG), the most played trading card game of all time, made another foray into the video game world. This effort was titled “Duels of the Planeswalkers,” and had something of a story. The player was now a Planeswalker, a powerful being who could walk between worlds, summon creatures, and cast spells that made Gandalf look like Chris Angel. You would then go off and fight other Planeswalkers and show them who’s boss.
Long story short, it wasn’t half-bad, which made it half-good, which was enough to make another game. MtG: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 came out in, you guessed it, 2011, for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. And it was very good.
Well, I say very good. The actual card game part was fantastic, especially compared to the other choices out there. Sadly, the menus felt janky, the settings options were paltry, the storyline was thinner than a New York pizza crust. But they weren’t done.
The next year, they released MtG: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013, and that… that was the game we had been waiting for. Duels 2013 has everything you could possibly want in a digital card game – nice graphics, the ability to turn off the “helpful” hints, metric butt-tons of content, and customizable decks. I started with Duels 2012, and I quite enjoyed it. But I can’t even describe my excitement when Duels 2013 came out. I was honestly as excited about this as Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This was a bounce-up-and-down-in-my-desk-chair excitement, and I am pleased to say it was worth the wait. Never mind that it’s now six years-old. You’ll never even notice.
Let me give you the plot: You’re still a Planeswalker, and you’re attempting to either beat the crap out of other Planeswalkers or make friends… by first beating the crap out of them. It’s Stephen King level suspense, I know. There really is a proper villain, though – Nicol Bolas, an absolute Bastard of a dragon who’s trying to… I don’t remember, really, but he’s doing bad things, like destroying universes or some-such villainy antics, and you have to stop him.
It’s not easy.
First, you have to fight your way through a gauntlet of Planeswalkers to get to Nicol Bolas in the Campaign. Then you do it again in the Revenge mode. Then you do it again, again, in Planechase mode. And if you have any stamina left, there’s a whole series of Challenges to master.
Then there’s the Expansion Campaign.
Oh, and Expansion Revenge. And Expansion Challenges.
Needless to say, you definitely get your money’s worth, should you want to play all the content. And you will want to play all the content, although you may not make it all the way through. I know I’m not the biggest genius in the world, but those challenges get tough fast, and I didn’t even get to the Expansion content before taking a break to play other games. That said, the content is quite fun, and while it can turn into a bit of a slog, there’s a lot of gameplay before you get there.
Speaking of gameplay, let’s talk about that for a moment. Once you get past the menus (which are still a bit awkward, if I’m honest), you’ll get to the meat of the game. If you’ve picked up Duels 2013 with no previous MtG experience, that’s okay! There’s a tutorial that isn’t awful, and you can choose to switch on all sorts of player aids and hints to help you until you get the hang of it.
I picked up the game again recently after a couple of years off, and I was pleased to re-discover that the controls are intuitive and simple, as least on PC. You can choose to make the game auto-pause before ending your main phases, zooming in on any card played to give you a chance to click on it for closer examination, and auto-resolving damage during combat instead of doing it manually. Clicking on a card shows you its details, and clicking again plays it, or uses whichever card ability you select. Nice and simple, no frippery.
All that said, anyone who’s ever played a TCG knows that the game is only half the game. The rest of the enjoyment comes from deck-building. This is where Duels 2013 lets us down a bit, because rather than giving us a few hundred cards and letting us have fun, they give us 21 decks to use, and you have to buy Deck Packs for a lot of those. Now, this is a bit of a letdown, but it’s not a deal-breaker for two important reasons.
Firstly, 21 decks (which I currently have access to on my profile) is quite a lot. I can honestly say I haven’t even touched most of them, because I know my playstyle and stick to it, but anyone who wants to mess about with loads of different strategies will be spoiled for choice. Secondly, each deck has 40 cards to unlock, making them quite customizable. Earning the cards also adds a consistent sense of satisfaction, as you need to use each deck to earn cards in it. In addition, limiting the decks to certain cards lessens the amount of time you’ll spend creating decks that just don’t work.
You may be wondering, if Duels 2013 was so good, whether they’ve come out with more recent versions of the game, and indeed they have. The reason that I haven’t mentioned them up to this point is that Duels 2014 was merely alright and 2015 dropped the ball entirely, focusing on micro-transactions and other game-ruining nonsense.
The bottom-line is this. If you want a digital TCG that feels like playing a real-life TCG, just without the logistics of putting all your cards back in their plastic sleeves, Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is the way to go.
Have you played Duels? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!