At PAX Prime this year, one of the biggest gaming surprises for me was a digital tabletop game called Minion Master. I’ve never played tabletop strategy games, so I was going into the meeting literally as a complete and utter noob.
To be honest, I never knew why I didn’t give tabletop strategy games a shot. I love strategy RPGs, so wouldn’t it make sense for someone like me to be all over the tabletop version? Be that as it may, I never touched one until PAX, and even then, it was a digital tabletop game.
Bitflip Games is the branchild behind the excellent Minion Master, one of the highlights of PAX for me. MM is at the same time simplistic and extremely complex. Honestly, it depends on how you want to play it. It doesn’t focus on as much micro-management as some other SRPGs that I have played, like Disgaea (though, to the fair, MM is not an RPG). Yet, if micro-management is something you can’t seem to live without, the deck builder should eat up as much time as you can spare (more on that feature later).
At first glance, MM is a game that takes quite a bit of control away from the player. Like I mentioned above, I’m a RPG vet, and after playing a lifetime’s worth of games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Growlanser, etc. it was somewhat of a surprise to have the controls over your character taken away from you. I mean, at a basic level, I at least expected to be able to move my own characters to the tiles I wanted. That’s not too much to ask…right?
As it stands, all movements and attacks are handled for you by the game itself. What you are required to do, and basically the ONLY thing you are required to do, is select cards from an ever changing deck of 5 that you are presented with at each turn. These cards can range from anything to attack boosts, healing, and summoning new minions.
[quote_right]What I also learned about an hour later was that first appearances can be very, VERY deceiving.[/quote_right]If you read the description of the game above and thought to yourself “Man, this sounds way too simple,” then congrats…you thought the exact same thing I did when I was standing there are the Bitflip booth at PAX.
What I also learned about an hour later was that first appearances can be very, VERY deceiving. You see, as with many good games, Minion Master is one thing on the top layer, but contains many layers below that first initial layer, making it a game that actually ends up being quite complex and time consuming. It’s as “hardcore” as any other game out there, and with a beefy creation suite and addictive multiplayer to boot, MM can easily end up being a surprisingly deep game.
Do you go for all Archers, since they have a nice ranged attack? What about Knights, since they have a double attack known as Trample? How about Foot soldiers, since they can counter attack? What if you end up on a tile that weakens you, but an enemy ends up in the same area and the surface type just happens to be beneficial to them? Should you use an Extra Life card or let your character die and simply summon another? What about upgrades such as Keen Sight, which increases your Archer’s range; should you play that card or summon a Dragon?
The meat and bones of MM is in your card deck. With your deck, you can do pretty everything you need to during the course of battle; however, at the end of each turn, your 5 available cards reshuffle and you may not be left with the best hand. I can recall a number of matches where I was down to one minion and in desperate need of a summon card; yet I was dealt 5 power ups for attacks…many of them for classes that I didn’t even currently have on the field.
It’s situations like this that require some careful planning when playing through MM. In the situation I just outlined, I could have used any of the power-ups, which I ended up doing. But when you’re down to one, and your opponent has 10 units left and this is a turn based game, you’re kind of out of luck just by virtue of numbers. This is not to say that the game employs cheap tactics or anything like that; it’s more of a testament to how far ahead you need to plan when making your moves each turn.
Graphically, the game doesn’t push any boundaries. It’s not like this game needs to be the next Crysis or anything, so the cartoonish design and low quality models suit the overall tone just fine. Animations are fairly simplistic as well, with a pretty basic number of slashes, hops, etc. There are some pretty cool looking elemental effects here and there, but like I mentioned before, this game is not meant to be a graphical showcase.
[quote_left]If you want to get your money’s worth, you’ll want to dive into the multiplayer and level editor.[/quote_left]While there is a single player mode, it’s clear that MM is meant to be a multiplayer game. The SP consists mostly of “situational” levels, kind of like a Spec Ops mode for MM, and there are only a handful of missions. If you want to get your money’s worth, you’ll want to dive into the multiplayer and level editor.
The reason why multiplayer is better than SP is simple; you’re dealing with actual human opponents instead of AI governed by a set of rules. While the AI is no dummy, it does become a bit too easy to figure out patterns and ways around them. With a human opponent, you’re at least up against someone who’s somewhere in the same realm of intelligence as yourself (hopefully). Trying to outsmart another person makes for some really intense battles of wits.
Besides multiplayer, the bulk of my time was spent in the level editor. Bitflip did not hold back on their editor; if you can dream it up, you can make it. Even though everything is restricted to the hexagonal tile shape that makes up the “board,” you can pretty have the freedom to do anything you want. In addition, if you want to create symmetrical multiplayer maps, there’s a handy dandy “Symmetry” option which creates a perfectly symmetrical mirror of everything you’re creating either x2, x4, x6, etc. You can go vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. It’s a huge time saver, and once you get used to the interface, you can knock out some pretty elaborate maps in no time. The fact that MM already has a thriving community forum will only help these user creations gain popularity.
Minion Master isn’t going to break any new ground, but the important thing to remember is that it’s a ton of fun. If you are at all a fan of strategy board games, then it would do you well to check out MM. It has an addictive multiplayer, and a extremely beefy level creator. Grab a few friends and have at it!