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If you've ever played a collectible card game like Magic: The Gathering, at some point you've probably wondered how all of those battles would play out in reality. It's one thing to say that six frightened squirrels can hold back a colossal giant, or that a heavenly catastrophe just reduced every forest, island, and mountain in the vicinity to cinders, but how would it look on a three-dimensional battlefield? Minion Master, a new free-to-play, multiplayer-focused PC strategy game, attempts to combine the strategic deck-building of a CCG with the tactical movement of a board game. The resulting creation isn't perfect, but merits a glance from anyone who's interested in the mashup of those two game types.
Getting started is quick and easy, and your first of five pre-constructed decks is free. Cards come in two flavors: summons, which include sorceresses, zombies, catapults, and whatever other creatures you need to wreak destruction on your behalf, and modifiers, which can enchant creatures, reshape the board, or hurt or heal the player directly. Each card costs a certain amount of mana, the game's primary resource.
Instead of an abstract exchange of numbers, each round of Minion Master plays out on a hex-based grid. Creatures will automatically move across the board in accordance with their AI programs. Archers prefer to hang back and defend a player's home turf, while trolls will surround themselves with enemies to make full use of their area-of-effect melee skills. You can also micromanage each unit, ordering them to defend or attack certain tiles, but this costs additional mana. This process is cumbersome and often not worth the cost, but is something of a necessity to take advantage of different terrain types or defend vital choke points.
Each player begins with 20 life points, and incurs damage when creatures attack his or her central stronghold: a tower in a far corner of the map. Killing a player's creatures will also eat away at his or her life total, dishing out damage depending on the relative strength of the creature. Sending out a swarm of kobolds to do your dirty work may seem like a good idea at the time, but if a few enemy knights trounce ten of them, you'll find yourself missing half of your life total within a few turns.
One of Minion Master's most unique features is the way it handles mana. Rather than stockpiling land cards or sending units out to gather the magical resource, players gain mana by discarding any summons or modifiers they hold in their five-card hands. While this means that Minion Master offers no devastatingly huge monsters or cataclysmic enchantments, it also keeps the game balanced and the decisions tense. Is it better to cast a spell that discards everything in your hand to replenish your life points, or summon just one lowly footman while holding onto some powerful modifiers for your next turn? Weighing a card's potential destructive power against its utility as a mana source is at the heart of the game's strategy.