By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Minion Masters: Forced to Duel is an interesting title to say the least. From what I’m aware of, it’s a part of the collection of games in the FORCED series [at least, according to Steam!] but it’s quite its own entity. This game will be free to play when it goes live, but the reason it has a price right now is to get people in early, help them shape and develop the game. You know, something you do with beta testing normally. I don’t really agree with coaxing people to pay to help work on a title that most companies would set up beta tests for, but it’s not a new concept, so I guess I can’t really be mad at it. But ultimately, I don’t agree with it. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t make people aware that it will be free to play. So if you’re on the fence, it might be better to wait until it does go free-to-play.
You know what this game reminded me of? It’s a more active version of Duelyst, and that’s not a bad thing. Duelyst is part card game, part tactical board game, where players take turns placing cards onto the table that become creatures. They have limited movements, but you control those actions. That’s where the change begins. In Minion Masters, you have a deck of cards [10 cards, not counting the cards that come from your master] that are randomly drawn into your hand after using one. So if I play a Dragon Whelp from my hand, it will shuffle back into the deck and you will draw a new card. You can see what card is coming next at least, and plan for what cards you need in your hand to pair with it… But I wouldn’t wait too long. Unlike Duelyst, this is in real time, and you have to constantly be aware of who your opponent’s master is, what they have on the field, and what could potentially happen! That’s one of the things I love about this game though. When you play a creature, it has a mind of its own and will act on its own. If you place it close to enemies attacking your master, they will help out. Otherwise it seems they will blindly march forward, attacking whatever they see, until they get to the opponent.
Some creatures have features like Flying [can’t be attacked by ground units] or have a temporary invincibility shield. Some cannot attack, and just are situated in the way [walls], and some explode and die in a spectacular fashion, hurting your foes! The variety is definitely there, and I can see some very interesting metas coming out of this game. Your decks are small, but that doesn’t make your choices any less important. As I said earlier, each Master [your deck leader] has their own stats, traits, and abilities that make them important. Some are ranged, some are only melee but attack insanely fast. You have to figure out which one is right for the type of cards you want to run, and vice versa.
For example, if you want an annoying stall deck, you could go with King Puff; his trait makes him immune to damage if you control at least one bridge. So you could fort up with walls and defensive creatures to prevent a bridge from being taken, or gain them from other means, and just prevent your opponent from winning until you can spiral the game out of control with a host of aggressive creatures.
You can acquire more Masters or Arenas with Rubies [bought in the shop/earned as special rewards] or with Shards [scrapping cards, or gained when receiving duplicate cards], which is a pretty standard way to deal with getting new characters. None of the Masters feel the same though, as I’ve played with pretty much the entire available cast. They all have strengths, weaknesses, and cards that make them really stand out, as well as make them pretty much worthless. For example, Ravager has ludicrous attack speed in melee combat. If you send in grunts with no range, they’re going to die fast. But if you bring some guns to the fight? That’s a whole different story. Personally I handle him with snipers. But you also have illusions to consider! Yes, there are illusion cards, which resemble other cards, but have basically no health and attack. They’re primarily used to throw your opponent into a false sense of security/worry them with a potential threat.
As time progresses, you gain mana, which are used to cast the spells in your hand. You can either just cast something as soon as you get the mana, or wait and flood the field. When you cast a spell, as I said earlier, the card goes away, but will no doubt return. Characters also have traits they unlock as the game progresses, whether it’s letting them play stuff faster, converting mana into xp, or other craziness, you’d do well to at least look at what these are as they come to you. Each player has an arena, and in the middle are two bridges. That’s the main source of exp used to level your Master. If you walk onto a bridge, you control it, unless an enemy is on it. Defeating them will give you control, and holding both bridges puts your opponent at a serious disadvantage. The match ends when your opponent’s master [or yours!] runs out of health, sealing the win, and giving your account exp, levels, and other rewards.
But how do you get these cards? You can craft them, sure. But I hate just about every crafting system in existence. I’m convinced that the developers don’t understand how to make it efficient, without it being too easy. This one’s no exception, but I will say that it’s at least still in early access, so all things are subject to change. The one thing I will say for this game, is at least you only need one copy of each card, so that balances out the sort of high prices for the cards in general. There’s one more way to unlock them that I think is kind of neat. The “Power Tower” on the main menu is a roulette, that spins, and unlocks shards, or cards of all rarities. To use it, you need Power Tokens, which can be bought with rubies, or in-game gold. You can spend 1,000 gold on one token, or use Rubies to buy 2 or 10, at least right now. Each token will let you spin once. I’ve gotten some crazy good rares, and some pretty boring commons, but it’s a nice variety, and it’s a way to get random cards that you might not realize you want. You can’t seem to check out what is on the list early, which sucks, but it could be a lot worse.
So what kinds of gameplay modes are there? There are solo challenges where you fight AI controlled Masters with difficulty that grows more and more vexing, but there are rewards in it, so you’d do well to at least give them a try. I’ve gone through most of them at this point, and only lost a handful. So, they’re definitely not impossible.
Or you can play other players! Here’s where I find the game to be lacking a bit. One of the hard things about this game, is if you don’t have the right cards, and get overwhelmed? It’s very, very hard to come back. I’ve gotten smashed and rolled in some very low times. I think the fastest defeat I took was a minute and forty five seconds, which was the most embarrassing thing ever. The other person clearly knew what they were doing, despite being Wood 5, like I was. But this is not a game where you have a lot of time to consider what’s going down. You have to look at the whole map every second, and play mostly on instinct. Minion Masters makes you consider every aspect of your deck, Master, and how they’ll synergize. Just playing expensive, rare cards won’t win you this game.
Worth Spending 20 bucks? I’m torn.
I think this is an incredibly fun game. It can be truly hard to come back if you’re losing, which sucks a whole bunch. But this is a fast-paced version of Duelyst, and has some of the tactical thought without waiting for an opponent to do stuff. They’re always doing stuff! I like the idea of the minions having their own movements and doing stuff on their own, and for the most part, they aren’t dumb minions! But you really have to know what pretty much all of the cards do, because there’s a big Rock-Paper-Scissors element, where certain creatures are worthless against others. It’s something you’ll want to play and research a lot as you go, to figure out what’s right for you. The matches aren’t long, and will let you really get a lot of playtime, which is also a positive.
But do I think it’s a good idea to buy in now? If you really like the idea, I’d say yes. If you aren’t completely sold, and don’t think you’d offer solid, positive insight? Wait for it to go live, and then decide. But they are taking input to heart, and if you think that matters [and you should], then perhaps you should enter the early access and help mold what could be a great strategy game.