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Magic Work Station Print E-mail
User Rating: / 11
Written by Angelo M. D'Argenio   
Tuesday, 07 August 2007 digs deep into the world of trading card games in this comprehensive review of Magic Workstation.


If you’ve ever played a Trading Card Game before you probably know that there is a heck of a lot of information to keep track of.  Life and Power and many other numbers and statistics fluctuate up and down no matter what card game you are playing.  Heck even innocent 52 card games with a standard game need to keep track of points sometimes (money in poker, points in hearts or gin rummy, so on so forth).  When playing these games in real life, in plain old cardboard, these stats can be listed in any number of ways.  Numbers on a piece of paper, little glass beads, torn up cardboard, whatever, as long as you have a slightly innovative mind, you’ll manage, or you’ll simply keep track of it in your head.

When you are playing a card game over the internet, however, things change.  There are no little glass beads or pencils and pads of paper (outside of both of you opening up a notebook file), and you can’t see anything other than what the program allows you to see.  It’s just you, your opponent and your virtual desktop, and if your desktop is designed poorly, both you and your rival will be scrapping to figure out just what the heck is going on.  So when it comes to Card Desktops, the more information you see, the better, and that is where Magic Work Station really comes through.

Magic Workstation is yet another in a long line of programs that allows you to play collectible trading card games over the net.  Obviously designed around Magic The Gathering, hence its name, Magic Workstation allows you to build decks, see cards, and play with them in a virtual atmosphere.  However, even though Magic Workstation (or MWS as it is referred to) was designed for magic, it is actually a significantly flexible tool, able to handle any number of card games.

MWS comes with generic sample cards of no particular game installed, and a blank desktop.  In this stage, it is nowhere near ready to play any game.  What really sets MEW apart from other desktops is its downloadable “themes”.  After you have installed the basic program, you need to set up how the program “thinks”, i.e., you need to install the particular game package for the game you want to play.  These game packages set up to program to operate according to the game you want to play.  This means that cards are organized by their actual statistics relevant to the game; symbols and text are worded in a way that fits with the rules of the game, so on so forth.  Perhaps, the BEST thing about this required step in installation is that it customizes the gameplay area to show EXACTLY the statistics that are relevant to the game.  For example, for magic, you get to see your hand, graveyard, removed from game pile, deck, all different colored types of mana, your life total, and so on.  In addition, you also get to see the specific phases and turn structures that exist in the game, allowing even newcomers to understand the rules quickly.

The interface itself is very flexible.  Right clicking on just about anything brings up a gigantic menu with several options, including attacking, tapping, sacrificing, and so on, but that is not the best part about the program.  The program itself is slightly “smart” when it comes to game rules.  For example, during your “declare attackers” step in magic, double-clicking a card changed from “tap” (turn it on its side), which is used primarily in all other steps, to “attack” which is the primary thing to do in this step.  The same applies for whatever game you are playing, Pokemon, YuGiOh, even the old Star Trek, or new Bleach trading card games, your quick actions (like single and double clicking) change to whatever is most likely to be useful at any given point of the game.  Finally, if quick actions aren’t doing it for you, there are several menus at the top of the game play screen which allow you to do anything from view the particular rulings, or even monetary value of your cards, to swapping decks with your opponent.

The play area comes with a lot of additional add-ons that enhance the playing experience as well.  By right clicking and dragging, you can draw arrows to different cards and players, showing what effects what and how.  You can also alter the color of these arrows, allowing you to show the order or type of effect you are causing.  In addition, the cards in the play area snap to an organizational grid.  The grid is small and still allows for a great deal of movement, but it makes it so that cards can never be hidden by other cards.  Instead, they automatically situate themselves in an organizational manner, allowing you to spend less time fiddling around with card position and more time playing the actual game.

With all the flexibility however, there are some drawbacks with the MWS play area.  Unfortunately, although many actions exist as a quick function, some do not exist as a menu item.  Therefore, newcomers may be confused when they first see the interface.  For example, the command to swap turns is Ctrl+Enter, and this is only mentioned in one very obscure place in the MWS manual.  Very few people realize this through any other way than asking someone while playing their first few games.  In addition, certain functions, such as increasing or decreasing life, really should have a quick button, instead you are forced to use obscure keyboard shortcuts or a slow right click menu.

The resolution of the play area can be a problem as well.  Unfortunately, it is unchangeable, and all cards (outside of close-up view) are the same size.  Even more unfortunately, is the fact that this size is FAR too small to even start to see the artwork on the card.  Players routinely rely on the white label text the program puts on cards to tell what a card is, but even that is astoundingly small at times.  In addition, if you are running on an older computer, it takes a rather long time for the close up view of a card to come into the magnification window at the left of the playing field.  This will cause you to tell your opponent to wait as you figure out what a card does many times over.  It’s especially bad if you are playing against a veteran, as they will play so fast you will rarely get to see what and how they are doing it.  This creates an unfortunate steep artificial learning curve, which can turn some players off.

MWS’s flexible play area comes with an equally flexible deck editor.  In fact, MWS’s deck editor is one of the best I have seen, organization wise.  When you add cards to a deck, they automatically sort themselves into card type, allowing you to see easily what cards you have, their cost, amount, and so on so forth.  This allows quick on the fly editing when a deck needs tweaking, that dosen’t involve searching for the card you want to replace.  Cards placed in a sideboard are put in their own special sideboard category underneath the deck, shown as obviously separate.  The editor window itself shows relevant card information in the style of the original game; removing any decoding work that would have to be done with a more representational theme (i.e. you actually see mana symbols for a 2 red mana spell rather than seeing the letters RR).

Of course, for ever awesome feature there is a flaw, and the flaw in the MWS deck editor comes in its search function, in that, it just dosen’t work.  There are expanded search options for text and type, but I have not once gotten it to find exactly what I am looking for.  Other members of the MWS community have sung its praises, but the entire thing is rather counter intuitive.  In addition, the desktop itself has a long involved install process with many different steps.  The steps are listed on the official website, but it’s FAR more complicated than it has to be.

Finally, the community of MWS is a double edged sword.  Hundreds and thousands of players play on the MWS servers, meaning that you almost always get an open game exactly when you want.  Unfortunately MWS surfers from that unfortunate side effect of net society and sociology, idiots.  About fifty percent of the time, your opponent will leave the game if he is losing, and sometimes opponents will leave just because they plain don’t like your deck.  Luckily, the good people you find are VERY good, and will aid you in understanding the program and maximizing it to its fullest potential.

Overall, MWS is a pretty neat program.  With a little bit of technical understanding, you will be playing cards on the net in no time.  Unfortunately though, I only recommend this to professionals or tournament players, looking to always have a game to play.  Just about everyone plays a deck that is tournament worthy, no matter what the game, and causal games are really unheard of.  In the end MWS is more of a training tool than a game due to its community’s impersonal nature.  If you are looking to feed your TCG addiction, download this, but if you are looking just to lounge in your underwear and play a game or two, look elsewhere.

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Related: OCTGN
Developer: Magi-Soft Development
Website for Game:
Publisher: N/A
O/S: Windows 98/ME /XP/Vista
Cost of Full Game: $26.90
Year of Release: 2002

Tested on:


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