Krosmaster Arena is a turn-based combat game set in a cartoonish fantasy world. With singleplayer and mutliplayer modes, matches last from ten to twenty minutes on average. The game has tactical depth and the graphics are gorgeous. It is freely available to try, and there is no reason not to.
I’m a sucker for arena-style combat games. Ever since I cracked open Steve Jackson’s Man to Man and Nova Game’s Lost Worlds books in the 1980s I’ve been hooked on the format. The arena games I play now are more sophisticated, perhaps, but the premise remains largely the same: muster troops, position forces, pummel the enemy. Krosmaster Arena by French studio Ankama Games does not deviate from this, but it adds quite a lot of staple variability in the form of unit abilities, maps, and game types.
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Krosmaster Arena is set in the world of a 2004 turn-based MMORPG game called Dofus…which according to the internet was upgraded into a similar but different game called Wakfu…both of which have comics and animated shows and may or may not be popular outside of the English-speaking world. I admit that I am a bit of an old-school gamer, and I don’t even know how to pronounce MMORPG, let alone what it stands for. ‘Dofus’ and ‘Wakfu’ sound more like menu items at a slightly suspect all-you-can-eat buffet, but I presume that they are really just made-up words in French. Either way, Krosmaster Arena benefits from a rich and established backstory.
As a player in this game, you take on the role of a Demon of the Hours — a powerful supernatural entity who, rather than spreading death and destruction like the demonic denizens of other fantasy universes, is merely bored. Sure, as an immortal you could take up quilting or fishing to pass eternity, but what fun would that be? What’s fun, apparently, is pulling an assortment of warriors from various planes of existence and making them fight. This is the core of the game.
The warriors under your control are known as ‘Krosmasters’ and, although they more closely resemble animated emojis than peerless fighters from across the ‘Krosmos,’ they brandish a punishing array of weapons, magic, and allied creatures with which to do battle. Part of the game involves assembling a team of Krosmasters whose abilities work well together and dishing out Demon-entertaining pain to your enemies. Since there are well over a hundred playable Krosmasters available in the game, every player who earns or buys enough Krosmasters can have a first class fighting list to muster against any given foe.
Beyond the initial six tutorial missions, Krosmaster Arena has a huge variety of options for players to explore. Matches can be played solo against AI, or across the web in multiplayer combat. There are daily challenges, puzzles, campaigns, and various supports for the community of players. Players who have tried games like Hearthstone will recognize Ankama’s model here — they are throwing the kitchen sink into creating an interesting metagame that will support a wide variety of play for a long time.
Once a game is chosen and an army is assembled, combat begins on a grid of varying sizes. The first missions are played on small grids, but the later boards can be considerably larger. The player who begins is the one with the highest initiative of the sum of his pieces. One somewhat unique feature of Krosmaster Arena comes in the form of a limited number of bonuses allocated at the start of each player turn. These limited bonuses confer special abilities that make movement easier, attacks more dangerous, and defenses more robust. Players then activate each Krosmaster they control, using a certain quantity of action points to move and attack. Special attacks, traps, and monster summoning are also part of the game. Terrain features provide obstacles to movement and line of sight. The combat system has layers to it, but nothing that is especially innovative.
In the midst of battle, Krosmasters also gather money lying on the ground to spend during the game for special attacks and upgrades. I try to suspend disbelief when I play most games, especially ones involving magical creatures, demons, and extraplanar arenas…but still I wonder what is really happening on a turn when a Krosmaster finds money on the ground and buys a special attack. Did the Krosmaster somehow blink back to her home plane, find a sensei, train for six months, and then blink back into the game just in time for the next turn? Or does the money somehow magically contain cool powers that she can choose because…because…well…I can’t even finish my hypothetical scenario. I really don’t understand the premise behind purchasing upgrades during a battle, except that it adds a spatial element to the game and thereby increases the fun.
After several rounds of combat, one side will have collected enough “Gallons of Glory” to win. Glory is awarded based on momentum against an enemy rather than total annihilation. This keeps the game from stagnating into a cat-and-mouse chase.
One of the main reasons I wanted to review Krosmaster Arena is because the board game it is based on is absolutely gorgeous. For those of you who have not seen the physical game, it contains extremely colorful, pre-painted miniatures and terrain, and colorful maps. Even the game ‘bits’ are stylish. Ankama’s web site suggests that the board game has an ‘animated’ feel, which it certainly does. The iPad version faithfully maintains this visual appeal. Ironically, because eye-popping graphics are more common on the iPad than in board games, Krosmaster Arena does not stand out quite as much from its peers in digital form. Still, it is lovely.
The only critique I have with the visual style of Krosmaster Arena is that every piece on the board, including trees and backgrounds, flutter, hop, and breathe. The camera view shifts between plays. Clouds drift by. This constant motion is common to many iOS games with decent animation budgets, but I prefer a game without extraneous motion. As a sufferer of various attention-related disorders, I prefer a static board so I can concentrate on my next (not so) killer move.
Some reviewers of this game suggest that it suffers from an overall lack of balance. This line of thinking comes in part from the fact that some Krosmasters are clearly better than others, and except for the temporary use of “daily” Krosmasters, permanent members of a collection are added randomly. The way it works is players either buy or earn “Kroz” using real money or scoring victories with which to purchase of random “Krosboxes.” Similar to booster packs in a CCG, the Krosboxes come with one or more random Krosmasters. This element of chance will undoubtedly be fun to some players. Others, especially ‘serious’ competitors might be annoyed at having to fork out additional money to try and earn the best pieces, but for those who do, there is a mechanism for turning duplicate Krosmasters into “fragments” with which to craft new ones. I have not personally found an imbalance in anything yet, and I suspect that I would have to play for quite awhile to notice any problem, if any.
The sound quality is nice. The music is interesting, buttons click, and sound effects match the cartoony charm of the game. There is a lot of information beneath the surface of the game — stats and such — that can be accessed through in game menus. A few of the buttons are more sluggish than they should be, but it seems that future bug fixes will correct these minor problems.
III. Final Thoughts
If you enjoy the simple, wholesome pleasure of face-smashing foes with magical energy and edge weapons, go back to Robot Entertainment’s timeless iOS classic Hero Academy. It is just as pleasurable and attractive as ever. However, if you are in the mood for a new flavor of mayhem, one that is extremely well produced and has an enormous quantity of playable options, give Krosmaster Arena a try. It has enough time-tested elements to keep even the most fickle iPad gamer busy for quite awhile, if not much longer.
- Stunning artwork with eye-popping graphics
- Multiplayer option to play with others across the web
- Overload of animations on every detail, a static board may be preferred