“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.