Puzzle Quest meets Magic: The Gathering. If any combination of puzzle RPG and other thing could restore my faith in the once-glorious video game franchise, this would be it. It comes pretty close. Back when Puzzle Quest was an actual role-playing game with a story and character classes and experience points and such, I was in heaven. The first Puzzle Quest and its expansion were perfect. Puzzle Quest 2 took some strange turns, but the basic idea remained intact. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix attempted to mix things up with a different sort of game board and a science fiction them, only one of which worked (not the game board).
Since those multicolored gems we've gotten a couple of free-to-play games based on other properties — Marvel Puzzle Quest and Adventure Time Puzzle Quest — both of which were technically sound but lacking the depth and character of the originals.
And now we have Magic: The Gathering Puzzle Quest for iOS and Android. It's still free to play. It lacks a rich storyline and characters with any real character.
The sad fact of the matter is no one is making the game I fell in love with all those years ago anymore. The closest we've gotten is Gems of War from original Puzzle Quest creators Infinite Interactive, and even that's mired in grabby free-to-play mechanics. We're going to have to settle for clever gameplay, which the marriage of Puzzle Quest and Magic: The Gathering provides.
In the Magic: The Gathering card game, players take turns playing mana cards and using them to cast spells, summon monsters, weave enchantments and other mystical things like that.
In Magic: The Gathering Puzzle Quest, players draw cards from their deck every turn, matching mana-flavored puzzle gems in order to cast spells, summon monsters, weave enchantments and other mystical things like that. The back and forth between player and enemy (or other player) is familiar — the mechanics are just different.
Cards are powered by gem matches in the order they appear in the player's hand, which can be reordered as they please at the beginning of their turn. Players can have three creatures on the board at a time. Some attack every turn. Others are there solely for defence. Cast another creature of the same type as one on the board, and it merges with that card, adding its power and defence.
Spells are cast onto gems on the board. Say an opponent casts a spell that disables the first creature on my side of the playfield. The spell affixes itself to a gem on the board with a number of charges, and I need to match that gem that number in order to dispel it.
Sticking with the whole Planeswalker theme from the card game, player characters have special powers that can be invoked once enough of the Magic-logo gems on the board are collected. Right now my Planeswalker can spend 9 of those gems to grant each creature on her side +3 to attack and defence for one turn, or spend 6 to draw a card and gain some mana. As the Planeswalker levels up they gain more power and new spots in their decks to add enchantments, spells and creatures.
It all comes together quite nicely, at least early on. It's a nice balance of the strategy of the card game with the randomness of a match-three game, though there are times when that randomness works squarely in your opponents' favour. I've been on the edge of winning only to have the AI pull of a glorious gem-matching combo, powering every card in their deck in one fell swoop and wiping me out.
Of course it wouldn't be a free-to-play game without things to buy. There's no energy meter, but your health replenishes slowly between battles, which will eventually lead to spending in-game currency for refills. That currency is also used to purchase card packs. So far every four games or so I can afford a single booster, which has worked for me. I've heard from players further along that the difficulty curve is steep and the perceived need to spend real cash on more cards is strong. We'll have to see how that pans out.
Magic: The Gathering Puzzle Quest is more than just another Puzzle Quest game. Unlike the Marvel and Adventure Time games, which essentially take the same puzzle game and wrap an entertainment property around it, this is a marriage of two distinct games into a unique new experience. Instead of just a puzzle RPG, this is a collectible card puzzle RPG. Stringing those four words together gives me tingles.