Take one part Heroscape, one part Heroclix, throw in a dash of Magic: The Gathering and the strategy of a mix of turn-based and real-time combat, containing a significant amount of depth to its core, throw it into a very well designed and capable PC interface and layout, and you’ve just described Minion Master. Is it a miniatures game? Yes. Is it a strategy game? Yes. Is it a collectible card game? Yes. This is such a unique hybrid existing on the PC it’s hard to define, but I do know one thing: it’s a lot of fun.
The game is actually a culmination of lots of different ideas, combining the collectible card game and miniatures games into something workable on the computer, meaning there is an actual physical version of the game that the developers created for use on the tabletop, as well as in digital form, which I get a big kick out of. But the point of making something digital was because they could never get together to play, and when they did, they spent too much time setting up and tearing down instead of playing. This is meant to solve all of that.
While there isn’t much of a story to this, other than you’re one player out to take out the other using varying tactics, there are a number of game modes. Single player lets you run through a series of challenges with pre-determined decks against pre-determined enemies on already decided on maps. You also have the option of running against AI opponents using the deck and board set-up of your choosing as well. Multiplayer lets you log in and pit your skills against other opponents or set up an AI game while you wait. The same game set-up rules apply in multiplayer as they do for setting up a custom game in single player. Minion Master also has a level editor, so you can go in and set up your own board, piece by piece or section by section, how you want it, keeping that miniatures game feel there, but there’s also a deck editor you can tweak your deck with. The deck editor, however, can only be used when you’re connected to the internet, as the decks are all stored online as well as on your PC for offline play. This does give you the option of building your decks off BitFlip’s website for the game as well, however, when you’re bored, in your free time or just when you want to tweak outside the game.
Visually the game feels like a budget title, but a good one. There are options to crank everything through the roof, so it looks smooth, and I didn’t notice any problems playing it on my laptop with all the settings set to maximum. The character pieces have decent animations as they attack and defend, but they move around the board like you would move miniatures by hand, which is a nice touch, but I could see people looking for more. The visual design is nice and I appreciate the work that went into making the cards look as good as regularly printed cards as well. While it won’t win any titles for the most visually arresting game, it’s easy to tell your pieces from other pieces on the board, what tiles are what material and their height, which is what really matters in these sort of games.
Audibly the game gets the job done. I’ve played with audio on and off and I wasn’t missing a whole lot with it off. I will admit the sounds the Kobolds make are kind of cute, and the attack noises are decent as well. The game isn’t really about looking and sounding pretty though, but more on gameplay, which is where they focused and continue to focus their attention. First, we should touch on controls. The game is run through the mouse and keyboard, though the keyboard end of things is more for chat than anything else. You do everything in the level editor, the deck builder and in game with the mouse. To select a unit, click with the mouse; to select which cards to play or discard, use the mouse; to issue orders to a unit and bring up the menu, you guessed it, mouse. Yes, even moving the map around to get a better view of the battle is done with the mouse. It’s simple and effective, and I like it when that works, as the way the game is played is deep enough without having to remember lots of keyboard shortcuts to make it work.
You have a few options in getting this game. You can go the free route, which means you can only pick between one pre-assembled deck set at a 150 point value, which is pretty standard. You can customize that deck and make new ones, but you’re limited by the number of cards you get from that deck and what you get with it, meaning if you only get 7 cards with that free deck, you won’t be able to put more than 7 into another deck. You’re not limited to making more than one deck, and can include those cards in multiple decks, but you are limited to just the single deck. There are options to expand your card roster, just like a regular collectible card game, through the developers website. This is, however, much cheaper than any current CCG, and is even cheaper than when I jumped in on Magic: The Gathering back in ’94 and ’95. You can buy themed packs in sets of 5 and 12: the Fantasy set, which gives you all the fantasy themed cards plus three decks, the Horror set, which is all the horror cards plus two theme decks, or you can opt for the Release Package, which is both the Fantasy and Horror set as well as the themed decks. For review purposes, I received the Release Package, and an extra Sorcery deck, as that was the deck I picked when I created my free account. You can’t just buy the themed decks from the store, nor individual cards and you also cannot trade them.
The Deck Builder lets you select any cards from your available pool. While there are themed decks, you can build them out of whatever you have available. While you can build your decks online through the website, I recommend doing it in the game instead. The deck builder online only shows you the name and how many of the card you have as you add them, and you have to go to another screen to see what they are if you’re not already familiar with them. In the game itself, all that information is right there and available to you. You will not be able to edit your decks if you are not online. All that information is stored online as well as on your computer, so you will be able to play with your custom built decks when you don’t have net access, but you won’t be able to edit or build new ones. The Standard Deck is built around 150 points, but you can go higher or lower, depending on how you want to build it, you just might not be able to use that deck based on how the match is set.
Each card has an assigned point value which adds up in the total deck value. The cards also have a set of stats and discard value as well as playing cost. There’s a description of what the card does, and minion cards will tell you what the minion’s stats will be when the minion is in play. Once you’re in and actually playing, your deck is shuffled and you always have an option of 5 cards pulled from your draw pile. If you do not play anything from your hand, you lose a point of health that turn. To play a card, you have to have so many points in your pool that you get from discarded cards in your hand, based off their discard value. On your turn, you can play cards or use points in your pool to tell your minions what to do specifically. Normally, minions act in a certain manner, positioning themselves to follow a set of rules. Dragons and Sorceresses will always try to attack groups of enemy minions to unleash the most amount of damage, for example. Kobolds will always go after the weakest of the enemy units on the board. They follow these basic guidelines unless you spend some of your points to order the minion to do something else, like guard a tile or a unit, or to attack a specific unit.
Minions are good against certain units, but weak against others. Terrain will also affect their attack and defense stats. Their attack chances are given and determined by a dice roll we can’t see, hailing back to the tabletop origins of the game. Your minions are summoned at your Avatar, a color-coded tower that sits on the field of tiles. As your minions die or you take damage to the tower directly, your tower will chip away until nothing remains, which means you lose. Eliminating your opponent’s tower will get you the victory. There are cards that can increase your health and your minions health, as well as special attack cards or cards that give your minions special abilities or defenses as well as upgrading them. While you can do one on one style games, there is an option to have up to six people playing at once, and you can also set up teams to play against one another, or play co-op with a friend to take down an enemy AI unit.
Being able to customize your deck to just about your heart’s content, a full blown level editor, and being able to set-up your own custom matches just about pushes this game’s replayability through the roof. The somewhat no-holds barred nature of the game and letting you mix and match minions to your heart’s content without limiting based on types adds quite well to the game. The random nature of CCG’s also adds to it, as you have a basic strategy for a deck, but its performance is also based on what you’re up against and how well you’re pulling against your opponent, making each match unique. The multiplayer aspects would be better if there were more people online to play against, but if you have a friend pick it up, it’s easy enough to pop on at the same time online and hook up that way.
As far as balance goes, as long as you don’t back yourself into a corner with how you build your deck and leave options, no one deck is better than the other. The minions have strengths and weaknesses, and as long as you try to use their tactics against them, things generally move smoothly. Deck point costs are fairly accurate, as are the points required to get the cards out and how much you get for discarding. Also, because the game is online, the developers are looking to tweak the cards on an ongoing basis, so that if there is an issue with a card being too over-powered, they can adjust it for everyone so that it’s not something that gets banned from play, as so often happens with one of the longer running CCG’s out there today, Magic The Gathering.
While the miniatures combat and CCG have been out for a long while now, this game not only combines the two genres, but combines them well. Yu-Gi-Oh had something like this with the console and handheld games, but that was still just a card game. On top of summoning the minions, being able to manage them a bit through your point pool was a very nice touch, and simply added to the complexity of the game, making it even more unique. While you can see definite influences from different areas, the developers have made a truly unique beast with Minion Master that I think both miniature and collectible card game players would enjoy. I found it pretty engaging, and my love of tweaking decks and customizing layouts got a nice bite with this game. While it took me a bit to get used to how it plays, mainly because I dove right in without tutorials, I really love just firing it up for a quick match or two. While I think it’s taken a bit to catch on, I do see some pretty good appeal. The game, while basic and fast to learn, has some nice and deeper strategy to it, and being able to lay out over 30,000 tiles for a match and not having to clean all that up is an amazing prospect. I’d have to say it’s priced pretty decently as well. The pack I received to review with is $20, and that gets you every card in the game, plus a bunch of spares to play around and build decks with, meaning you wouldn’t have to sink anymore into it at all if you didn’t want to. For a free deck to play with, the free option is pretty decent to start with if you just want to give it a go with friends and try to suck them in.
Overall, I’d have to say the game is solid. I never had it crash on me, the visual tweaks you can do to make it look prettier work great, and other than me having very little brains and skipping the tutorials, I managed to figure out how to play pretty quickly. I’d easily recommend this to anyone interested in tabletop miniatures, CCG’s, or both. It’s got enough depth to keep people interested in the strategies, and being able to just create your own tile layouts, coupled with the deck builder, is a fantastic experience. The price is good and it’s free to at least try with a 150 point deck, so you have little to lose on it. My only complaint, and this is minor, is that you can’t build your decks when offline. I understand the logic behind it, but I’d have liked that option in there.
Short Attention Span Summary
Minion Master is a shake-n-bake kind of game, pulling in mechanics from some of the better tabletop miniatures games and collectible card games and mixing them up in a delicious entrée that you can play with friends on your computer and not have to worry about clearing the table afterwards. The mechanics are solid and it manages to scratch two of my favorite itches without taking up valuable closet space. There’s enough depth to keep strategy players interested for a long while, between both the layouts and how you play your decks, to simply deciding what to include and how much you want to pluck away before you think your deck is solid. It’s very easy to pick up and learn to play, and the price is definitely right. It’s an easy game to recommend.