Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Magic: The Gathering

Elves vs. Goblins

Elves vs. Goblins art by Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai, © Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Magic: The Gathering logo and related artwork © Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

There comes a time in your life when you feel you're just not geek enough. You see all your other geek friends talking about interesting geek stuff in the office, stuff you rarely heard about and you feel left out. It's kind of why I started reading Slashdot. Sure, I was reading Lifehacker, but it sure proved not to be enough!

The reason I started playing the Magic: The Gathering card game, though, isn't because of the geekness booster, but becaues I like the whole idea of the game, the game mechanics and I ultimately admire the brilliance of the business idea behind this game. It took a genius mathematician to design this game, and to see it in action now, after nearly 15 years of development, competition and refinement is amazing.

General gameplay

You shuffle your deck, start with a 7-card hand and draw one more card every time your turn begins. Cards can be lands, which give you mana, or spells, which use up mana. (There are 5 types of colored mana, and each color has it's own history and strategy. Lands and spells are cathegorized into the 5 color types by the type of mana they produce or consume.)

Every turn you're allowed to play one land-type card. As the game develops you'll have more and more mana and be able to play more powerful spells. Using the mana from your lands you play your spells and may bring permanent cards into the game. There are various types of permanents, of which some are creatures that can be summoned. The creatures are your army that will crash the opponent. The goal of the game is to reduce your opponent from 20 thoughness points (at the start of the game) to 0, by either using your creatures, or using other sorceries.

Learn to Play Magic: The Gathering

Wizards of the Coast made a short series that explains the basics of the game and help you get started. Check out the Learn to Play Magic: The Gathering playlist on YouTube, or go to www.playmagic.com for even more information and a couple of tutorials.

What's to like

Like other collectible card games, the personal touch of the game comes from the fact that each player builds his or her deck of cards as they wish, from a wide selection of cards that's available, with around 4 new expansions every year being released. Preconstructed theme decks are also released with every expansion, and new players can buy these and start playing right away. Generally, you'll start making your own decks after playing for a while.

The innovation of this game is the tapping feature, but what really makes is successful is that every card can bend the rules. There's a core ruleset that applies through most of the game. However, Magic: The Gathering's first golden rule is that when a card's text contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence. This is the rule that brings up the excitement of the game.

The game can be played head to head (2 players), or in many other multiplayer variations (3 or more players). This counts for a pretty good offline social experience for geek-type creatures.


The game combines fantasy, strategy, chance, tactics and arthimetics. Although overlooked by new players like me, the fantasy part of the game is quite fit. With every expansion of the game there's a story behind, and there are books and more to cover that. Strategy comes off of building your own decks, and in pro matches is seems to be the most important part of the game! Chance has a small role in the game, but not unnoticeable. Apart of the obvious drawing of cards form the normal rules, there are some cards that make you reshuffle your deck, or just the library, and so forth. Tactics is how you play the deck you've built and how you react to what your opponents suprize you. Arthimetics is a part of the game because you have to count lots of things: from your own hitpoints, to the power and toughness of your army every turn.

Something else that's a big part of the game is the card's artwork. Although it doesn't affect gameplay, it affects the game feel. Any game you'd play today is nothing without good graphics, and to bring that into a card game is pretty neat. The artwork is created by various artists hired specifically for this task.

Where to look

You can start reading more about Magic: The Gathering on Wikipedia, or go directly to Wizards of the Coast's official Magic: The Gathering website where you can also find the official database of cards called the Gatherer.

Dan and I found starter packs, theme decks and booster packs in Diverta, so that should be the first place to look if you want to buy Magic: The Gathering cards in Romania. We bought a starter deck and a couple of booster packs each, along with a preconstructed theme deck each, but I'm enjoying the theme deck best. Most probably we'll be buying more cards pretty soon, and I really hope buying even more isn't going to become one of those addictions.

June 26, 2008 update: If you're looking for Magic: The Gathering products in Iaşi then check out Lex Copy Center in Păcurari.

I have to say that buying a preconstructed theme deck is the way to go if you're a beginner like I am, because the 60 cards just play along each other right out of the box. Constructing a deck isn't very easy, and unless you're an experienced player it usually takes a while until you refine your pack, after a couple or more defeats.

Magic: The Gathering is a good offline fantasy game alternative to the other two I'll be playing this winter in the holidays: Lord of the Rings Online and Lineage II.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A crowded St. Nicholas day


The end of the year has always been a crowded time. It's like every end of the world you see in the movies, where doctors are robbing electronics stores, atheists screw like rabbits, mobs are running throughout the streets killing other people, buildings explode, glass gets shattered, Days of Our Lives Heroes stops airing, cops get killed, projects clutter up, terrible migrene, but in the end nothing happens. They all get to live their lives, ashamed of what happened during the mayhem. You watch these movies and you kinda get the feeling of office work during late November and the beginning of December.

But it's nice to have that dream that someday, hopefully before the 15th, you'll get the chance to kick off your shoes, lay in bed, play all the games your spent your hard earned money on, and watch ripped US TV shows. And then, about a week after, Christmas and the New Year kick in. Wouldn't you just kill for that? I have some clients people in my mind that I would kill even for no purpose at all. But I can't possibly be serious about killing, unless it's the Mayhem we're talking about.

Work is kind of cracking me lately, and just when writing this I'm on the influence of quite some effort aboard. It is wonderful, however, to have good colleagues to share this pain with. Too bad they share pain with you back… One of us had the "wonderful" idea of making secret St. Nicholas presents to each other this year. This naturally became mandatory, as the other couple of projects I had on my shoulders, which rendered secret Nicholas quite a pain in the arse. Especially when, by shopping for other people's gifts, I found something that I like for myself, and the other secret Nicholas didn't get me.

Truthfully, it proved to be quite fun in the end, although it only lasted for a little over half an hour, because not only I'm cluttered up, but the rest of us aswell. I've got a weird noise-maker that I've seen only in mexican related material. Whoever bought it should better shut up about it, because by this time next week the whole company is going to be after him… I promise to make a lot of unwanted noise with it. (See above picture.)

Promise! ;)