Minion Master Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
If you’ve ever played Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40k, Arkham Horror, Twilight Imperium, or Magic: the Gathering, you’re no doubt familiar with the long and arduous process that surrounds sitting down and playing one of these games. After finding a place to play the game, whether it be a local game store or a friends’ apartment, having everyone sync their schedules to meet up, spending an hour of prep to find the instruction manuals and rule books you need, set up the figurines and board, and make initial rolls, you’re still looking at games that can last hours. As a teenager with an open schedule, I spent countless days at the local Games Workshop working on my Warhammer armies; as an adult, I simply couldn’t spend that much time and money on the hobby. Minion Master offers a solution for these woes. This game merges the genres of card games and board games to make a digital board game that has no set ups and clean ups, no hour long turns, and no heavy and burdensome rulesets. Does BitFlip Games succeed at their goal to fill this sorely needed niche, or is it too ambitious to succeed compared to traditional board games?
Minion Master is a three-dimensional, free-to-play, digital board game with hex-based combat. The mechanics might look intimidating, but they’re easy to pick up. The basic mechanic is the idea of picking a deck. Each deck contains a distinct theme, meaning any player will be satisfied with one of the options for aesthetics or gameplay purposes, but some decks are locked behind a Micro-transaction Paywall, with five decks free and unlocked with no conditions. Cards come in two varieties: Summons (which create a Monster, Minion, or Mage on the board), or Modifiers (cards that buff your allied units, debuff enemy units, reshape the board in your advantage, or even heal damage). Building a deck is all about skill, imagination, and creativity, but there will always be an element of luck in how your cards are distributed – you only have a hand of five at a time. The real intensity of Minion Master is built around using the cards. You must sacrifice one card to use another, meaning that most decisions are fraught with the risk/reward analysis.
The aesthetics and sound of the game are modelled around similar archetypes and classics as traditional fantasy game franchises such as Warhammer, Warcraft, Magic: the Gathering, and The Lord of the Rings. Even though the game is inspired by such titles, it never feels like a cheap knock-off, as each character or unit has a unique flavour of aesthetics, where the characters are pleasantly attractive and sometimes even cute while clearly displaying what creature they represent and what powers that creature has; Mages carry staffs, Kobolds have claws and teeth and move en masse, Knights ride on noble steeds, and so on. The graphics are a perfect balance, as parents could introduce their children to gaming through Minion Master without having to worry about any untoward content (which is definitely not possible with Warhammer Fantasy and 40k), and an adult can play the game without feeling embarrassed since the game isn’t overtly designed to visually cater to younger demographics.
Music, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as present as it could have been. The menu music, like the visuals, is fantasy-inspired and quite catchy, but there’s simply not enough of it, as it stops as soon as the player leaves the menus and enters the game. There are no sweeping battle scores or combat music, and rounds are played in silence except for the crunch of monster jaws and the crashing elements summoned by mages. The result can suck the energy out of an otherwise lively game.
There is a great deal of depth in deck building, and the Micro-transactions are a good start, but prices can quickly get prohibitively expensive. One booster pack of five cards is $3, and three decks (136 cards) are $12. This makes it hard to sample things you like while rejecting tactics and cards you’re not a fan of. Luckily, it’s possible to buy one copy of every card in the game for $20 – not a bad price if you’re ready to move into the deep end. This allows players to mix and match cards to make the deck of their dreams, allowing for fun combinations that allow for cool strategies.
Once you’ve built your deck and considered your possibilities, it’s time to bring your army out onto the battlefield. The actual gameplay is well done, although it leans more towards the card game side of the hybrid than board games. There’s less emphasis on positioning and flanking, with the focus more on particular units and their inherent strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a mass of Goblins can overwhelm a larger unit, but AoE attacks will obliterate them. The game is full of rock-paper-scissors relationships, and when there can be a few units on the table this can get quite fun, especially with the Sacrifice mechanic for bringing in reinforcements or buffing your units already on the table.
There is no story or substantial single-player game in Minion Master; the game is based entirely around multiplayer. While this is a fine choice (not everyone is interested in a story, after all), the interactions with other players can be limited compared to other games. Right now, the game offers the chance to match your deck up against strangers or play easily against friends. Players can create games with open lobbies or passwords, either allowing their chums in for a private match, or setting the arena for an open challenge against enemy players who want to test their mettle.
Minion Master supports up to six players in Co-op or Versus modes, allowing for a group of friends to all play together. One of the best parts of games like Magic: the Gathering can be trading your cards with players, but this is lacking in Minion Master. BitFlip’s developers are extremely active in the community, with an e-mail newsletter, playing with developer nights, and other fun extras, but it would be an increase in quality if these social aspects were built into the infrastructure of the game itself.
Minion Master is a great gateway game for players uninitiated to the wild world of tabletop board games and card games. If you have a friend, child, parent, or schoolmate who is interested in board games, Minion Master is an excellent way to get him/her hooked. Even battle-weary veterans of these genres can find merit in Minion Master as it’s easy to pick up but difficult to master. However, the game could use some more polish and attention to make it a game that excels at feeling truly multiplayer. BitFlip Games has been working hard to bring the game up to snuff, and getting in on the ground floor could prove a wise decision.
Minion Master earns a 4.25/5.00
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