Gather round, mages young and old: There’s some new territory in the Multiverse that needs exploring.
Magic: The Gathering, the decades-old deck-building game that thrusts players into a fantastical world full of creatures, magic, and epic battles, expands this year with Hasbro’s tabletop board game Magic: The Gathering Arena of the Planeswalkers.
Let me start by saying, I am a bit of a nerd, but I’m more of a Harry Potter fangirl than a Magic: The Gathering aficionado. My deck-building days began and ended with my holographic Charizard (be jealous), but since I’m not stranger to mythical geekiness, I figured I could give this game a solid review from the not-great-at-Magic perspective. And, we’re off:
Each player selects a Planeswalker figure to start, along with the corresponding Planeswalker army card, 12 spell cards, two sets of creature figures, and two creature army cards. Each Planeswalker features a different color, so it’s easy to figure out what cards and creatures are yours. I chose Chandra Nalaar, a firey Pyromancer with burning red hair and an army of soaring Flamewing Phoenixes and rough-and-tumble Blazing Firecats. My boyfriend (and worthy opponent) went with Jace Beleren, a stonecold Mindmage flanked by multi-armed Leyline Phantoms and whispy Illusionary Projections.
Once the board is set up, players can place their Planeswalker and six creatures at the edge of the board. Then, the turns begin, each of which is separated into a few different parts: Draw a spell card, choose an army card (Planeswalker or one of your two creature sets), move your figure(s), play a spell card (optional), attack, and (finally) move the turn marker in the back of the guidebook to the next number.
Since each player has seven pieces on the board to start, there are a lot of opportunities to launch an attack and get the excitement moving. Once a player launches an attack, he or she can roll the attack dice based on the power level on the army card. The attacked player gets one damage marker for every crossed weapons symbol the attacking player rolls, but not before getting the chance at playing defense. The attacked player gets to roll the attack dice based on the toughness level on his or her army card, and blocks damage for every shield rolled.
If a player’s creature receives more damage than his or her life, that creature is removed from the game. If a player’s Planeswalker figure is eliminated, it’s an automatic loss, despite how many creatures are left on the board.
We quickly learned that each mage had his or her own strengths and weaknesses. While Chandra was great at attacking from a distance, her attacks themselves weren’t nearly as strong as those of Jace. Though Chandra’s Phoenixes could travel through pretty much any terrain with ease and efficiency, their lifespans were weak, leaving them easy targets for defeat.
Unlike in Magic: The Gathering, there are no deck-building components to this game, so every move must be strategic. With each attack reliant on the outcome of the dice, a lot of the game is left up to chance, but a lack of strategy could cost you the game, no matter how hot your hands are.
Though attacking is easily the most exciting element of the game, especially for someone with a competitive spirit and an eagerness for destruction (me), patience is a virtue, and planning your attacks subtly can go a long way (I lost the game).
Like most strategy games, Magic: The Gathering Arena of the Planeswalkers is beautifully complicated, but all of its intricacies are well thought-out, resulting in pretty seamless gameplay once you get the basics down. Though the game is different from its deck-building big brother, the board game version is a fun, tactile way to experience the fantastic world of spell casting in a new way.