You may be surprised to learn that I’ve been a gamer since 1979 and before last night never played Magic: The Gathering! Tuesday, though, I received some Dark Ascension cards from Wizards of the Coast, and as they were kind enough to send these to me prerelease, I figured that maybe now it’s finally time to learn the game. Fortunately, a neighborhood friend volunteered to give me a quick lesson.

Overall, I had a good time and could see myself playing this game on a regular basis, not in tournaments mind you, but casually with family and friends. The basic mechanics of the game are pretty easy to learn and the special abilities of the different cards are interesting to explore. On the other hand, there are a lot of nuances to the system and individual cards are written in such a way that the full Magic: The Gathering rulebook, I understand, is something like 130 pages long. I’m glad I had a friend explain it to me. The “How To Play” guide that comes in the box provides a decent overview but leaves out a lot of the detail that you need to know when dealing with the more complex cards.

Regarding Dark Ascension, my feelings as a newbie are generally positive but mixed. The theme of the set is very dark and involves a lot of undead creatures, which is not usually my thing. Also, I think that this may not the best set for a beginner, as many of the abilities invoke some odd timing questions and involve playing cards out of the graveyard (AKA, the discard pile). Still, it’s not impossible and if you’re willing to give it a go and be flexible, there’s a lot of fun stuff in Dark Ascension, even for those just starting out.

I’m not going to provide a detailed or comprehensive summary of the cards in Dark Ascension. But I will point out some of those that I found most intriguing:

Seance—Essentially allows a player to bring back from the graveyard one card for each turn.

Ravenous Demon—One of the new double-faced cards. Transforms in to Archdemon of Greed with the sacrifice of a human. As an archdemon, the card has a very strong power (attack) rating, but if an additional human isn’t sacrificed each turn, the card will deal its damage back on its controlling player.

Lambholt Elder & Hinterland Hermit—These double-faced cards are humans that can transform in to werewolfs, but under the right conditions may also transform back.

Black Cat—With a very low toughness (defense) rating, this creature is easily killed. However, when it dies, an opponent must discard a card at random.

Prerelease events for Dark Ascension take place this weekend at hobby game stores. Some will be running a new meta-game, in which a portion of the participants are assigned to vampire, zombie, werewolf, and spirit factions, with the remainder left as humans. Anytime one of the monster players defeats a human player, that human player will turn in to the winning player’s monster type. At the end of the event, the largest monster faction wins.