The Let's Play Archive

Microprose's Magic: The Gathering

by Ultiville

Part 1

The year was 1997. Magic: The Gathering was the hot thing among teenagers not having sex, and college students...not having sex. Also apparently not having sex were Microprose programmers, because in that year they released this gem: the Magic: The Gathering computer game.

These days, you young'uns play your newfangled Magic Online over the Internet. But Microprose had a grander dream. They created Shandalar, a world threatened by five powerful wizards. In Shandalar, you are a freedom fighter who aims to drive the evil wizards from Shandalar before they cast the dreaded Spell of Domination which will...ok, I'm not sure what it does because I've never actually lost the game that way. But it's bad news, and ends your game.

Shandalar is essentially a rudimentary RPG with a battle system that consists of playing games of Magic against the AI.

Wait, what? Yes, that's right, they actually tried to make an AI play Magic. Well, 1997 was the year Deep Blue beat Kasparov! Surely a program designed to run on a home computer can do as well with a vastly less computer friendly game, right?  Yeah, not so much. 

Regardless of the state of the AI, though, this game is a lot of fun, and your enemies have such vastly better cards and higher life totals throughout most of the game that it is still a decent challenge.

I'll be playing the actual games of Magic. I might break this rule if an opportunity for unprecedented hilarity arises in one, but you can't save mid-game so it won't happen often. Don't despair, though! I'll let my fate be guided by all you wonderful people at various important points.

If you don't know how to play Magic, don't worry about it too much. I'll try to explain enough that you can get the gist of the play. Throughout the thread, I'll put Magic rules discussion in  spoiler tags  so you can skip it if you know the rules or don't care.

Right, let's get on with it. This will be a short one, because I want to introduce the first two options.

This is the first screen you see -- difficulty selection. I'm not giving y'all a choice on this one; I'm going for Wizard, the hardest. This doesn't do a lot, but it sets my starting life total as low as possible, and ensures that my starting cards are not only bad, but really bad, and spread among four of the five colors.  More colors is not a good thing. 

Here's your first real choice. On this difficulty level I won't be so lucky as to get starting cards of only one color, but what we pick here definitely biases the pool. Our starting cards will likely be of four different colors, but they'll focus (in both quantity and likely quality, though the computer can't really assess the latter well) on the one we pick. The first five votes in thread for one color will determine the one I pick. If it takes too long to get five, I'll take the first three instead.

If you don't know what the colors do, the descriptions it provides are enough to go on for now. It is worth noting that blue is probably the best, and white probably the worst, but none of them are all that bad.

Right, so we pick our color and --

Right. So, this is the only bug I've had with this game in XP, but I've never been able to squash it. For some reason the name and portrait selecter doesn't work. We'd normally get to pick a portrait and enter a name here. Sadly as you can see the portrait is hopeless, but if I delete all the junk characters, I can fill in a name that works just fine. So that's the second choice: spit out some names. I'll go with whatever one I like, or whatever one gets overwhealming support. I won't use a vulgar name, though, since I work in a high school dorm and students might wander in while I play.

So, onward with the color and name picking! I'll play the first bit as soon as they get chosen.

This game is, by the way, abandonware, and is available at the Home of the Underdogs.

Special thanks to Slowbeef for starting the Let's Play Sandbox and telling me about guncam, which is letting me take the screenshots.

General advice and first-posty stuff!

A lot of the cards in this game show up as names and pictures only. Wizards has an excellent searchable database of all cards ever at which might be helpful.

I got this game but I can't get it to run/run right!
There's been a lot of advice about this posted in the thread, but the best I've heard is to be sure to close programs you don't need. Apparently things on the taskbar not wanting to let it become hidden cause a lot of problems.

Essobie posted:

Not sure if anyone else has posted this link yet, but it has pretty good instructions on how to get this thing working if you are getting crashes at the deck editor screen, can't see any text, or otherwise just can't get it working on Win XP.

You'll need MS .NET framework 1.1 and the Compatability Toolkit to use the complete fix, but once I set everything up using the Compatability Toolkit, this thing doesn't crash ever now.

Jorath posted:

You need to a close (or terminate) a program that has loaded a newer version of a common .dll (I think it's comctl32.dll, but I may be remembering wrong). For me it a HP keyboard enchancment program. I just tried booting, running the game, seeing the issue (you can load the deck editor directly without going into Shandalar), then closing the game and terminating a process in the task manager, then try the game again, etc. You should choose processes that are either unfamiliar, or not obvious windows proceses.

Once you've discovered the offending process you need to kill it before each time you play, or else remove it from your startup programs.

How do I buy card?
When you click on a card in town, often a big version comes up, but there's no obvious way to buy it. I think it has text that just doesn't display right in XP, but it is a Y/N keyboard prompt, so just press Y.

I keep getting killed!

Ultiville posted:

Even on the easiest setting, your plan can't be to fight very often early -- the deck just sucks too much. Plan A is wandering around buying cards and looting the ruins. Once your deck is at least on the level of a reasonable sealed deck, you can think about beating up on monsters for their tasty loots.

What's the level of a reasonable sealed deck? Fair question. You're looking for good creatures (2/2 for 2 or 3/3 or better for a reasonable cost) or creatures with flying or other good abilities, and things that kill creatures. Once you get there you can start assembling the great cards and trying to make a deck with a real idea behind it.

These wizards keep taking over my cities!

One of the best magic items to have is the Sword of Resistance, which lets you automatically teleport to a siege at the risk of a white amulet.

My deck isn't as broken as I'd like

-Tusk Guardians (look like humanoid elephants) will often give Ivory Tower when you beat them. Use the Ivory Tower in dungeons for a good time.

-Mind Stealers (dismounted knights in black and blue armor) have a reasonable chance of letting you dupe any card in your collection when you defeat them. Ditto apparently for Conjurers (blue wizards).

-All the dragons and most of the genies have quite good cards in their decks, which means you might get moxen and things for ante. You can also use the various "increase your ante" cards against these guys to good effect.