Magic: the Gathering is my all-time favorite card game, and one of the reasons I like WotC a lot (the other being the zap they brought to D&D to make it a non-sneerable-at, not-just-for-newbies,-you-know RPG... =)

I may write of the card game later, but others have covered it up pretty well. So, since everyone forgets one crucial product, I'll tell about it.

The computer game

Title: Magic: the Gathering
Developer: Microprose
Publisher: Microprose
Date Published: 1997
Platforms: Microsoft Windows

The game was developed by MicroProse and released in 1997, and it runs on Windows. MicroProse did the expected thing here - "Hey, Sid Meier touched this game, so it has to rule!"... actually Meier's touch in the game was only limited to the slightly (and unfoundedly, according to some) criticized Shandalar section.

The game was announced, then delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed and then released - but the good thing was that unlike some games that get delayed a lot, it didn't suck - even when it did have some small problems. I remember one interesting thing - Finnish computer game mag Pelit did a feature on M:tG card game in one issue, gave a contest to design M:tG cards (the results were funny and cool =) and if I remember correctly, said that they hoped they would do the review of the computer game soon. A long time later, the game was finally released. =)

The computer Magic is very much similar to the real card Magic. The game includes all cards in Fourth Edition and also some cards from other card sets, including some incredibly rare and useful cards. Yeah, you'll get all of the crap the supposed Gurus bought for gigantic heap of money and that were later somewhat toned down by new kickassery from Hasbro's marketing department, thank God. =) (In other words, this is your chance to see what the brouhaha around Black Lotus is all about - use it well, because it's unlikely you're going to see that one in casual play, let alone in your own deck =)

The game also includes a card set of its own called Astral set - some cards that have never been actually printed! If you look at the cards, you'll soon see the reason: Most of the abilities are too complex or random for casual games and as such only work on computer. For example, one of the green dragon cards had the ability "2GG: Play random effect." Do that, and zap, some random target gets some random spell effect. You can only imagine what sort of yelling that thing might generate around a normal playing table =)

The game has four major parts. There's a Tutorial that tells the newbies how to shoot and even smoke cardboard crack, thinly veiled with some appropriately magical cloak waving. (I only watched the beginning. I hope the rest of it is just as corny. I have to get drunk one day and watch the rest.) The Shandalar section where you, a guy fresh out of Hogwarts can adventure in the fantasy world and fight zillions of fantastic monsters and people with your deck, and hopefully collect some rare cards. And then the gem the whole program is worth getting for: Duel, where you can pick a deck and a deck for your opponent (or random deck for either or both if you desire some thrill), and do a pleasant little duel or a painful long gauntlet. Finally, there's a Deck builder for making new decks for games. They can be saved to file and e-mailed to people or put to web page if you feel like showing off.

The UI is plain, simple and logical, and everyone who has trivial knowledge of GUI operation and a couple of dozens games of regular card Magic behind is able to start playing immediately.

The game UI has some small problems, though: It's impossible to back down, and you aren't supposed to do things in "wrong order". For example, you shouldn't first tap lands and then cast the spell; first click on the card, then tap lands, and it gets cast, or double-click on the card and it tries to tap lands automagically. And, if you decide to cancel the casting while tapping X, it won't let you untap the lands you've already tapped. In the end, you're staring at the mana burn screen.

(I've been told there's a patch for this... Not sure where to get that these days, knowing that MicroProse is no more.)

Cards with titles in yellow are helpfully the cards that can be cast. The cards on the playing areas and hands are rectangles with picture and title, and get "expanded" to the frame on the left if you keep mouse pointerer over them for a second. The UI does waste a bit of space for the mana in mana pool (most of time it looks like mana symbols on one column and "0"s in different colors in another, wayyyy wider column.

All in all, if you forget the land tapping problem, the duel program works just wonderfully.

The deck builder ("Get yer Power Nine right here!!") is pretty good - you see the card on left, you can filter the available cards based on different criteria, and hey, soon you have a good deck. Or not.

One of the small complaints against the computerized version is the fact that there's no expansions - this was particularly annoying because I really wanted to play with Ice Age stuff when the game was finally out, and I couldn't create an exact replica of the deck I was playing with in real world. And, due to Microprose's disappearance, I doubt there ever will be expansions, and even if there was expansions, it's pretty hard to find them these days, or even information about their release.

The another complaint was that it was not possible to play online, or even in hot seat mode. Supposedly the multi-player support was coming, but I never saw it. (These days, they do have Magic Online, which is a separate and wholly unrelated program, and there has always been unofficial programs like Apprentice.)