App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Phobies is a head-to-head strategy game where players build armies of grotesque and strange creatures that battle to control a battlefield and ultimate destroy their opponent's base. In some ways, it's a game that feels like a clever combination of Hearthstone and Clash Royale, but the underlying monetization of Phobies keeps it from ever feeling like something you'd play with any degree of seriousness.
Army of darkness
In Phobies, players take turns spawning in creatures onto a battlefield and trying to control it to the best of their ability. On this field are two opposing base structures (shaped like beating human hearts), as well as key capture points and some other features like healing tiles, walls, etc. The ultimate goal of the game is to destroy your opponent's heart, doing so takes some time, patience, and strategy.
Much like other multiplayer strategy games, Phobies has a supply system that prevents you from summoning any creatures you want any time you want. Each turn, players earn three keys they can spend on new creatures, and then each of those creatures gets two actions per turn for you to position and attack with them to try and assert dominance.
The basic strategic considerations for Phobies are almost certainly things you've seen before. Certain units are hard counters to others. Costly, powerful units have drawbacks like reduced movement speed. I could go on and on but the upshot is most of it is familiar territory though the game's balance at its core is well considered.
The thing that really sets Phobies apart is its look and sense of style. This is a game that just loves weird-looking and uncomfortable monsters and aesthetics that are reminiscent of things like Beetlejuice or some of the more daker and surreal Looney Tunes. This makes for some fun creature design, but its overall impact washes past you once you finish the tutorial, as nothing has much of an actual personality beyond Lippy, the abstract pair of lips that tells you how the game works in a sort of delightfully creepy tone.
At a certain point, all of the creatures in Phobies just feel like chess pieces, and that would all be well and good if they stayed that way. Too bad this free-to-play games has all sorts of currencies, card packs, and the ability to level up individual cards to make them more powerful than the same ones that other players have.
This is a classic downfall of multiplayer free-to-play design. There are very, very few instances where you can make a system like this work while still maintaining balance, and I am not seeing it work successfully here in Phobies. I get matched with players in both the synchronous and asynchronous game modes who have units that are the same as mine in every way, but theirs do a little more damage, have a little more health, or both. This wrecks prospect of Phobies feeling competitive in any real or meaningful way.
The bottom line
Phobies is a highly-polished and well-realized game with a really unfortunate free-to-play system layered on top. While it's nice that you can download and check out the game without having to pay anything, matches eventually can and will be decided by who has invested more time and money into making their armies flat-out better, which--it should go without saying--is not something you want from a multiplayer game.