Monday, January 24, 2011

A first look at Magic the Gathering - Tactics

A reader alerted me that Magic the Gathering - Tactics had launched, and a day later SOE sent me the newsletter confirming that. So I downloaded the game, and gave the game a spin.

Magic the Gathering - Tactics is pretty much what you'd presume from the name, a mix of a trading card game with a turn-based strategy game. From Magic the Gathering the game inherits the monsters and spells being "cards", from which you build a deck, draw a random hand during combat, and play the "cards" using mana you get every turn. But combat is like many other games with "Tactics" in their name turn-based strategy on a board of squares, with tactical elements like zones of control and flanking. The mix works reasonably well.

Nevertheless I wasn't very happy with MtGT. I don't have anything principally against the Free2Play business model, but MtGT looks very much like an Allods-like overpriced ripoff to me. Not only are the cards quite expensive ($3.99 per booster), but in addition to that you also need to pay to unlock the chapters of the single-player campaign, at $5 per chapter. Yes, you get your starting deck and the first chapter for free, but then you'll basically pay $1 per new single-player battle. You can replay those battles, but only the first time gives any reward. So just buying the full campaign already costs you $20.

Due to the cards in the boosters being random, you need to spend over $50 on boosters before you have enough cards to build decks of other than your two starting colors effectively. SOE suggests you buy a virtual box of virtual boosters of virtual cards for just $83.99. *Cough* Ripoff *Cough* And to trade these cards they offer the auction house (which has filters but apparently no sort function), in which cards can only be traded for gold. And of course the gold for that you can buy for Station Cash. I haven't tried the multiplayer functions yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were tournaments which cost money too. Magic the Gathering - Tactics really feels as if it nickels and dimes you at every move you make.

I think that is a strategic mistake from SOE. If for example the PvE campaign was free, more people would play the game for longer, and then sooner or later start buying cards. As it is, you reach the paywall far too early, and one "daily" battle isn't enough to keep you motivated to play. The game isn't bad, but the cost structure risks to strangle it before it can take off.

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