Back when Clash Royale came out, I was in love with the game. At least until I got to the Legendary rank and found myself smashing my head against people who had spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars (according to the drop percentages) to have powered up extremely rare cards. From that point on, I decided to try to find a game similar in nature that didn’t ruin itself with a “Pay to Win” design. Minion Masters fills that role perfectly, but will it last?
Set It and Forget It
Minion Masters has a relatively straightforward premise for its core mechanic, but it involves a much deeper execution of strategy, timing, and deck building that ultimately make it fun to play. When you’re actually in a battle, whether it’s against a single opponent or in a 2v2, your main task is playing cards mostly on your side of the battlefield.
Many cards will summon a unit that will march its way toward your opponent’s tower on the opposite side of the playing field via one of the two narrow bridges. Their goal is to do the same with their cards and the units will usually fight one another in the process. It’s very simple to do, which makes the game immediately appealing, but there are ultimately a lot more strategic layers to keep it engaging.
In order to place units, you need to spend the required mana cost. Mana is gained periodically and is accumulated more quickly as the match progresses. However, when deciding which card in your hand to play on the battlefield, the amount of mana available is only part of it. You may want to save up more to play multiple cards that complement each other in quick succession.
Timing is also a consideration if you’re attempting to counter a card that someone else plays. Another timing aspect to think about is the speed of the summoned unit, as placing a slow unit in the back of the battlefield may allow you to build up more forces around it by the time it reaches the bridge. All of these factors and more play in to how you shape your strategy for each deck, and that’s not even counting spells that usually can be played across the entire battlefield.
Fantastic Decks and How to Build Them
Building a deck is the other half of the path to victory, sharing equal value with strategic placement and timing. You can play a mediocre deck well and find success, but at the higher levels, deck composition becomes a much more important part of winning matches. Putting together a deck can be a daunting task, especially with a steady influx of new cards entering the game. However, your starting cards and early common cards can build a quality deck that can be willed to victory if you take the time to learn to play the cards correctly.
Generally, my goal in deck building is to establish a tactic – such as master-focusing cards like the Living Statue or Rammer – and build from there. I make sure to leave enough room in my ten card slots to have a basic counter for the majority of cards people might throw at me. For instance, you don’t want to be left without the ability to attack air units or else the first deck featuring one or two of those is going to wreck you.
Betadwarf’s efforts to add a variety of cards with unique mechanics has made it a lot more difficult to cover every possibility though. Nonetheless, being able to adapt a deck you build to counter trends and popular deck designs can be the deciding factor in whether you’re moving up or down the ranks.
Too Many Queues Spoil the Broth
One thing that concerns me is that, between 1v1, 2v2, Draft, Mayhem, and any other things people might be doing like deck building or playing against the handful of AI battles in Expeditions, the playerbase might get spread too thin. Indie multiplayer-centric games are often a disaster from the beginning because of playerbase issues.
Some succeed for a time, but once the much smaller population gets bored, it starts a runaway cycle of exodus. During the early access, there were times that the concurrent population was down to a couple hundred people and, while matches still happened, they were often against the same small group of people in your rank.
It has risen significantly since then, and I hope Xbox cross platform play bolsters it even more. Having 1v1 as the core gameplay component will almost guarantee some level of gameplay for a long time though. Requiring only two people makes it a lot easier to get things going as well.
A Long Road, A Bright Future
Minion Masters had a long run in Early Access. The developer, Betadwarf, has had a tough and storied past with the development of their previous two games as well. I don’t know if they ever had doubts about how Minion Masters would turn out, but the hundreds of hours I’ve spent in it should stand strong in demonstrating how enjoyable and borderline addictive this game is.
Minion Masters isn’t alone in its genre crossing RTS/CCG design at this point, but it’s certainly the best version – easily beating what Clash Royale was at launch and certainly proving that “Pay to Win” is detrimental to design. While it may still have a few hiccups to work out in card balance and performance (especially in 2v2), it’s easy for me to recommend this and I’ll certainly be adding to my many hours for the foreseeable future.
Minion Masters is easy to pick up, but the simplicity hides a game with a lot of strategic depth. It has the potential to be something big if they can work out some balance issues and maintain a solid playerbase.
- Easy to pick up and learn to play
- Lots of depth in strategy and deck creation
- Entertaining aesthetic and announcers
- Solid variety of game modes all with quick matchmaking
- Free to play without pay to win
- Some balance issues that need to be worked out
- Occasional graphical slowdowns in intense moments
- Potential to fail and be unplayable without a committed playerbase
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