I’m not generally a wargaming kind of person. The closest I’ve gotten is BattleTech (from its inception) and maybe some X-Wing Miniature Game, but as the mini market is pretty much “Warhammer or GTFO” I lost interest on account of the cost and the work involved in not just buying lots and lots of units, but also having to paint them all (which itself bears an added cost). It has never been about apathy when it comes to wargaming, but rather the time, effort, and cost.
Moonbreaker scratches a kind of wargaming itch at a significantly lower price point, although the time and effort might be on par with playing with physical minis.
In Moonbreaker, you field a team of 10+1 potential minis, each with their own League of Legends-like costs and abilities. You take this roster to a battlefield against other players, an AI team, or in a special “cargo run” mode which has you battling 5 different waves of boss-level opponents while collecting loot from the arena. The mode pictured above is actually the fourth and last tutorial which had me attempting to either capture and hold the circular zones, or to kill the opposing team’s commander (upper right with all the health). Each mini can move, attack, or maybe deploy a special ability on the field, which makes roster composition very important. In that respect, Moonbreakers also feels like a CCG, as building a good roster is part of the strategy.
Moonbreaker can be tough. I lost the last tutorial in part because I wasn’t paying attention to summoning my minis when I had the currency to do so, and in part because I didn’t really understand the rules of the game. Each battlefield is comprised of elements which can reduce visibility, making ranged attacks difficult, or medium or total visibility blockers. The last two also serve as obstacles which minis must circumvent in order to get into attack position. Add to this the fact that minis themselves act as obstacles, and suddenly position of your team members is everything. I got my team all bunched up so they couldn’t really navigate, which allowed the AI to surround me and keep me penned in while they took all of the capture points. Making matters far, far worse, I learned the hard way that there is friendly fire.
There are three game modes: vs Player, vs AI, and Cargo run. For each, you need to build a roster of minis. Good news, everyone! It doesn’t look like minis are buy-to-play; they are all available to add to a custom roster.
If you’re not sure about how to best build a team, then the game provides several out of the box that you can examine and play around with.
As you play through one of the three modes, several things happen (right now). First, you earn “EA points”, as in “early access points”. These are tracked on a scale which unlocks cosmetic options such as account profile pics, banners for your rosters, decals (more on that very soon), and “Sparks”. Sparks look like a premium currency, but (for now, at least, and maybe forever) are only used to unlock pre-made skins for your minis (currently still in development).
Second, it looks like minis gain experience, which I assume jacks up their HP and abilities. As I have yet to play in a non-tutorial game, I cannot confirm nor deny this, but I’ll try it and will report back.
So the “game” is really about building teams of minis that work well together, playing against other people, the AI, or in the progressive mode, and earning “early access” goodies. Sounds cool, right?
Hold on to your shorts, kids. It’s not over yet. BEHOLD! MINI PAINTING MODE!
The image on the left is the original mini, and the UI is what you get when you select a mini from the roster listing page. You get to see all of the info about the mini, such as their abilities, their in-game lore, and their stats. The paint jobs are really nice right out of the box, but if you want something more unique, you can re-paint any of the minis in the engine.
It starts with a whitewashed figurine, and from there you can select colors and apply them with custom brush sizes and opacity, and how you want to apply them: basic paining, washes, dry brushing, airbrushing, and stippling. You can even apply decals which, as mentioned, can be obtained by earning EA points, and which might later be available by spending Sparks. That little grey box at the bottom of the paint column is a mixing palette, where you can blend colors, eyedropper them, and apply them to your mini! Pretty nice!
And finally, just when you thought there were too many features to comprehend, Moonbreaker ships with a growing in-game audio drama. This can be accessed from the upper-right menu, and provides short (like, 30- to 40-minutes short) acted and foley’d stories, currently focusing on 4 of the game’s characters. I don’t know of any game that offers something like this, and you can even listen to them during the game. I grew up with radio dramas for The Hobbit, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, so I’m 1000% on board with this kind of inclusion being normalized in games going forward!
If I had any critiques of the game, one would be that the AI takes forever to decide its turn. I don’t know if that’s an unoptimized system or if there’s some kind of advanced Thinkin’ Machine whirring its servos under the hood, but it’s certainly not as quick as some games where AI units have to make decisions. Another is that the maps may be a bit too claustrophobic, although I say that having only played the tutorial map. Again, before I knew better, my units were getting bunched up and trapped by limited floor-space, obstacles, enemies, and each other. I know this is a strategic shortcoming on my behalf, but larger maps might help the game breath a bit more not only in terms of movement, but also for strategy. I’ll circle back to this point once I play some actual games and update my observations and opinions.
I am not disappointed in what Moonbreaker offers; I am disappointed that I waited so long to pick it up, as it’s been languishing on my wish list for months now. The gameplay is solid, and the AI knows its stuff, it seems. I suspect that aside from positioning minis on the board when summoned as the first step in a proper strategy, knowing how to build a powerful and effective roster is right up there as well, which is something I have never been able to master in the CCG world, so I’m hoping I can learn it now. Using the maps to my advantage while minimizing the AI’s command of the same is something I am going to have to really work on as well.
Moonbreaker would be a strong game if it stopped there, but the inclusion of the mini painting studio is just showing off, really. There are currently 53 minis in the game — 53! — all of which can be painted as many times and as many ways as you want (and a custom palette feature can help keep team colors consistent), which should make many people very happy…I might even try a PvP match just to see what other people have done to customize their characters.
Moonbreaker is currently $22.49 in the Steam Summer Sale (normally $29.99 which is still a bargain), and there’s an additional “Founder’s Pack” for $18.74 (normally $24.99) which includes 2 alternate paints for 2 characters, and 3 additional sets of 5 paints each. I bought the base game, but I am now smashing that Founder’s Pack button because I’m currently smitten with this game.