Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers is a game for the PC that was released in February of 1997 by Microprose.
The game combined the Magic: the Gathering card game with RPG elements, set in the realm of Shandalar. The player begins with a starting deck of cards and acquires new cards and power-ups as he or she defeats monsters in games of Magic: the Gathering.
The land of Shandalar and its people are being enslaved by a powerful planeswalker called Arkazon. Five powerful wizards, each one specializing in a color of Magic, have allied themselves with Arkazon and have sent their minions out from their castles to do Arkazon’s bidding. The player, with their starting deck of cards, must defeat these minions to collect new cards and information. As the player gets stronger cards, they can assault the castles of each wizard. When each wizard has been defeated, Arkazon himself challenges the player. For every point of damage that Arkazon suffers in this fight, he is sealed away from Shandalar for 100 years.
The game is played from an isometric view, and the player walks around in a randomly-generated world populated with towns, larger cities, caves, dungeons, castles, and monsters.
In towns, the player can buy new cards, sell cards, purchase food, edit his or her deck, accept quests, or receive tutorial hints.
Cities are essentially identical to towns, but they offer more cards for sale and generally offer more difficult quests. In addition, abilities called World Magics can be purchased at select cities.
Caves randomly appear on the map while the player is walking around, and they trigger random events when entered. Examples include free cards, a bonus for the next duel, a challenge from a powerful monster, free dungeon hints, free amulets, thieves taking your amulets or gold, or a bazaar that offers all cards for sale at high prices.
Dungeons are invisible on the map until the player is informed of its location via dungeon hints extracted from a monster. Dungeons contain the most powerful cards in the game, and in all of Magic: the Gathering, but they are generally guarded by powerful monsters to be defeated. Dungeons are randomly-generated.
There are five castles in Shandalar, one for each color of magic. Similar to dungeons, castles are randomly-generated mazes of hallways filled with monsters, treasure, and dice that confer random bonuses for future battles when collected. Within each castle is a powerful wizard that must be defeated. Upon winning, the castle will crumble, the wizard will offer you three cards of his or her color as a prize, and all monsters of that color will no longer attack you.
When approached by a monster, the player will be given the option to either duel the monster in a game of Magic: the Gathering with his or her deck, or to bribe the monster with gold. Games are played for ante; cards are wagered on the outcome of the match.
The game, unlike many of the popular computer programs used for playing Magic: the Gathering, actually enforces the rules of Magic: the Gathering and takes into account each individual cards rules text and effects on the game. Coupled with this impressive (for its time) game engine, is a robust computer AI which can proficiently engage the player in a game of Magic: the Gathering. Though the game engine and the AI can falter at times, the competency of these two aspects make Shandalar a classic among Magic: the Gathering fans, and the game is played by many to this day.
Created specifically for this game were 12 cards that were never printed on paper. These cards constituted the Astral Set, and all were created to be random and rule-breaking. The degree of randomness of these cards are only enforceable by a computer game and nigh-impossible to use in real play, such as Whimsy; the card dictates that a specified number of random Magic: the Gathering cards are played for free upon resolution. Each card, when resolved, played its own special sound effect. Astral cards were generally only able to be obtained in dungeons.
Deckbuilder and Duel
Other features included being able to construct any deck from the cards within the game, separately from the single-player campaign. These decks could be used to fight any of the monster’s decks or user-created decks against computer AI opponents in single-match duels, or in single-elimination tournaments. Later user-created mods in 2005 and 2007 enabled the game to simulate a sealed-deck tournament with AI to compete against. Sealed-deck tournaments involve opening booster packs and creating a deck from the random collection of cards. While the AI is not adept at sealed-deck building, the addition was welcomed by many who still played the game.
The deckbuilder imposed no rules upon deck construction, which is another factor that contributed to continued play among Magic: the Gathering players. The ability to circumvent rules such as only being able to have, at most, four copies of a nonbasic land in a deck allows players to make decks that could not normally be played in sanctioned tournaments. The cardpool of Duels of the Planeswalkers also includes some of the most expensive cards in all of Magic: the Gathering, which allows players to construct decks with cards that they would not normally be able to acquire or afford.
In December of 2007, an unfinished user-created mod from 2005 was made available on the internet that added cards to the game. Entitled Manalink 2.0, these additions included missing cards from expansions within the game, in addition to recently-printed cards that were released years after the game was published. While the additions have increased replay value and made new decks viable in the restricted card pool, they came at a cost in duel and multiplayer stability. Since the game was made with the cardpool of 1996 in mind, it is understandable that cards from 2003 and beyond would have adverse effects on the game when added to it.