Minion Master

Minion Master is a tactical board game, where players battle with armies of miniatures summoned and controlled via a customisable deck of cards.  It is currently available from the website and on Desura, with a campaign for Steam Greenlight running.

Minion Master - Minions Battle

A free to play option is available, with players choosing a free deck of cards from five pre-constructed Fantasy or Horror themed decks: Blitzing Rush, King’s Army, Sorcery, Werevolves, Slashers, & Spiders, and Zombie Summoner.  Additional booster packs or decks can be purchased from the Card Shop, including the full release pack which contains all the cards in the game.

Cards come in two main types; summon cards, to summon minions to the board, and modifiers, which can heal or buff your minions, debuff enemies, change minion behaviour, call in reinforcements, or give you more mana.  Each deck contains summon and modifier cards, but the summon types and tactics differ between them.

The game boards are made up from hexagons, with different colours representing different terrain, and towers called Avatars, which represents each player’s health pool.  As minions are killed in battle, points are removed from the health pool and the tower is damaged.. when the health pool reaches zero, the tower is destroyed and the game is over.

Newly summoned minions start off by the Avatar before moving to engage enemy minions or head for the enemy Avatar.

Minion Master - Avatar

There are two phases to the game: the Play Phase, where you play or discard cards from your hand, and the Action Phase, where minions are summoned to the board and carry out their moves.  Most cards costs mana to play, and you can get this by discarding some of the cards in your hand, or from killing enemy minions.  The cards in your hand are randomly selected from your deck, so may not always be of use: here, I have Keen Sight.. and no Archer to play it on.

Minion Master - Play Phase

Once summoned, minions follow their own preset tactics: Archers like to stay at range, and prefer a high tile; Kobolds move quickly to attack the weakest enemy, and prefer a location with fewer enemies.  Brief tactics for each minion are shown on the summon card, with full details on the game’s official site, including strengths and weaknesses, history and some strategies to try out too.

Modifier cards are played after the Summon cards, with a range of effects depending on the card.. e.g. Fearless Warrior is applied to all owned Footmen, while Enrage Troll is played on a single allied Troll, and Warp Enemy 3x allows you to move an enemy minion away.  Played poorly, some modifiers can hurt you more than help, e.g., Full Moon converts all Peasants to Werewolves, including those belonging to your opponents, while Cannibalize Zombies will sacrifice allied minions to buff a Shaman.

Minions can also walk straight into danger by following their own tactics.  In one of the tutorials, the enemy Kobold ignores the player’s Knight to run towards the newly summoned Footman because he is following his directive to attack the weakest unit on the field.  He does this despite the fact that he can’t even reach the target within that turn, and it leaves him in range for the Knight’s attack, which kills him.  While I was trying out the Werewolves, Slashers & Spiders deck, I discovered that Slashers can turn on their teammates at random.

Even when tactics don’t particularly come into it, the AI can be frustrating.. I’ve seen ranged units moving around the edge of a river instead of positioning themselves to shoot over it, and in one game, a pair of buffed Sorceresses retreated from battles at opposite sides of the map to switch places, wasting the buff as it took two turns to complete the switch.

You can give individual orders to your minions, for the price of one additional point of mana per order.  This allows you to have them defend a tile or another minion, or attack a particular minion or player of your choice.

Minion Master - Management

However, as minions move by themselves once you’re in the Action Phase, you need to give orders at the end of the previous turn.  To be effective, you also need to know your minions and your opponent’s minions.

For example, I had a Werewolf walk past a Knight with only 1hp left, finishing his move a couple of hexes away from an enemy Sorceress.  To manage this, I would have needed to know that my opponent’s Sorceress has a more powerful attack than his Knight, so that I’d know that my Werewolf’s tactics will have him bypass the Knight and go after the Sorceress.  Then, so that I could order the Werewolf to attack the Knight, I would have to make sure I had enough Mana left over from the Play Phase.

Micromanaging seems to require a lot of planning ahead for what might only be a small benefit.  In the example above, I could have given the Werewolf a specific order to attack the Knight, only for another nearby minion to kill him first.  It seems simpler to play the cards and leave the micromanaging alone, but then the odd missed chances would still be frustrating.

There’s one thing missing in this digital game, and that’s the ability to look at your opponent’s cards.. you just don’t see them at all.  Hovering over an enemy minion gives you an overview of their stats, combat style and tactics in the top left corner of the screen, so nothing is lost there, but modifiers aren’t so clear.  Buffs and debuffs are visible but a little hard to see.. there are icons above the heads of the minions, but until you’ve learned what these mean, it’s a little confusing.  The info panel also seems to have an overflow bug (as seen in the above screenshot).

While some may miss flicking through a set of cards, there are some great advantages to a digital card game: there is no wear and tear, or marks from grubby fingers; no setting up or tidying afterwards.. and maybe best of all, no requirement to learn all the rules, and no arguments over the interpretation of those rules, as they’re all determined by the computer!

The full game includes a level editor, so you can make and share your own levels, though sharing is currently limited to transferring the files between players individually, rather than via a central hub.  The editor is surprisingly detailed: there are 15 tile types which you can position one at a time or in a pattern (line, area, circle and so on), and at varying heights from 1-64.  Symmetry settings allow your tile placements to be mirrored in different ways depending on the setting you choose, enabling you to create equal starting areas for 2 to 6 players.

Minion Master - Level Editor

You can also create your own custom decks from the cards you have collected, with no restrictions, so you can mix Fantasy or Horror factions as you want.  Each card has a point value, which added up make the value of the deck; two decks with a similar value should be of about the same power.  Standard deck weightings are 75, 150 and 300, for smaller up to bigger games.  There’s a tutorial explaining how to put the deck together, but as a newcomer, I don’t know whether to stick to a few strong minions or go mob-handed with loads of weak ones, or whether I should include more or less modifiers.. so for now I’ll stick to the premade decks.

The game art is bright and colourful, especially the cards with their portraits of the minions.  The 3d miniature models are varied and interesting, some are quite cute, and all the different types of minion are easily recognisable.  Battles are animated, with sound effects and battle cries.  There’s music during the Play Phase, but not during the Action Phase, so it’s a little quiet between the battles.  I quite like the extra visual effects which appear as things happen; skulls rising from a minion as he is struck, little horseshoes floating up around the feet of a Knight using trample, and when killed, minions disappear upwards as if taken from the board by a higher power.

You can play any number of games against the AI, but this kind of game is really made for multiplayer.

You can create a lobby with or without a password, or join other players’ games.. though at present there isn’t a huge community.  There is no leaderboard, which could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it; it could encourage people to try different tactics or decks, or to be more willing to help new players learn.  At present, there is also no way of trading cards between players, so the only way to get new cards is to purchase them.

Minion Master is a good alternative to traditional card collecting games, with the advantages of not having to set up, tidy, or store physical cards.  Minions can be a little awkward to control well, though, and this can be frustrating.  At present, the lack of a large online community means you really want friends with the game too.. but since you can play for free with a starter deck, there really is no excuse not to try it out.

4/5

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