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Digital Dice and Electronic Magic

Tue Jul 18, 2006 - 7:36 PM EDT - By Xious Sonenberg

Electronic Magic

While dice based RPGs have always been the staple commodity of most comic book stores, Collectible Card Games, or CCGs have moved up to the top slot in gaming preference by many, and are by far the most popular form of Role Playing today.

Nearly every game shop in the world has tables set up to play, with kids dealing out Pokémon, teenagers rolling out Marvel Super Heroes, and folks of all ages dueling over the venerable classic: Magic: The Gathering, which has its own annual tournaments with enough cash prizes to make some professional poker players jealous.

Magic is the game that started them all, back in 1994 with their original Alpha and Beta releases and now has well over two-dozen different additions and sub-series from which to choose. All of this requires a pretty hefty investment in cards, many of which are so rare that they sell for hundreds, sometimes even thousands of dollars each.

Some, like the infamous Black Lotus are so rare that many players have never even seen one, and getting your mitts on one to use in your own deck is about as easy as building a time machine in your basement.

All of that is changing, as today, digital renditions of the game thrive, and using almost any deck that you can dream up, as a computerized version is a snap, not only on desktop PCs, but also on your Treo.

Released last year under the name Planeswalker, this app is freeware, and though still in Beta, (the current release as of this writing is v0.8) it's crammed with goodies and comes with a database of well over 500 cards. You can even create your own cards or add existing card details into the database in less time that it takes to get a meatball sandwich at Subway. Download it here.

To use Planeswalker, you'll first need to find a buddy that is ready to duke it out on your Treo's two-inch screen, about 6mb of internal RAM (the databases don't work properly if installed on an SD card), plus a fair bit of patience to get it all working.

Unfortunately, it doesn't automate any game functions, and there are only a few icons to represent cards on the battlefield. This means you'll be making heavy use of its "Inspect" feature; click on the magnifying glass icon and then on the desired card.

There's also no digital representation of your Mana pool, and tapping cards does not automatically have any effect at all. So if you deal damage to a player, you have to manually deduct it from his life total, and there is no way to prevent cheating.

To start the game, you either build decks from the included card database, which are save-able, under custom names, for later use, or use one of the two included pre-configured decks. Play starts by shuffling and drawing cards. To draw a card, simply tap on the "Draw" icon. To build a starting hand, tap it seven times, which is required and annoying.

There are also gadgets for viewing a hand, which brings up a new screen that lets you utilize your hand, and to tap a card, or to discard a card to your graveyard; and a three-digit life counter built in, which is easy to use. All of the gadgets are tiny, and will require you to whip out your stylus, though if you have long fingernails you can make do.

Cards appear in the middle of the playfield, and are easily movable to desired locations by dragging them around like a puppy dog on a leash. There is noticeable screen flicker, likely due to the program still being in Beta, and a glitch, which causes the program to crash if you try to build a deck larger than sixty cards.

Problems aside, Planeswalker is a great app – it just needs some bugs squashed and it'd benefit from better representation of cards on the battleground. Automating Mana pools would be nice too.

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