Three Weeks in… Better Late Than Never
This is an early access review written 1/14/18 Minion Masters may dramatically change in the future and make any or all of this article irrelevant in doing so. Also, I received the game for free. Please be sure to keep that in mind when reading.
Over Christmas my buddy gave me a gift on Steam. It was what I’m reviewing today, Minion Masters. He thought I should give it a shot with him since I enjoy CCG type games and tower defense games as well. His only request, review it. So here I am today with my look at the latest game from BetaDrawf, the folks who brought you games like FORCED and FORCED SHOWDOWN (another one I like a lot).
Minion Masters is billed as a real time strategy game with CCG elements. Each player controls one of several heroes with unique abilities while playing out minions and spells (cards) in real time onto the field. You do this by passively accumulating mana and spending it like one might expect. Your goal is to defeat your opponent by dealing enough damage to them. Aiding you in this is a sub-objective that allows you to gain extra abilities by holding the bridge spots on the map.
This may sound a little complicated and intimidating but it isn’t. In fact the game is really friendly to people who have never even played a game like this before. For a pretty good while I used the tutorial setup and absolutely stomped my way up the ranked ladders. The reason I could do this is because the game rewards understanding mechanics and skill in unit deployment vs having powerful cards.
As time went by I did end up upgrading my deck, but I only changed one card. That’s it. I have never lost a game since I did that. My point here isn’t to brag, but rather to demonstrate that the game is really balanced so long as you take the time to understand its systems. So let me explain them.
The first aspect of the game is deck building. You select 10 cards (with up to three duplicates of any one card) and a champion. Then you are ready to dive into a match. Understanding how a match plays is more important. You spend mana (that is passively gained) to deploy units or spells that come from the deck you created. After you play a card, it goes to the bottom of your deck. So in that way it is very predictable what you’ll get when.
When battling an opponent, the arena is split into two sides divided by two bridges and some negative space. The bridges are points that you want to control (you just need a unit to move over them and then prevent your opponent from doing so) in order to gain passive upgrades that help you win. The rest is really just like a tower defense game that works using rock-paper-scissors mechanics. Ground units are weak to flying ones, flying are weak to ranged, and ranged are weak to ground units. There is a bit more nuance than this, but after a few games and the tutorial (which is fairly helpful) you should be an expert on what is good at beating what.
That’s it, really is pretty simple!
There are currently a few game modes. There is a vs AI mode which I used and would recommend for when you first start. Then there is 1v1, 2v2, and draft modes. 1v1 and 2v2 are ranked only modes but don’t let that scare you. Rank doesn’t matter much and even if you loose, it never feels that bad because the matches are so short and you never lose that much rank.
Draft is exactly what it sounds like and should frankly be avoided. Despite what I’ve said about balance and understanding the game mechanics, I have only ever lost playing this mode. I’ve tried a lot of different deck types but there is just so much variability in both what you receive and what your opponent has that skill has less to do with it. Now I know you may be thinking I have just contradicted myself here, but there is one key thing I haven’t explained yet.
When you play there seems to be only a few good hero characters. The good ones are: the default archer guy, the skeleton guy, and (to some degree) the snake guy. The first two are especially good. Now the other heroes are fine, and in the right hands quite powerful, but really these two guys dominate. This isn’t just my own experience talking, you can view what the top players do in game and you’ll see the same thing there as well.
In draft you don’t get to pick your hero. Given that and the fact that you can end up with a really imbalanced deck (in terms of mana curve) the game suddenly becomes more luck focused than skill focused. If you happen to get the right giant minion enough early game, you’ll practically never loose. On the other hand, you could get all early game or all late game and never win once. For the cost, it just really isn’t worth trying. Go ahead and use the freebie and try it but that mode isn’t one I recommend.
Since this does have cards, you do have to collect more for your set if you want to try certain strategies. Crafting is expensive! Knowing this, the game does some things to help you out. The first is that you get a free “token,” which is basically a card pack, everyday. The free token doesn’t give you cards though, instead it gives you money (premium or the free kind) or supplies. Money is used for buying regular tokens (actually card packs) and a select few other things. Premium currency can get you anything and the game is very generous about handing it out.
Supplies are the most intriguing part. There is a mini-game type thing called “expeditions” that you can go on that require supplies to play. It is basically a dungeon crawling board game. Here you explore a map made up of hexagonal tiles. You’ll find treasure, supplies, relics, and cards. Don’t think it’ll be that easy though! Enemies guard some of these rewards and you’ll have to defeat them. It’s actually a pretty fun way to unlock stuff, even if you can’t do it all in one sitting like you’ll probably want to.
Each move to a new tile costs supplies. It’s a fixed amount so plan your routes carefully. Picking stuff up is free as long as you are adjacent to it. Each expedition has taken me a few days to complete fully. You get a lot of supplies fairly easily and passively as long as you are patient, but Minion Masters purposefully caps you on how many you can get just by waiting so you can’t just blow through the thing.
It’s very fair. The more impressive part is actually the fighting in this mode. Here you are encouraged to try new cards that you don’t own yet in order to access guarded areas. You can choose to avoid doing this, but I would advise against that. Some cards are going to feel better than others and you may just come up with an idea for some synergies with cards you have. Don’t be afraid to experiment while you are given the chance to do so because crafting is so expensive! You really need a game plan if you want to rush making a specific deck.
I think that about covers the game. So far I’ve sunk a little over eleven hours into the game and have enjoyed it. Many reviews say that the game stays fresh and interesting for about ten hours, and this is a statement I agree with. While I will certainly come back to this from time-to-time, it won’t be something I play nearly everyday like Hearthstone.
Although I received this as a gift and it will be free in the future, it is currently something you have to pay for in order to play during the early access period. Is it worth the $4.99? Not really. Minion Masters is fun but it is something you can afford to wait on. Things will be changing too so that is another reason to consider holding off. When on sale it is only $0.99 and worth getting then. You also get a free copy for a friend too! Regardless of your decision to wait or not, I’m confident that this game will deliver at least some fun for pretty much anybody with a passing interest in CCG’s or tower defense.
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