Monster Battles: TCG is a collectible card game based around playing monsters and using elemental stones to level them up to higher and stronger forms as you attempt to reduce your opponent’s life points to zero. There is a wide range of deckbuilding options and strategies to go for since monsters have different elements and there is a complex web of elemental strengths and weaknesses.
If this all sounds and looks like another famous monster-battling intellectual property beginning with a ‘P’, then you’d be right. However, don’t be quick to dismiss the game as a simple clone, as there is more going on here than meets the eye.
So is it a good game in its own right, or is it just a cheap rip off? Read on to find out…
Monster Battles: TCG features two Trainers fighting each other with their deck of 20 cards made up of two types: Monsters and Elemental Stones. Monsters are your units of combat, with Attack, Heath and special abilities. The sole purpose of Elemental Stones is to “level up” the monsters permanently to their next stage of evolution. Monsters are always free to play to the field without the elemental stones, you simply have 2 Action Points per turn that you’re allowed to spend on either playing monsters or stones.
Monsters are played to one of three slots on your side of the battlefield. They will attack the monster opposite them for the amount of Attack points they have, while also receiving damage from the opposing monster’s Attack. Damage to Health is permanent unless an ability can help restore it. If there is no monster in the opposing slot, your monster will attack the opponent Trainer’s life points directly. Reducing them to zero will win you the game (unless there is an alternate victory condition, such as in some campaign matches – these will be described later).
Evolving monsters to their higher stages of evolution is permanent within a single match – once that monster has died, it will return to your deck at the stage it was at when it died. It will then have a chance of returning to your hand to be played again, as there is no “discard pile” in the game and you are always dealt a new hand of 5 cards from your deck at the start of your turn.
The goal is to try to get them to their final stage of evolution as quickly as possible because this raises the power level of the match to either keep up with your opponent’s power level or (hopefully) overtake them. Not all monsters have 3 stages of evolution – some have only 2, or even just a first stage alone. Usually their abilities will compensate for not having higher stages, such as being much more powerful or useful in certain situations.
There is a complex web of elemental strengths and weaknesses also. When one of these interactions occurs, the monster of stronger element will deal an extra 4 damage while reducing the incoming damage by 4 from the monster of weaker element. All monsters have an element that they are strong or weak against, so this creates interesting situations for mixed element decks.
Combat is short but constantly exciting, given the always changing nature of the evolving monsters, and the interactions that occur between their unique abilities. The game packs a lot of fun into a short space of time; while the basics are simple, the strategic depth of the game arises from all of the smaller moving parts of the monsters, abilities, stones and the elemental strength / weakness system. Every piece of the puzzle slots together to create a near perfect system that’s just so darned fun to play with, it’s difficult to find fault with it.
Modes and Features
Monster Battles: TCG features a single-player campaign, Tournaments, online PvP and a guild system (called Gyms). All of these function very much the same as they do in the developer’s sister game, World War II: TCG. The interfaces are nearly identical as well. However, the games come out feeling very different from one another because of the theme and mechanics.
The campaign here is a long string of AI encounters that are governed by one of a few changing types of victory conditions – ‘defeat the opponent’, ‘survive X number of turns’, or ‘defeat the opponent in X number of turns’. The game will also change variables such as the life points given to each Trainer, as well as sometimes giving the opponent more Action Points per turn than you. From a mechanics perspective this sounds like a sure-fire way to ensure your opponent always wins (as more actions in a game tends to equal more opportunities to outplay your opponent) but somehow, while the difficulty is increased, it is still regularly possible to win these matches. They’re tough, but in a fun, challenging sort of way.
Occasionally you’ll have to defeat a “Gym Leader” as well (where have I heard this term before? My memory is failing me right now…). You’ll win an elemental Badge from them (I’m definitely being reminded of a different game, but which? I cannot for the life of me think of it…). You need to collect all the Badges to unlock some rewards in the Progress screen of the game. You’ll get log-in rewards too if you come back each day. Beating the campaign matches earns you gold which you can use to buy booster packs, making free-to-play a real option here.
Tournaments (which are, confusingly, not actually PvP tournaments) are a limited run of AI matches with a pre-built deck given to you. It costs gold currency to attempt these runs, and the higher difficulty Tournaments are very hard to beat without using power ups as your Trainer’s health will carry over from one game to the next. There are power ups you can buy for money to add health, but it is possible to win without them (I did it once with 1 life point to spare!). They’re fun diversions with some higher prizes of monster eggs and booster packs if you can beat them.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
Strategy in Monster Battles revolves around building decks that synergize well between your monsters’ abilities, their elements and also the elemental stones which are used to upgrade them to their next evolutionary stage during the fight. Many of the stones have split elements, allowing you to upgrade one of two possible elemental types. This makes building multi-element decks much easier, but often difficult to start mixing more than 3. You can’t use more than 2 copies of any card, either.
There is also a “universal” stone which is a Legendary card (so, difficult to get in a pack, unfortunately) and the game only allows you to put one of them in any deck but it will evolve a monster of any element. There are also some Epic Rare stones that will evolve all monsters you control of a single element type, but these are also hard to acquire. The ratio of monsters to stones that I’ve been using is 15 monsters with 5 stones, which appears to work neatly most of the time.
You’ll have to try and build with what you have, to start – as your collection grows, you can build more efficient multi-element decks. I actually like to run single-element decks, such as the following Mystic deck (pictured below). They can benefit from global elemental effects (all creatures of that type will gain the buff) such as the monster ‘Shaa’, a 0 Attack, 20 Defense monster which will evolve all Mystic types when it is played, giving you the chance to evolve two monsters with only one Action Point (creating added “value”, an important strategic concept in TCGs/CCGs).
The best advice for strategy in this game is to really focus on evolving your monsters as early and as often as you can afford to. This is because when they die, they return to the deck at the same stage of evolution, and so gradually they will get more powerful over the course of a match. You don’t want to get stuck playing two first-stage monsters each turn as you won’t match the opponent in strength once their higher stage monsters start bouncing out from the deck.
If you haven’t been able to work it out yet, I adore Monster Battles: TCG. I love it a lot more than the developer’s sister game World War II: TCG even though mechanically and structurally they are very similar games. It’s probably a combination of the art, sound design, and the super adorable character design. It’s just so fun to play with and the strategy is deep enough that I can confidently say this isn’t just a game for children who will be attracted to the bright cartoon monsters. There is a fairly hefty CCG underlining this game with some real deckbuilding choices to make and a large enough card pool to remain interesting for quite a while.
It is certainly a valid criticism that the game’s aesthetic and ideas are largely “borrowed” from elsewhere (and you know exactly where from), so I can’t shield the developers from this criticism. However, I am willing to see this effort as a love letter to the monster-battling genre rather than a cheap attempt at stealing from it. This is a game that has been designed with a lot of love and careful attention – I can tell this because the end result is such a polished, enjoyable player experience rather than a cheap knock off that plays badly (as we’ve seen all too often in the app markets).
The pricing for some of the power ups and booster packs is a bit more than I would be comfortable with in most games, but it helps that winning matches earns you gold that you can buy boosters with. Otherwise I would be a lot more disappointed in the pricing of the premium products here.
Monster Battles: TCG takes the complexity of monster-battling RPGs / TCGs and reduces them down to a bite-sized experience that can fit into your pocket and take up no more than 5 minutes at a time. If you love battling with cute monsters that evolve (and who doesn’t?), then do not walk, run to the app store and pick this one up. It’s a free download so you’ve got nothing to lose (except maybe your dignity when you start cooing over the cute monsters while sitting on the bus or train, like I did – “But they’re just so TINY!”).
For more screenshots, click here.
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