Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Primer of Magic: The Gathering for Parents of School-Aged Children

Magic: The Gathering is a multiplayer, fantasy-themed collectible card game. Players take on the roles of "Planeswalkers," powerful magicians who have gained the ability to summon creatures, use magical artifacts, and cast enchantments. Each card represents a spell that the player can cast to help himself or to hinder and lower the "life points" of the other players. Every card is beautifully illustrated with an appropriate, unique, original fantasy painting displayed on the card's face.

Gameplay requirements:
Each player must have a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards. A deck must have at least 60 cards in total to be deemed valid for play, though there is no upper limit to how many cards can be in a deck. Players may also want counters or dice in order to keep track of life points and various bonuses and hindrances they receive during the course of the game. A pencil and paper will also work to keep track of these changes. 60-40 card starter decks may be purchased at board and card game stores for about $5-10 each. Additional, randomized, 15-card packs cost about $3-5.

Gameplay mechanics:
Each player first constructs a deck of cards containing no less than 60 cards in total and no more than 4 of each spell-card. All players shuffle their own deck and draw a hand of 7 cards, then the game begins. Magic: The Gathering is played in turns. The first player to take a turn is often decided randomly, and then play proceeds around the table clockwise. Each turn is divided up into phases during which certain actions may be taken, such as casting spells or attacking an opponent with summoned creatures to try to reduce the opponent's life points. Spells are cast via a mystical energy called “mana” which pervades the multiverse. Spells have different mana costs, smaller spells cost less while more devastating spells cost more to play. Mana also comes in one of five different colours, the colour of the mana flavours what types of spells may and may not be used. The different colours of mana may be acquired by tapping into specific types of land, which come in the form of cards, and may be played by each player once per turn. Each player has the option of attacking or casting spells on any other player, making for some interesting social dynamics within games with more than 2 players. Each player who is reduced to 0 or fewer life points is considered to be out of the game, while the rest of the players continue to play. When one player is the only one left with any life points, they win the game.

The Magic: The Gathering setting:
The setting that Magic: The Gathering takes place in is a diverse fantasy world tinged with science-fiction. There are several different universes making up the “multiverse” through which the Planeswalkers can travel. Planeswalkers are the only ones who can travel between universes and often find themselves fundamentally at odds with what and whom they find there. This is where the card game comes in: It is a battle for supremacy between the Planeswalkers, and players will sometimes do some light role-playing around the table as they cast spells and summon creatures. A good deal of the general histories of the universes are fleshed out, leaving most of the specifics up to interpretation. There have been numerous books, mostly detailing the lives and politics of the Planeswalkers, written about the Magic:The Gathering multiverse.

Benefits of playing Magic: The Gathering:
  • Increases intellectual dexterity, allowing for players to practice thinking on their feet in a dynamic environment
  • Supports immediate logical strategy. In the same way that chess supports strategic maneuvering, and on a much deeper level, Magic: The Gathering often uses fairly complex measures and counter-measures to meet the victory condition
  • Allows for practice of mathematic skills with additions and subtractions from several different sources complicating matters
  • With guidance, 2-player games allow for practice and development of friendly competition
  • Games with more players allow for alliance-building and is generally a more complex social experience
  • The imaginative setting leaves much to interpretation, allowing for creative expression within the confines of the multiverse's histories

Recommended minimum age:
Wizards of the Coast, the company who publishes Magic: The Gathering, recommends their players be at least 13 years old. This is due to monstrous imagery, partial nudity, and religious themes, as well as competitive maturity in the players. Without adult-child conversation about the imagery and concepts depicted, I agree with this recommendation. If adult supervision and guidance is provided, children as young as 10 years old would benefit from this game.

Remember, you know your child best and know exactly what she can and cannot handle,
so take these recommendations as soft guidelines rather than hard rules.