Magic: The Gathering – Battlegrounds

Magic: The Gathering – Battlegrounds

No mana burns in this game
Developer / Distributor: Secret Level / Atari
Release Date: 18 Nov 2003

Rating: ESRB – Teen, PEGI 12+

GamersGate - Buy and download games for PC andIntroduction
When professor Richard Garfield met Peter Adkinson back in the early nineties, no one would have guessed that in August 1993, Magic: The Gathering (M:TG) trading card game would take the world by storm.

Fast forward a decade to 2003 and we are presented with a unique game (bearing the tag Battlegrounds). The game bears an uncanny resemblance to the rules of the trading card game. M:TG – Battlegrounds was developed by Secret Level and published by Atari.

Even after all this time, I still love my copy of M:TG – Battlegrounds, it is definitely a different experience playing this game when compared with playing the slower paced trading card game; and it is just as fun.

To sum up M:TG – Battlegrounds in just one sentence, I would call it this: M:TG – Battlegrounds is a fast paced real time strategy fighting game between two powerful duelists brandishing custom tailored spell books containing enchantment, creature, and sorcery spells chosen from a repertoire of 70 different choices that are categorized into 5 spell colors – black, blue, green, red, and white.

Oooh… nice!

Game Modes
Once you enter into the game you are presented with the main menu. You will see there are 5 choices to choose from – Quest, Arcade Duel, Versus Duel, Practice Duel, and Multiplayer.

Quest mode is a six chapter single player campaign game that takes you from the basics in the first chapter and brings you all the way to an advanced level in chapter six. It is also a huge extended tutorial in which every spell is introduced to you.

Which mode shall we start with?

Each chapter presents you with a set of quests that must unfortunately be completed in linear order. Each quest is a duel with an assigned objective that you must meet. Here are some examples of quests from the first chapter:

  • Shield training quest: Use the shield to defend yourself.
  • Defiant Ones quest: Cast Engulfing flames and Goblin Hero to defeat your enemy.
  • Scorched Earth quest: Learn how to punch through a strong defense and defeat the enemy duelist. You must use Scorching Missile at least once.
A cool movie to watch

You will unlock spells at the end of most of these quests. Additionally, you get to unlock a certain special character only through completing the Quest mode, so I suggest you stick around and play it all the way to the end.

Arcade Duel mode allows you to employ pre-built characters – you have five to choose from at the start. Your choices are arrayed in the form of three game ladders which shows you who you will be fighting against next. Level one characters only have a small handful of spells (four to be exact) while the next two levels have even more spells to choose from.

An extensive tutorial

Versus Duel mode is a straightforward match between two unlocked duelists. You get to choose your duelist and spellbooks, pick an arena, the length of the duel as well as the number of rounds. Practice Duel mode allows you to test your specially customised spellbook against any unlocked duelist.

Note: Versus Duel mode kinds of remind me of another fighting game I reviewed back in January – Guilty Gear X2 #Reload.

Finally, if you dread playing against the AI or if you are just too good at this game (that you can defeat the AI even with your eyes closed), then multiplayer is the way to go. You can either play on a Local Area Network or on the Internet through Gamespy (and I believe multiplayer support for this game was discontinued a long time ago – no players greeted me in Internet multiplayer mode).

Take your pick in Arcade Duel

Game Play
M:TG – Battlegrounds is played on a simple board that comprises two halves. The two duelists must endeavor to stay on their half of the board. If they cross the line, they will start to lose Life points.

All duelists start the match with 20 life and must roam on his half of the board picking up mana crystals and shards. Crystals appear now and then and add an entire point to your mana bar. Shards are obtained when you defeat your opponent’s creatures, they contribute a small portion of points to your mana bar. You will find that you must take control of your character and keep him moving around the board while trying to fill up your mana bar.

Vs / Practice Duel modes

You use mana to cast your enchantments, creatures, and sorcery spells. Allow me to describe the spell types:

  • Creatures are summoned on your half of the board and will walk over towards your enemy’s side to attack him. Creatures will attack other creatures first before attempting to take out the duelist. Creatures have a power and toughness indicated by the number of colored rectangles at their feet. Creatures respawn back in their territory if they have successfully made an attack.
  • Sorcery and enchantment spells deliver a wide spectrum of effects. Sorcery spells are very specific and could be direct attack spells, creature enhancements, or more. Enchantment spells on the other hand tend to have a wider effect for your side, for example – Fervor, an enchantment, gives all your creatures the haste ability.
A heated batle

You cast spells from your spell book through six keys. Your first key selection (out of three) determines whether you are casting an enchantment, creatures, or sorcery spell. Your next press determines which specific spell is chosen within that category; you may need to scroll left/right if you have more than three spells to choose from. A final key returns you to the previous menu level.

This is a rather cumbersome method of casting spells and the game would have been top notch if they had implemented some form of mouse input.

Depending on the AI level you have selected, you may find that you get overrun by your enemy’s creatures. In this case you can use your melee weapon to defend yourself, or you could activate your shield to take half damage from their hits.

Learn new spells in Quest mode

The sound effects are pretty nice for M:TG – Battlegrounds. You will hear magical sound effects as spells are being cast. Ambient sounds also permeate the battleground that you are fighting on. Duelists speak out the spells they cast and this serves as a good aural indicator in case you get overwhelmed by the visual overload. I felt that the music is not that memorable in this game because it has essentially been overshadowed by the sound effects.

Let’s summon a Carnophage

The Quest is essentially one long tutorial that introduces the player to each of the spells one at a time, and one color at a time. By the end of the fifth chapter, you should be familiar with all the 70 spells available in the game. You will also have enjoyed seeing the videos leading up to that point. I leave you to find out what happens in the last chapter. Once you are done with the Quest mode, there is really no incentive to replay it all over again.

I hated the control scheme that requires you to use the keyboard just to navigate through your spellbook to choose the spell you need to cast. A lot of time is wasted and this sometimes gives your AI opponent the upper hand in defeating you.

Another aspect that is detrimental to the game is that you must have fast reflexes to move your duelist to pick up mana crystals and shards. You also need to be fast in hitting enemy creatures with your melee weapon and to raise your shield to defend yourself.

Memorize your spells

I think M:TG – Battlegrounds was a great effort in adding a totally new direction to the trading card game. The game is also pretty engaging as you attempt to duel against an AI that is pretty adept at defeating you. The quest is rather entertaining, and there is replay value since you can return anytime to have a match against the AI or a human opponent in the other game modes.

It’s unfortunate that there were no expansions planned for the game. Based on the way it was implemented, I was pretty sure that Atari could have gotten another developer to provide more spells choices, and even a new campaign featuring new duelists to fight against. But alas, it was not to be.

I suggest you get this game if you are a true fan of M:TG or would just like to try a dueling game that is more fast paced and exciting.

Getting the upper hand

The Verdict


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