Battlegrounds is a real time strategy video game based on Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, though with many fundamental differences. The game is based on the creation of heroes and mages that summon forth powerful monsters, spells, and abilities to defeat the enemy duelist. Duelists learn new magical spells by completing the campaign, with more and more spell books becoming available as the gamer progresses. Each spell is separated into one of 5 colors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The overall design of Battlegrounds differs significantly from that of the original card game source material. Battlegrounds consists entirely of real time combat, where duelists bring pre-meditated spellbooks to the table to duke it out. Beyond mastering some basic skills, victory is determined almost entirely in the metagame.Each player is represented by a duelist; the nature of duelists, dueling, magic, etc. is not addressed. The objective is to reduce the enemy duelist's life to 0; each player starts with 20 life. In the Arcade Duel mode, there is a ten-minute time limit for each duel, at which point the current leader is crowned victor. (The only alternate win condition is provided by the white enchantment Test of Endurance.) Before dueling, players can edit the spellbook they will bring to battle in an editor mode where the spells are represented by icons that the player rearranges. During actual duels, the duelist avatar navigates three-dimensional arenas by way of the control stick or directional pad. At the top of the screen, the current life totals and mana of the duelists is visible. A duelist can unleash a physical attack once per second to attack a creature or player directly in front of him/herself. This attack is apparently more effective when running forward. They can also summon a shield when not preoccupied with some other action to reduce damage to the duelist by half. (Note that the rule of "damage causes loss of life" from the card game still stands.) The shield can be summoned indefinitely but drains the user's mana at a significant rate. Rounding seems to vary based on the source of damage. A variety of arenas from the Magic: the Gathering multiverse are selectable, but vary only aesthetically. Each arena is separated into halves, one for each duelist, that are separated by a glowing line. (Once again, the premises behind all this are unexplained.) While in enemy territory, a duelist can wreak some havoc, namely the physical attack and stealing mana crystals and shards, but the trespasser is unable to cast spells or shields. After spending more than a moment across the center line, a duelist suffers a loss of two life every few seconds.
Several of the duelist avatars, as well as all of the spells, are almost exactly transferred from the Magic: The Gathering trading card game and story. There are some discrepancies; for example, the costs of several spells are changed, presumably to balance gameplay and the relationship between the five colors, and the characters present from the Magic storyline did not all coexist (or even anything remotely similar) at any point in the story.
Mana is magical energy used to cast spells. A duelist gains mana by collecting Mana crystals that appear over the battlefield at timed intervals, with an increasing time delay of 3 seconds between the appearance of successive crystals- so while reaching 5 crystals takes 45 seconds, it will take 2 minutes and 45 seconds to reach 10 Crystals. This is an attempt to represent drawing mana from increasing numbers of tapped and untapped lands in the card game. Crystals become permanent additions that appear under your health bar and slowly fill with Mana. The more mana you let the bar fill up, the faster it will regenerate. Players can collect mana shards that litter the ground to faster fill their mana bar. When a creature is destroyed, a number of mana shards equal to the number of full mana required to cast the creature falls to the ground, where either duelist can claim them simply by stepping on or near them. Each shard restores approximately half of one mana instantaneously. The only source of mana shards beyond creature destructions are those produced every five seconds by the green creatures Llanowar Elves and Priest of Titania. Maintaining a mana advantage is more significant in battlegrounds than in the card game, because there no actual cards, and a given spell can be cast an indefinite number of times.
Types of Magic Spells
Almost everything a duelist can do in Battlegrounds is some type of spell (hence, even creatures are affected by Spelljack and Counterspell because they are creature spells). Players access spells by way of a customizable spellbook. During a duel, this is represented by menus-within-a-menu. On the Xbox A opens the menu for creatures, X sorceries, and B enchantments. Y returns to the basic menu. Once one of these menus is opened, each spell has its own non-Y button that the player can designate beforehand. This will trigger the casting of the spell, provided the duelist has access to sufficient mana, which will be consumed. The spellbook is organized into pages of three spells apiece, which can be toggled with the black or white button. A spellbook may contain no more than ten spells of no more than two colors. Any spell can be cast at any time, and an indefinite number of times, provided sufficient mana is available and spent. More expensive spells take longer to cast. While casting a spell a duelist can move freely, but if you cross the center line between your territory and the enemy's, your spell is countered. There are 3 types of spells:
Sorceries are spells with temporary effects that trigger when they resolve.
A player may control no more than five creatures at any time. When a creature spell is cast successfully, a colored disk appears on the ground where it was cast, and the creature appears. The creature returns to this spot each time it respawns. The vast majority of creatures attack, advancing towards the enemy duelist. After an attacker deals all of its possible combat damage, it respawns. When attacking creatures advancing in opposite directions cross paths, they fight until one or both die or respawns. This is different than in the card game, although the system of power and toughness is copied directly. there also blocking creatures that remain stationary on their controller's side and intercept attacking creatures. Four special creatures are Llanowar Elves, Priests of Titania, Blessed Orators, and Harbingers of Night which are considered blockers but always advance to the rear of their controller's territory to perform a unique effect. In this respect, they somewhat resemble enchantments.
A player may control no more than two enchantments at any time. When an enchantment spell resolves, an icon unique to each enchantment appears on one of two pedestals overlooking the controller's territory. Enchantments can cause either static or triggered effects that tend to profoundly affect strategy and gameplay. A player can control duplicate enchantments. It should be noted that only two colors, green and white, can actually destroy enchantments at all. Blue can respond to an enchantment only by countering the spell.
The Five Colors of Magic
The five colors are remarkably well-balanced, each wielding several potent spells that seem to serve only to antagonize certain colors. This is one reason why the metagame is essential; this is the battlegrounds equivalent of card-game sideboarding and is omnipresent.
Red is the colour of fire, rage, passion, chaos, and destruction. Red's greatest strength lies in its early game speed and the efficiency with which it responds to threats from any of the other colors. Red's two one-mana sorceries, Engulfing Flames and Reckless Charge, are essential to any red spellbook. Utilizing these sorceries, along with cheap goblin creatures, a red duelist can destroy all but the strongest of attackers before being damaged. Later on, Volcanic Dragon, a 4/4 creature with flying and haste, can decimate unprepared opponents. In the late game, red's enchantments support a swarming goblin assault, with Fervor giving all creatures haste and Gratuitous Violence doubling their damage. Goblin King also can turn a swarm of Raging Goblins into a threat by giving all goblins +1/+1. Red has the most "direct-damage" spells, like Scorching Missile, that can negate the entire battlefield to strike the enemy duelist, though half of them harm the caster as well. The haste ability is unique to red, and appears to double a creature's movement speed. The red creature Retromancer is a nightmare for an Unsummon-happy blue opponent, but otherwise is not very useful. Threaten is a handy card to throw against a team of midsize creatures or a huge one with trample. Magma Giant and Inferno provide widespread decimation. Red's primary weaknesses are its own inability to take damage and substandard air units (Goblin Sky Raider being inferior to the other 3 mana fliers), although red is probably the most well-rounded of all the game's spellbooks.
Green is the colour of earth, might, growth, and nature. In the game, Green's main strategy is to generate more mana and summon strong creatures and make them stronger. It is also the only spellbook with creatures and spell-abilities that allow its creatures to "Trample" effectively allowing them to continue a ponderous assault until either they hit the enemy duelist, or get killed themselves. Notable green spells include Giant Growth, which can turn even the most worthless creature into one that should be rightly feared, as well as the only mana acceleration spell in the game, Untamed Wilds. Green also utilizes Llanowar Elves and Priest of Titania, which are the only spells in the game that generate mana shards. Green's main weakness is that it has no way to win other than through its creatures, lacking any direct-damage spells, and is the only color completely lacking flying creatures. Green does, however, have Giant Spider, a unique blocker that blocks both flying and nonflying creatures. Green has no Enchantments like the others, but the spell Tranquility counters this disadvantage nicely. Green possesses the strongest basic creature in the game- Avatar of Might. A common green strategy is to generate mana and creatures quickly, especially with Llanowar Elves and Untamed Wilds, and cast Overrun as soon as possible.
White is the colour of light, purity, life, skill, and heroism. In the game, White's forces attempt to achieve strategic advances - as it possesses many strong creatures with the "First Strike" ability - an ability that allows a creature to attack the enemy before being attacked - thus ensuring their victory over even apparently stronger opponents. White also possesses healing spells and abilities that send a packet of health to the duelist either upon summoning or upon striking the enemy. So widespread can this healing ability be that White has a special enchantment that allows the duelist to win by achieving 50 health. White's main weakness is its lack of creature-destroying or direct-damage spells, with the exception of Wrath of God - which destroys all creatures, including the caster's. White's strongest creature is Angel of Retribution. Strongest spell is Wrath of God. One of White's arenas is Castle Lucetos. White's most powerful duelist is Akroma the Angel of Wrath. White power comes from the heart/torso.
Blue is the colour of water & air, knowledge, wisdom, magic, and trickery. In the game, Blue's forces are highly defensive in nature, attempting to create an impenetrable wall before unleashing a powerful assault by the strongest air units in the game. Blue's magic is highly focused on confusion, such as unsummoning enemy units to remove spell-given "buffs", or counterspelling the enemy's high-strength and normally game-winning spells such as Avatar of Might. In the most frightening circumstances for the enemy, a Blue duelist can even steal his enemy's spell and then use it as his own for a one-time use. Another useful ability is the Clone, which replicates the closest creature - also very useful. Most units have "Flying" attribute. Blue's main weakness is their mostly expensive spells, and a complete lack of advancing or strong ground creatures. Blue's strongest creature is Mahamoti Djinn. Strongest spell is Mana Short. One of Blue's arenas is Mestidin College. Blue's most powerful duelist is Arcanis the Omnipotent. Blue power comes from the brain/head.
Black is the colour of death, decay, doom, dread, and darkness. Black is decidedly the slowest color in Battlegrounds. It is the only color entirely lacking a one-mana spell, and often has a hard time handling early game threats. That said, however, black can be a terrifying adversary. Black has three spells (Death's-Head Buzzard, Harbinger of Night, and Infest) that slaughter swarms of small attackers. Black also uses Vicious Hunger and Dark Banishing to prey on more independent threats, and all the while, black punishes a reckless offensive with the life-draining enchantment Liability. Black can start to turn things around in the midgame with a couple of truly fantastic creatures. Because it drains 1 life from the black duelist each time it respawns, Juzam Djinn compensates by being a 5/5 creature for just four mana. Sengir Vampire is a 4/4 flier for five mana that gains +1/+1 permanently each time it destroys an enemy creature. Thus, your opponent's efforts to chump-block it to death only make it stronger. On the other end of the spectrum, black can often outlast an opponent by draining life with Liability, Vicious Hunger and Soul Feast.
Like the original cardgame, Battlegrounds allows gamers to mix decks, or spellbooks to mix spell, creatures, and enchantments to - theoretically - make stronger spellbooks. However, also in keeping with the original cardgame, this makes attaining the mana to successfully implement this grand strategy much more difficult, as the caster must obtain mana crystals of two colours instead of just one. Thus, a normal spellbook can possibly out-power a mixed spellbook by either summoning their most powerful spells and creatures much earlier than their opponent, or by swarming their opponent with a frantic number of weaker, cheaper creatures or spells. An important part of the mixed deck is being able to survive these initial assaults until they can cast their target mixes. Green, the only color boasting any mana acceleration, is the easiest color to mix with another. A player may not mix more than two colors. Each color is designated as primary or secondary, with the first mana crystal to appear being the primary color, and the color alternating for the rest of the duel. Mana crystals generated with Untamed Wilds follow this pattern. Unlike the card game, there are no multicolored or colorless spells.
Level 1 characters have only 4 spells to cast, and are available at the very beginning. These characters include
Tenera : Green duelist (Spells include Defiant Elf, Run Wild, Elvish Warrior and Giant Growth)
Kuldan : Red duelist (Spells include Raging Goblin, Engulfing Flame, Reckless Charge and Goblin Hero)
Alberon : White duelist (Spells include Suntail Hawk, Guided Strike, Youthful Knight and Warrior's Honour)
Keroc : Black duelist (Spells include Carnophage, Death's Head Buzzard, Vicious Hunger and Infest)
Ildavar : Blue duelist (Spells include Unsummon, Horned Turtle, Wind Drake and Deluge)
Level 2 characters have 7 spells to cast, which are all of the Level 1 character's spells in addition to three new spells, and if possible, one of these spells is an enchantment. These characters include
Volita : Red duelist (Additional spells include Goblin Sky Raider, Scorching Missile and Fervor)
Entorin : Green duelist (Additional spells include Llanowar Elf, Untamed Wilds and Giant Spider)
Evalisa : White duelist (Additional spells include Demystify, Venerable Monk and Test of Endurance)
Midia : Black duelist (Additional spells include Juzam Djinn, Liability and Dark Banishing)
Zayel : Blue duelist (Additional spells include Fighting Drake, Pendrell Mists and Mana Short)
Level 3 characters have a spellbook that consists of the full 10 spells, which are all of the Level 2 character's spells in addition to three new spells. They also exist in the card game, unlike the Level 1 and 2 characters which have no card equivalent.
Maraxus of Keld : Red duelist (Additional spells include Goblin King, Volcanic Dragon and Inferno)
Multani, Maro Sorcerer: Green duelist (Additional spells include Gorilla Chieftain, Rushwood Elemental and Overrun)
Akroma, Angel of Wrath: White duelist (Additional spells include Thunder Spirit, Warrior Angel and Wrath of God)
Ishan's Shade : Black duelist (Additional spells include Harbinger of Night, Sengir Vampire and Soul Feast)
Arcanis The Omnipotent : Blue Duelist (Additional spells include Mage's Guile, Counterspell and Air Elemental)
Level 4 characters are only unlockable through completing either the Quest or Arcade Mode. They do not have spellbooks of their own outside the Quest mode where they are battled, and are mainly for achievement purposes, especially Tsabo Tavoc who can only be unlocked through beating the Arcade Mode with all 6 character types (including custom spellbook)
Tsabo Tavoc - A red/black duelist and the second-to-final boss, unlocked through full completion of the Arcade Mode. She has no spellbook of her own, and is only playable when chosen as the character for a custom spellbook. Mishra - The final boss of the quest mode, who is unlocked after he is defeated. In the quest mode he can cast spells of any color at any time, however his choice of spells is somewhat peculiar, which can range from Havoc Demon to Elvish Warrior. He is also known for his poor A.I, he does not summon creatures quickly, and his use of Liability makes most defensive duelists have an easy time defeating him. Once unlocked he has no spellbook of his own, only playable when chosen as the character for a custom spellbook.
- Battlegrounds Official Site
- Atari Introduces Magic: The Gathering - BattleGrounds for Xbox and PC (press release)
- The Perfect 10 by Daniel Stahl