Magic Realms review – The ultimate collectible card game for Windows Phone 8

Magic Realms is the Windows Phone and Blackberry version of Elemental Kingdoms, a popular collectible card game/RPG. It also happens to be a re-skinning of an existing game called Lies of Astaroth, with the same game mechanics but totally different cards, art and story.

Origins aside, Magic Realms is a vast and endlessly enjoyable card game. You get a lengthy story mode, online player-versus-player battles, clan support, semi-weekly live events, cloud saves, and even cross-platform compatibility with the Blackberry version of the game. That’s quite a lot of value from a free to play game. Learn more in our in-depth review.

Save the land

To start with, you’ll select a male or female Hero. Then your campaign begins in the kingdom of Tundra, part of the Northern Alliance. A former ally, the Scarlet Nation suddenly joins up with the Black Swamp Tribe to invade Tundra. Your Hero will need to seek help from another kingdom and investigate the cause of the Scarlet Nation’s aggression.

The story unfolds through brief conversations between the player’s party every time a new stage is visited. Although the dialog is well-written, it only really concerns the team’s trip from place to place. Nobody receives any actual characterization, making it tough to care why they’re going where.

The world of Magic Realms is divided into 12 maps, each with multiple stages (battles) to conquer. By simply winning a battle, you’ll gain one star for that stage. Every level has Medium and Hard goals too, such as using certain cards in your deck or winning without losing too much life. Revisit stages to complete these extra goals and win up to three stars for the stage. Three-starring all of the levels in a stage often unlocks hidden levels.

Working through Magic Realms’ campaign and earning stars is quite a lot of fun, but eventually the opponents will outpace the player’s growth by a wide margin. Around the eighth map or so, you’ll come up against enemies with significantly better cards and runes than you could possibly have at that point. I’ve often had to grind for days just to overcome the next battle or two, killing the pace of the game.

Card combat

All the window dressing in the world wouldn’t matter without a good card combat system. Thankfully, the 1-on-1 combat in Magic Realms is both easy to learn and addictive.

Every round, both players draw a random card from the deck, moving it to the preparation zone. Each card has a unique Wait Time representing the number of turns it must stay within the prep zone before moving into the battlefield where it can be played. This timer is easy to read during battle. But within the actual deck building interface outside of battle, the Wait Time is all but hidden – you have to zoom in on a card to see it.

Cards placed on the battle field will automatically attack the enemy card placed directing across from them. Each card has its own individual HP rating that decreases as it gets attacked. Having knocked out the card across from your own, your card will then be able to attack the enemy player directly. Whichever player runs out of life (or cards) loses the battle.

In addition to HP and Attack attributes, cards also have special abilities. These usually activate automatically during the card’s attack phase, and include such functions as stunning an enemy card, refilling the HP of a home team card, and immunity to other abilities. Cards can also be leveled up, raising their HP and attack. They start with one or no abilities, but at levels 5 and 10 new abilities will unlock. Those extra abilities can make a huge difference in battle.

All told, the combat is much simpler than in Magic: the Gathering. Most of the strategy takes place outside of battle, revolving around how you construct your deck and which cards you choose to level up. The game even allows players to set battles to automatic if they desire. Watching your tightly-constructed deck trade blows with the opponent’s proves surprisingly enjoyable. It’s also very convenient, being able to start a fight and then take your hands off the phone for a few minutes.

Gathering cards and runes

Players can acquire cards in a variety of ways in this game. The Shop sells random cards or bundles of cards for gold (the soft currency earned from battles), gems (premium currency), and fire tokens (earned by completing in-game achievements). You’ll also earn cards from completing stages, special in-game events, exploring stages, and completing mazes.

Most of the campaign maps have a maze that players can explore once per day. You’ll earn tons of cards from the battles within, which can then be kept or used to level up other cards (as shown above). After starting a maze battle, you can even choose to skip it completely, unlike normal campaign battles.

Mazes are super simplistic and visually underwhelming, but they’re essential to success. I wish one map’s maze looked different from another’s, though. Swapping palettes would be easy and add variety.

On top of customizing and leveling the cards within your deck, you can also outfit it with Runes. Each Rune has a condition that triggers its spell. Trigger it during battle and it begins casting its spell. Runes drop much less often than cards, but you can get random runes by paying gold in the Temple. Balancing your gold spending between card packs and visits to the Temple is part of the game’s strategy.

Join the WPCentral clan and conquer in PvP!

Every day, players can participate in up to 15 player-versus-player (PvP) battles. The game provides a list of five opponents for you to choose from. Beat one and you take that player's rank. The actual PvP battles are asynchronous and automatic, so they come down entirely to deck strategy, card level, and luck of the draw.

Winning ranked battles gets your gold and experience. After reaching level 18 and joining a clan, you’ll also earn clan points from ranked matches. These points contribute to the clan’s level, increasing the number of members who can join. Individual members also unlock exclusive cards based on their point contributions. Clan members can also chat with each other, but only if other players are online. You can’t see who’s online or not, making the feature far less useful than it should be.

Windows Phone Central happens to have a thriving Magic Realms clan of its own. Once you unlock the clan feature, search for WPCentral and ask to join! We want players who actively participate in ranked matches, which every player should do anyway. Member slots are limited, so please be patient and we'll accept your invite when space becomes available. You can also participate in our Magic Realms forum thread to discuss gameplay and clan-related topics.

Energy and In-app Purchases

Like many free to play games, Magic Realms limits player progression with an energy system. All campaign battles, exploration, and maze battles consume energy. Ranked battles, thief battles, and demon invasions (group battles against super-powered enemies) don’t use energy as they have their own separate counters/timers.

The energy mechanic is a necessary evil in games like this. The developers don’t want players racing through the game; they want us to play daily forever and ever. That said, energy takes awfully long to refill: one unit every ten minutes. Buying more energy with gems actually proves to be the best use of premium currency in the game, but even that ability is limited. You can only buy ten or so energy refills per day before the game cuts you off, oddly enough.

Gems can also be used to buy card packs. The quality of the cards you’ll get will exceed that of packs that cost coins, but not always by a huge margin. My advice is to buy a few packs with gems but otherwise stick to using them for energy refills. The coins you need to spend in order to level up cards and runes can’t be bought, only earned from playing.

Truly magical

Nobody wants to invest much time(or money) in a free to play game only to lose it all when switching between devices or reinstalling the game. Luckily, Magic Realms uses cloud saves as I mentioned earlier.

There’s a good chance that saves will transfer between this and the upcoming Windows 8 and RT versions too, although that depends on whether those versions are published as Magic Realms or Elemental Kingdoms. If the name changes to the later for Windows 8, it would share progress with the iOS and Android versions instead. Let’s hope developer Time 2 Play Studio opts for Windows Phone-Windows 8 synchronicity over those competing platforms.

If you like card games like Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokémon, don’t hesitate to download Magic Realms.

  • Magic Realms – Windows Phone 8 – 48 MB – Free – Store Link

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!