It’s funny the games that manage to dig their claws so deep into us. If you had told me last week that I would lose hours of my life to a mobile card game based on a browser-based MMO I’d never heard of, I would’ve laughed you straight out of the room.
And yet here I am, just days after its Canadian soft launch, nursing a pretty severe case of Mabinogi Duel madness.
The first thing you need to know is that knowledge of Mabinogi is not required. This is a card game set in that universe, for sure, but the only thing you really need to enjoy Mabinogi Duel is an interest in great card games and a tolerance for ham-fisted, anime-style storytelling.
Luckily, I have both in spades.
The gameplay isn’t entirely original, though you might be surprised to learn that, at least for me, this is a big part of its charm. In a lot of ways Mabinogi Duel plays like Kard Combat, an early mobile CCG that most mobile gamers seem to have forgotten (and that quietly disappeared from the App Store back in January).
A personal favorite, Kard Combat was made with the input of Richard Garfield (creator of Magic: The Gathering). Players lined-up proper, CCG style cards in rows of 5v5, with opposite-facing cards attacking each other turn after turn. Mabinogi Duel takes this idea, but tweaks it in some fairly drastic ways.
For one thing, the game offers up a single-player campaign that has nothing to do with deck-building and everything to do with narrative. Round after round, the cards you have will be affected by which characters are in your party and what the game deems fit for you to play with. Not only does this provide for a tight solo experience, but it gives players a great taste of the game’s wide variety of cards. This is a good way to sample what’s out there before building your own deck to face other players in the arena.
PVP seems a little strange right now. Rather than playing a live opponent, you’ll be playing their ghost. So (if I understand this correctly, and it’s not explained very well) you’ll be playing against another person’s moves and deck, but not in a way that’s directly addressing your choices and cards.
I’m still not sure if I like it, but I don’t dislike it at this point either. You would think this would make PVP matches too easy, but I’m getting thumped every time. It’s hard to decide if that’s a good thing or not.
I’ve spent the bulk of my time in Mabinogi Duel’s main campaign, though, and there’s thankfully no confusion to be found there. Frankly, it’s so well-balanced and charming that I’m having a hard time stopping. The story is ridiculous, but in exactly the way you want from a family-friendly anime (and yes, I say this despite the occasional needlessly jiggly boobs). You’re a half-elf/half-human who is tired of being bullied, so you’re making your way to a magical lake to be turned into a full human. You’ll quickly meet some adventurers on your quest, and encounter plenty of weird villains whose reasons for wanting to steal you away haven’t yet been made clear to me.
With great cards, great art, and a surprisingly engaging story. Mabinogi Duel seems to be tailormade for me — much like how Nexon’s previous publishing effort, DomiNations, delivered everything I wanted in a basebuilding game. Clearly, Nexon is a company that’s climbing high on my watch list.
tl;dr – If you like great card games and goofy stories, download Mabinogi Duel the minute it becomes available in your region.