MMObility: Combat Monsters still needs some tweaking

Combat Monsters screenshot
Combat Monsters is made by the folks at Rubicon, the same people who brought us the cute Great Little War Game and others. This made me almost immediately happy as I've spent a lot of time playing some of those titles and loved the way the developers kept things simple to play yet hard to master. Combat Monsters is supposed to be a multiplayer, turn-based, card-based, arena-style combat game with optional in-game purchases. I found it to be most of those things, but I also found that it still needed more time in the oven.

You start off in a tutorial that does a relatively good job of explaining how everything works. You have a card deck with a limited number of cards, mojo for card creation that's earned every round, and several different types of cards that do different things during a round. It's all pretty straightforward... until the frustration kicks in.

Combat Monsters screenshot
The initial problems started with me because the archer deck I decided to start off with appears to take a bit more getting used to than the other decks. The problem with ranged combat in Combat Monsters is that the battlefields are pretty small and you can spawn new monsters only within the immediate range of your hero. Your hero is basically you in this game. He or she has more hit points than your disposable monsters, but the death of your hero is the end of the game. I tried to keep my hero protected by keeping him far away from the enemy, but the distance was closed so easily that ranged combat seemed almost silly at times.

The tutorial was so gentle with me that once I was thrown out into the real game, I was shocked to find that all of my computer-controlled opponents were so much more powerful than me. I did a search on the official forums and found that many players have the same issue but that it's supposed to be that way. Certain AI opponent settings create an NPC hero that has more cards, more mojo, and a better deck than its human counterpart. In other words, the game literally creates a computer-controlled opponent that is more powerful than you. Is this design flaw the actual choice of the developers? Was the game going to warn me at some point by saying, "Don't worry, you don't suck at this basic game. We just created an opponent that is much more powerful than you"?

Combat Monsters screenshot
After pushing aside the computer-controlled combat, I attempted to move on to playing against real humans. The game gives you plenty of choices. You can pass-and-play the game (a ton of fun at holidays) or join a few different multiplayer matches. The game already supports competitive play for prizes, and matches can hold up to six players. I rejoiced! After all, what would be more epic than a massive fight between six tiny armies?

Unfortunately, the multiplayer system rarely seemed to work. I could find a one-on-one match pretty easily, but anything more than that meant that I was stuck staring at the "waiting" button for an eternity before giving up. On top of that, the connection server would bug out and the game would occasionally lock up. Granted, this was on the day of launch, but it still didn't bode well.

Switching to a melee deck made all the difference in the world. I replayed the same, troubling single-player missions as before and did much better. Not only that, but the melee deck appeared to come with a wider variety of cards or at least did a better job at offering a few different types of cards. The melee monsters buffed each other, took more damage, and hurt my enemies much more. It just seemed to much better than the archery deck.

Combat Monsters screenshot
Each monster card costs some mojo to cast and is easy enough to read. There is an indicator for how much damage the monster can take and how much damage it can do; when the monster is in play, there is an additional indicator for the monster's defense, a sort of buff that absorbs damage. Monsters can also have additional special abilities that cost mojo. Weapon and item cards are dragged to the monster and show up literally in game. If you give your monster a shield, it holds a tiny shield. It's a fantastic design element that really breathes life into the game.

Combat Monsters is generally fun to play and offers a neat in-game item shop to buy new decks, cards, and items. The prices are not too steep, but I have not played the game enough to know whether or not the cards from the shop are much more powerful than the ones you get in-game. Time and a little balancing will probably make all of the difference there.

The developers need to tweak the beginning card decks, adjust the server issues, work on ways to encourage more players to line up for matches, and fix the small bugs that pop up while you're playing, some bad enough to cause a restart of the game. Other than those issues, the game is off to a relatively solid start. With time, it might prove to be an great tiny little strategy game.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was originally published on Massively.