A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Magic the Gathering: Arena is a downloadable free-to-play version of the popular tabletop card game, Magic the Gathering for Windows PCs. The game's currently in open beta, which means though it's playable, it's still in development. Success depends on strategy as well as collecting cards, and though it's possible to earn cards by playing, players will be tempted to take short-cuts by purchasing cards or decks through the in-game shop. Players can use limited modes as much as they want for free, but entry to special events and additional modes must be bought for real-world cash. During competitive play, opponents can only communicate via pre-set chat selections and players can mute one another. The game connects to an online account and an online forum where inappropriate language and content may appear. Otherwise, there's no inappropriate content to be found in the game.
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What's it about?
MAGIC THE GATHERING: ARENA is a fantasy themed digital collectible card game where players build custom card decks and go head-to-head in turn-based online combat. Players start by choosing a heroic persona, are given a basic card deck, and are taught the basics of gameplay through an interactive tutorial. They're then tossed directly into online multiplayer. Matches occur between two players on a virtual table; players take turns laying down cards representing creatures, abilities, and resources, each of which costs a certain amount of power to use. Cards let players attack and block, and completed matches earn players in-game currency and new cards/decks. Access to special events and decks requires real world cash, but players interested in learning the backstory behind each deck can read this content for free online through their Magic the Gathering: Arena account.
Is it any good?
Digital collectible card games abound these days, and some are better than others, but this take on one of the most popular games of them all is easily one of the best around. Wizards of the Coast have been making the tabletop version of Magic the Gathering for more than twenty-five years, so it's no surprise that Magic the Gathering: Arena is an incredible take on their physical game. CCGs (collectible card games) are by nature complex, and many of them stumble when it comes to initiating new players. Magic the Gathering: Arena does a great job with a multi-stage tutorial that feeds you what you need to know in small, digestible chunks. And once it's done, you're ready to jump into online versus play. Versus is less intimidating than it might be, thanks to a chat system that only allows you to pick from a preset list of polite expressions and a mute button that lets you turn your opponent off if need be.
While the game's complexity means you'll probably endure a good number of losses at the start, getting experience and rewards even when you lose helps to soften the blow. Outside the arena, simple quests give you something to work toward as well as a way to earn more currency. Some players are bound to feel limited by the relatively small free play area, (access to special events, decks, and modes costs a good deal of real-world money) but that's more of a veteran player problem. But new players will marvel at the brilliant graphics and figuring out how hundreds of cards interact. At this point in open beta, Wizards of the Coast is still working on the game, and that means you should expect imbalances, possible improper matchmaking, and the occasional glitch. Still, even with its current bugs, Magic the Gathering: Arena is on its way to becoming a great digital CCG—one well worth your time and disk space.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about screen limits for collectible card games. Games like Magic the Gathering: Arena require a lot of time to learn, so how do you give yourself a break away from these digital cards to enjoy the real world?
Can you use the strategy and tactics in Magic the Gathering: Arena in other games or in real life? If you play the card games in real life, have you learned new ways to play the game from the digital version?
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