Magic: The Gathering--Arena of the Planeswalkers Board Game
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro Gaming
Release Date (US):  August, 2015
MSRP: $29.99
Product #: B2606
Players: 2 – 5
Playing Time: An hour or more
Ages: 10 and up
ICv2 Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

When Magic: The Gathering exploded onto the game scene, offering tantalizing hints of an unexplored fantasy world, a lot of us game veterans expected Wizards of the Coast to capitalize on their success with a huge collection of board games and role playing games based on this rapidly growing fantasy setting.  In fact, many of us were excited about the possibilities.  To my surprise, it took 22 years before we finally get to experience Magic in a different way.  But now we finally have Arena of the Planeswalkers.

Summary:  Two to five powerful magic users, called "Planeswalkers" do battle to the death in the desert.  To aid them, they summon squads of monsters and soldiers, represented in the game by plastic figurines.  Each Planeswalker has their own unique deck of magic spell cards, that they can use to manipulate their foes, enhance their allies, or blast their enemies to pieces.

The game is played on a modular board with a hex grid to control movement and combat.  A small number of elevation tiles and two large cardboard "ruins" are used to create more interesting battlefields.  Players move their pieces around the board to outmaneuver and ultimately destroy their enemies.

Originality:  Arena of the Planeswalkers offers an interesting blend of gaming styles, combining elements of collectible card games, board games, and even a hint of tabletop miniatures.  This multitude of gaming genres are integrated very well, and are enhanced by a number of clever little mechanics that give the game a fresh feeling, even if we have experienced most of these before.

The true originality of the design is the wedding of these diverse game elements together with the unique and well-established nature of Magic: The Gathering.  The themes, imagery, characters, and even some of the game systems will all feel familiar to fans of that game, while really not requiring any knowledge of Magic at all in order to play.  The result is a game that can appeal equally to fans of the CCG, and those who have never played it.

Presentation:  As with all things Magic, Arena of the Planeswalkers has magnificent artwork on the box, in the rules, and in the cards.  The graphics on the game board and the cardboard punchouts are also excellent, if the desert-theme of the set does leave the pallet a bit limited.

But a game like this is dependent on its plastic models, and these are average, at best.  The level of detail isn’t great, though the molding is pretty clean.  The game includes 35 figures, but only five of them (the Planeswalkers themselves) are painted.  And, sadly, the painting job on those is not all that great—about on the level of the earliest Mage Knight sets.

Quality:  All the game components are good quality, except for the dice, which appear to be simple silk-screened blank cubes.  This means that the symbols will wear off if the game is played heavily, forcing players to find an alternative for the.  The boards are good and show no sign of warpage.  The cards are good, but not great--they feel a little bit thin to me.  The rulebook is printed on nice quality glossy stock, with lots of good images and examples, but the text itself needed to be clearer in a few places, and the organization chosen makes it difficult to reference during play.

Marketability:  In a word:  Magic.  Fans of the game and fans of fantasy games in general have been hungering for something like this for a long time.  Combine this with the potential for expansions and customization, much like the older Heroscape line, and there is a lot of potential here.  Arena of the Planeswalkers integrates enough game styles that it can, potentially, offer something for everybody.

Overall:  Arena of the Planeswalkers is, most importantly, fun to play.  The game systems work well, and it draws upon a rich and diverse fantasy game setting that continues to grow year after year.  The result is an engaging and enjoyable experience with excellent replayability.

Out of the box, however, the game feels a bit lacking.  It includes a few different scenarios, but they are all of the "kill your opponent" style.  More variety here would have been a great thing.  The small number of elevation tiles and stand-up cardboard ruins doesn’t allow much in the way of customized battlefields, and the small number of units and the limited variety of spell cards restricts the ability of players to "build their own deck" when they play.

But, as the beginning of a new series, with expansions on the way, Arena of the Planeswalkers has a lot of potential.  I think that this game will really shine once there are a few expansions out and players can begin to build their own little armies of plastic monsters and create their own customized deck.  I don’t doubt that once these expansions hit, this game will prove to be a solid 4.  But for now, due to its limitations, I can only call this 3.5 out of 5.

--William Niebling