[Game]Plunder Pirates

“Plunder Pirates” is a terrific example of an overstuffed Clash-like which beautifully hides staid gameplay. I saw it just after minimalist “Mini Castle” and they make a great contrast. Plunder Pirates adds side-missions, lots of Leaders, 2 unique bonus resources; and good lord did their art department do a great job. Only a crybaby like me would want it also to be fun.

The clash-like part starts as unimproved old-school: no reserve army or training queue means you need to wait 6+ minutes between attacks; traps still need to be hand-reset; and the best attack is the old gold raid which “loses” on purpose. Even worse, your leader does most of the work. But they add 2 fun defenses. The Bunker is a long-range machine-gun which only shoots in a 60-degree arc. It’s fun to try to place well. The Pirate Ship is similar, firing very long range but only straight out from the sides. This game also adds troop specials, for example, a 1-use button to make all pistol pirates shoot 50% faster for 6 seconds. But all-in-all, attack and defense is blah.

Besides requiring Gold or “Grog” (stored in big beer barrels, so cute), upgrades require 2 new things: Battle or Resource points. That sounds promising, but you get them through a busy-work quest system. Each of the 8 quests uses some or all of your 4 quest minions for 3-30 minutes. It’s fun to try and keep your little guys always working, but quickly becomes a 2-hour chore.

The other quest system is the exploration map, which is also tap-and-wait. It takes 5-10 minutes to sail 1 square, and about 1/2-hour to fight a sea monster or enemy fort. The random rewards for exploring include … upgrade materials for your already too strong leaders. Aaarg! It turns out the real point of this very slow mini-game is to frustrate you into paying cash when you realize just how many upgrades you need and how slow you’ll get them here. Oh, and the people sailing the ship? It’s the army you were planning to attack with in the regular game. Bye. Wait 10 more minutes to train new ones.

Other than that, Plunder Pirates is magnificent. You can spin the base view to examine the 3D buildings. There’s an auto-tour button that walks around your town, watching your quest-doers act busy. Your first leader has a unique and fun zip-line animation. Attackers come with cute little boats, paddling to the beach. Your base may have a few islands, no problem — attackers have a swim animation. You can actually see them swimming. Dead buildings shake and collapse, with a cloud of smoke and a cheer.

There’s more. It can rain. Each exploration map map monster is 3D with a unique attack animation (the shark shakes you in its mouth). The simple quest descriptions are funny and are on lovely scrolls. The buildings look great, the water on your base map makes you want to take up scuba diving. The obstacles (which take longer to clear than normal) are brightly colored ocean detritus.

The menu art style is almost too stylish to be in a game. The theme is “things made of paper cut-outs” (note to self: how have I not seen the movie “Isle of Dogs”?) Troop upgrade trees visually look great and have fun bonuses: extra health, +1 range, gain a special ability (yes, Clash’s “Builder bases” did this first, but it’s nice this game noticed and copied).

I feel like the people who were supposed to tune the troops, and who beefed-up the leaders to monetize — I feel like they really failed the great art department here.

[Game]Mini Kingdoms

“Mini Kingdoms” at first looks like a typical rushed halfway Clash clone, but once you get past the art, it’s a nicely done, original, tight Clash-like.

At first you get warriors and archers, then giants. Yawn. The only resource is gold. There’s no theme and sloppy art. But then you notice how it actually plays. Attacks use tokens – no training. You place 3 squads, which can be changed at the start of the attack. Time stops while you’re placing one, and arrows show what they’ll attack, and the next two buildings after that. That’s pretty nice. There’s a toggle for x2 or x4 speed on the battles, which is good since there’s nothing to do once you place your squads.

The wizard troop is pretty neat. It does less damage than archers, but hits an extra building touching the first (a simple but pretty 2-part electric beam). Overall it’s better than an archer. But if the nearest target is killed first, it won’t necessarily keep on the second, and players have learned the anti-wizard tactic of having buildings not always touch. In practice you look at the base and decide: archers or wizards?

Defense-wise, you get some guns, but the third defense is great – a short-range giant-killer that you really need to plan for. It fires a huge shot every 5 seconds. If you let your giants get close, they will die. But archers can kill it with only a few losses since it fires so slowly.

The bombs look like garbage – triggering them produces a red circle for a second, then troops take damage. But they work great: you can see them, there aren’t many, and they trigger at 6 spaces and affect 7. It will reliably damage most of an archer squad. You’ve got to think about who will be where when they’re set off. The chicken-trap is anti-giant. The tool tip is wrong – it turns one unit into a chicken. It’s kind of funny since the chicken keeps attacking and runs pretty quickly. Sometimes it can stay alive for quite a while (but it always eventually runs ahead and is killed in one shot).

All-in-all, you have to look over the enemy base, check locations of everything and carefully place your three squads. The game gives you time for this. And you have to work for gold in this game. Build times are fast and gold costs go up fast. You get 3 attacks in an hour and opponents give predictable fair amounts of gold, mostly for winning. I think my longest Next-ing streak for a good base is 3.

Higher level troops are a flying archer and flying giant. Yawn, except the terrible art style is hilarious: one’s an archer riding a huge bat, the other’s an armoured guy riding an armoured bat. Then it gets very strange. There’s a ground fire-mage that spawns air troops when it attacks. And an air troop that does the opposite. Some of the high level defenses seem extra whacky, but I haven’t seen them in use.

It’s an interesting no-frills Clash-like. Quick to play, not too much to do, but all good stuff.

Black Wings series

The main thing I noticed after the first book in the “Black Wings” series is the main character has no friends. Her gay BFF co-worker is quickly killed, and then it’s just her and 2 men fighting over her affections, a fiance forced on her, and 2 father figures fighting over who gets to control her. I feel like this is the genre “innocent country girl comes to the intrigue-filled court”. She’s even a virgin. Her main hobby is sharing junk food at home with her talking ca-, errr, mini-gargoyle.

Secret world premise #1 is her job, which is meeting people when they die and escorting them to the afterlife portal. It’s pretty easy — the office tells her who, when and where ahead of time. You just have to fly there using your free pair of black wings which also turn you invisible. You may recognize this from the 2003 TV show “Dead Like Me” (but no wings). I was excited — the TV show had funny deaths with life-lessons from the departed. But this has 2 routine deaths and then drops the idea. Drops it hard — everyone in the office is killed by the bad guy. Secret world premise #2 is “court intrigue with demons”. All of the fallen angels from millennia-ago have courts, and ancient feuds and complicated bloodlines. It’s revealed our heroine is 1/2 demon on 1 side, and the only living great-great-great offspring of the demon king on the other, so demon court is the big through-plot.

The baddie in this book is a mindless thug demon. We never find out much about his deal. Early on he dismembers her BFF to make a point. Dialogue is roughly: “his soul didn’t taste as good as your mother’s when I killed her 15 years ago, but better than the other souls of people I routinely kill”. So I guess her mom is dead. Not to be one-upped, we get to know her sometimes-friendly witch contact, who is then murdered by her long-lost demon father to make a different point.

Romance-wise, her boss is a total jerk to her, but we find out at the end it’s because he’s in love with her; and is also a wizard with a mysterious non-human parent. More important, a mysterious super-sexy stranger (OK, a half-angel/half-demon sent to protect her) rents the downstairs unit and flirts with her. She’s angry when she finds he enspelled her ca-, errr, mini-gargoyle, but only so she can forgive him later. Sadly, he’s so low-status in the demon world that their love is forbidden. Her demon father then assigns her a foppish arrogant husband, but clever thinking on her part puts off the marriage for a year. We also meet her new demon 1/2-brother, and her great-great … grandfather on her mother’s side. To sum up: 6 dudes are fighting over her.

The plot with the brutal demon seems disposable, like a romance plot. It kills scores of people – way too many for this genre. In a change-up near the end we get a lovely vision from her first demon ancestor, reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s “fun” prose. We learn the evil angel (not a demon — an evil angel) who killed that ancestor is now the lover of Crude Demon Bad Guy (this is the only sex scene in the book). In the final scene our heroine incinerates the bad guy with her magic (somewhere in there she’s learned: blue flame blast, white sunforce blast, and a third with unknown color). That’s followed by her monologueing, getting her heart ripped out as the bad guy comes back to life, using her regeneration power which works on everything but hearts, discovering she doesn’t need a heart after all, and killing the bad guy for real this time. While we puzzle over that, her 6 lovers/fathers/??’s walk in and say how much they all really want her now.

I saw the author “Tina” Henry at a SciFi convention. Seemed very nice. Said she was upset this series was dropped by the publisher, but was onto a new series with a different take on Alice in Wonderland. Here’s the weird part: as I bought “Black Wings” I got a free copy of another one of her books, “The Mermaid”. It was great! Not hot-romance-great or cool-monsters great either — it was legitimate-book-you-wouldn’t-be-embarrassed-to-let-people-know-you-read great. Who gets a cheesy series cancelled and says “well, I guess I’ll write a terrific book while I think of another silly series to start”?

[Game]Monster Castle

The only thing you need to know about Monster Castle is that your base is a cutaway side-view of a multi-floor castle. Attackers come in through the only door, walk across the ground floor smashing things, make their way to the stairs and repeat. You get a decent troop selection, hero special abilities, and spells. Maybe that makes up for only having one entrance and a single path. And the animation of the front door getting kicked in is just darling.

Defenses are a little interesting. You can slide around the ladder on each floor. Monsters seem to clear one floor before going up, so you can try to make them walk across and back, hitting every trap twice. The short-range bolt gun is best placed on the floor above a tough obstacle, a little in front. The mortar should be placed even higher (it’s funny to watch it arc up though floors, back down, then finally decide the target floor is solid enough to cause it to explode). As you level, three customization options unlock for every defense. The bombs have an option to be wider, or stun, or knock victims down through the floor. The “barricade” (just a strong 1-space obstacle) can turn to tougher steel, reflect some damage, or explode on death. There are cute pictures for each.

The dragon trap is a fun gold sink. It’s basically a bomb — your dragon flies across that floor, breathing flames. Off-the-clock, your dragon lives in a cool cavern below your castle, asking you to plow extra gold to level it. If you have extra “wine”, you can use it to water your magic beanstalk (which levels up the quests it gives).

The troops are the usual – close-range orc warrior, gnoll archer, bearman tough-guy, healer, 2 floaters (they go through floors, which I assume means they get quickly slaughtered). 9 troops total, plus 5 spells. And every troop also has 3 customization options. The bears can get extra HP, reflect some damage, or a chance to resist the spring-away trap. That seems like plenty to play with.

As you upgrade your Throne (your HQ), the floors get wider and you sometimes get a new one. This is also a problem, since attackers can also be dropped in vacant spaces. Plenty of abandoned bases have an empty top floor with a straight route to the Throne Room.

The game suffers from the usual hero inflation. You’ll eventually be slaughtered at the front door of a castle by a bought epic hero, upgraded using tokens from bought chests. It’s difficult to know how fair it is. In some games the $3 hero is practically required, and the $50 hero isn’t that much better. But the dangerous heroes here seem to have lots of paid upgrades.

The theme is monsters uniting against humans, the main baddy is an over-proud big-jawed Duke, who constantly mocks you in cut scenes. It’s cute and cartoony. As you admire that, have another look at the loading screen — it’s lovely 2-1/2D with depth planes that shift as you tilt your device. Lemix game studio did a nice job. But the publisher is TenCent – a huge Chinese internet conglomerate. I’ve seen them in the news, but this is the first of their games I’ve played.