Backyard Monsters Brings Traditional Strategy Elements to Facebook

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time on Facebook in recent weeks, you’ve probably seen the advertisements for some game called Backyard Monsters. Truth be told, our guess was that the Casual Collective title would be another husbandry, where users grow and care for monsters. Very wrong. Backyard Monsters is, surprisingly, a strategy game, and even more surprisingly, one that doesn’t feel like another Civilization or Evony clone.

While Backyard Monsters does borrow concepts from the above-named games, it also succeeds in not only sating early player progression desires, but also mixing in elements from real-time strategy games. RTS titles have never been prominent on Facebook, but the mechanics work fairly well in Monsters and even play an almost invisible role in the game’s virtual currency scheme. Moreover, despite some rather drab user interface issues, Backyard Monsters has continued to grow steadily, now reaching approximately 213,000 monthly active users. Here’s a closer look at the game’s details:

Users start off with a plot of land — their “backyard” — and begin constructing required buildings to build up a monster army. As with any RTS, the Town Hall acts as the central hub to all other technology trees, being required to build anything else.

This is where the first notable difference between Backyard Monsters and Evony comes into play. The latter title, and its various clones, always have a finite number of plots of land in which to construct buildings. Technically, that still exists here, but everything is on an invisible grid, and users can place buildings anywhere they will fit. This includes resource gatherers, which in other games are typically limited to the exterior parts of your town or kingdom.

There are a large number of resources to be gathered: Twigs, Pebbles, Putty, Goo, and Shiny. The first four can be gathered passively through various structures, but each structure can only hold so many units until new production must be stored, by the player, in the town hall or a storage silo. Should the user not come back to the game to store resources, gathering will cease.

The Shiny resource, on the other hand, cannot be gathered normally and is the game’s virtual currency (though it can sometimes be earned through a basic quest system). By constructing a general store, users can purchase bonuses with Shiny, including faster resource gathering for a limited time, protection against would-be attackers, extra resources, and even extra workers.

Workers are yet another RTS element brewed into Backyard Monsters, as in order to construct anything, a worker must be available. Until then, they mill about the map. Players only start with one, and in a wise move by Casual Collective, these little guys cost Shiny to hire, with the cost increasing each time you get another one.

It is also worth mentioning that of all the purchases the player can make with the virtual currency, none feels terribly expensive. Resources might cost five Shiny, while speeding up construction on something is six or seven. There is even protection for limited amounts of time (700 Shiny for about a month; less for less time) that can prevent any other players attacking you.

Unfortunately, the app has a slow burn, requiring many buildings that cost a good chunk of change before you can really build any monsters of your own, so you won‘t be doing attacking of your own right away. Thankfully, you are capable of building defensive towers and even booby traps to protect you from almost the get go.

Early on, no player can attack you for about two weeks (or until you pick a fight), but random creatures can. Any defenses constructed — walls, defensive towers, and even booby traps — will automatically attack the various nasties, but a good amount of damage can still be taken by your base. Curiously, nothing requires resources to repair, only time. However, the greater the damage, the longer it takes to fix, and the lower the health of a building the lower its productivity.

Eventually, players will earn enough resources to build monsters for their army, a process similar to constructing buildings. Bigger monsters are more expensive, take longer to research than make, have various prerequisites, and fill up slots in certain buildings that house them. All the same, once players do have an army, and a building called a “Map Room,” they can venture forth and attack other players for their own resources. The game doesn’t focus on using friends as direct allies, but they can help you upgrade your buildings faster, and eventually you will be able to visit their backyards and bank their resources for a cut. Additionally, there is an ability to form truces with other players further along in the game.

Backyard Monsters actually becomes quite addicting, with a good ingress for hooking new players. The only real downside comes in the form of visuals, namely, the user interface. The buildings and most of the monsters look pretty cool (though the animations are almost non-existent), but the UI is unbearably dull. With simplistic shapes, a grid-like layout, and menus and buttons that look like Excel or a 90s website, they feel completely disconnected from the game itself. The game is still fun, so many will probably look past it, but it certainly isn’t doing the potential growth any favors.

Overall, Backyard Monsters is a surprisingly fun strategy game complete with Civ- and RTS-style mechanics. It’s a slightly more unusual choice as a Facebook game, but for what it is, it works. Moreover, its virtual currency is well planned out, making player spending feel insignificant and thus encouraging the impulse-buy psychology that made virtual goods and currency what they are today. The user interface is rather poor by comparison to everything else, but with a few touch ups here and there, an already good game could potentially become great.