Last month, I wrote about choices in games, and how they should be meaningful, informed, and limited. (It’s short. Go on and read it if you haven’t. I’ll wait.)
Today, I’d like to briefly revisit that territory with a look at Magic: the Gathering and beauty of limited choices.
One of the most elegant parts of the grand-daddy of all TCGs is how its choices start out super-limited, but expand over time. Consider, if you will, the play pattern of a typical* game:
At the start of the game, you have no cards in play and no mana. You have one decision to make: what type of land card to play from your hand. (And if you only have one type of land in your hand, it’s not even a decision, really, since the only meaningful choice is to play that card.)
Once you have that land in play, you have a wider array of choices, but they’re still limited to what you have in your hand — and in a “typical” hand, only about half of those cards are viable choices (since the others require more mana than you have, or mana of a color you don’t have yet).
It’s often not until the second or third turn that you have to expand your decision-making to include not only the cards in your hand, but your card in play. Even then, some number of cards from your hand can still be ignored for now for lack of mana.
Of course, it doesn’t take too long for the game to explode into a crazy interconnected web of decisions that may be anything but limited. But that’s fine. You’ve ramped into that complexity rather than diving into it on the first turn, and that makes all the difference.
Yay for limited choices!
* Yes yes, some decks and more experienced players don’t necessarily follow this play pattern. I’m speaking in broad generalities here.