We’ve seen somewhat of a resurgence in decent tower defense titles lately. But as Eli recently mentioned in our podcast, it can be tough to stand out in the crowded genre. Man at Arms TD [$1.99 / $4.99 (HD)] by Inert Soap does a great job of making not by dramatically changing tower defense, but by incorporating an incredibly deep card system that works behind the scenes. Combine that with an impressive suite of multiplayer options and Man at Arms offerings easily outweigh some of its superficial flaws.

From a tower defense standpoint, Man at Arms doesn’t rock the boat too much. The game’s basic towers, maps, and even visuals are reminiscent of Kingdom Rush [$0.99 / $2.99 (HD)]. You can even earn and use supplemental allies and power-ups that are situated on timers. You also won’t find any free-form maps like the recently released TowerMadness 2 [$2.99] - this is straight up classic TD gameplay. It’s also done pretty well, with a smooth difficulty curve, various difficulty options and missions that never feel overtly lengthy (although I would have still liked a fast forward option). While Man at Arms’ gameplay is pretty standard, its deck building mechanic more than makes up for it in the innovation department.

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Rather than unlocking new towers and upgrades via traditional map advancement, players earn cards which act as the unlocking mechanism. However, cards do more than simply unlock new cards; they can add temporary allies, unlock weapons on timers, increase tower stats, decrease enemy stats, and more. There are even rare cards that can be found which offer increased stats over the normal cards. Cards are only active when they’re in your deck, and each card takes ‘energy,’ forcing players to think about what strategy (and cards) they want to employ.

In addition to earning cards during battles, a shop allows you to purchase cards in blind packs and also allows you to purchase more energy, which lets you play more cards in your deck. Both require gems, which are earned in-game, via selling duplicate cards, and via IAP.  Adding to the card strategy are several is a magic shop that lets you combine cards to (hopefully) create more powerful versions. With three separate ways of earning new cards, there’s plenty of opportunity to discover new combinations.

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Simply put, this card system is one of the deepest and most satisfying features I’ve seen in a TD game. The possible deck combinations are countless, and there are so many variations of even the simplest tower configurations that players will want to spend a lot of time experimenting. The game’s energy system also means that you’ll never really be able to power through levels, as using the strongest (and coolest) towers will inevitably force you to sacrifice in other facets, forcing you to constantly adjust your gameplay. You can even earn cards that take the basic tower configurations and turn them on their head with hybrid combos. It’s simply a great system that I haven’t seen implemented this well in a TD game before (if ever!).

As if playing with cards wasn’t enough, Man at Arms has a pretty great multiplayer system. Players can create their own multiplayer maps (only on the iPad version) which can be shared with friends (in fact, the developers have created a simple website where you can download maps made from forum users). You can also create an ‘offensive’ deck with monster cards (which can be bought or earned in the same fashion as tower cards) and send your waves against an opponent and vice versa. My only complaint with the multiplayer facets is that Man at Arms does a poor job actually explaining how to participate, but once you figure out, it’s pretty fun.

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In fact, poor documentation is probably the biggest complaint I have with Man at Arms. There isn’t much in terms of a manual and the tutorial screens that are there aren’t too helpful. Thankfully, there’ve been a lot of helpful explanations from both the developer and others in our forum, but I’d like to see this included in the game. A few other annoyances like the aforementioned lack of a speed button and the strange omission of pinch-to-zoom are things that I’m surprised to encounter.

Tower defense titles have been so refined, developers really have to think outside the box to improve on the formula. I really like what Man at Arms TD has done with their deck system, and it is the perfect example of a way to improve on an already established genre. This is a game worthy of recommendation both for diehard TD fans and those hoping for a rejuvenating shot in the arm for a tired genre.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • NinjaKitteh

    Nice. The card system sounds interesting. I've sort of been growing tired of TD games for iOS. Nice to see someone trying to mix things up a bit.

  • London-SV

    Deserves 5 imo.

  • Haanden

    Great review - I have to try it!
    Can you elaborate a bit more on the iAP? It sometimes change a great game into mediocre.
    Can't wait to dig into the card system! :-)

    • Jake7905

      The game has one currency, gems, which you earn during a level, or by selling cards earned playing a level. The only IAP is for buying more gems to speed your progress. Gems are used to increase your deck space, or to buy 3 random cards. The IAP is completely unnecessary, you earn plenty during games and you also win plenty of cards during games that can be sold for a good amount of gems. Also, since there are no consumable power-ups (as in Kingdom Rush) buying more gems through IAP won't break the game. IAP= Optional, Man at Arms TD= Balanced without IAP.

      • Haanden

        Ty for a thorough explanation. Have been playing it for a couple of hours now and I'm very impressed. Also, IAP seems utterly unnecessary (doesn't it always?), like you said, you generate bunch of gems.
        Tho whole offense/defense builds works fine. With some improvement it can have a dedicated multiplayer fanbase. :-)

  • Ramaz1234

    Whatever u say

  • Buzzit

    I agree with this review Including the lack of a decent tutorial and pinch/zoom. I got a few missions in and ended up having to rethink what I was doing simply because the mechanics were not clear to me and I couldn't get around the map very easily on my iphone. I haven't played since. It would definitely be a 5 for me if the above two issues were remedied

  • Tom Ricket

    Hi, everyone! Tom here, one of the developers of Man at Arms. Glad you guys are liking it!

    I realized that I had posted this on a separate forum thread, but not here: other than screen real estate, the biggest difference between the iPhone version and the iPad version is that the iPad includes the level editor. If you have both devices, since the game isn't universal, if you buy the iPad version, let me know and we'll gift you the iPhone version. There were enough differences that we didn't end up making it a Universal app, but we never intended for people to have to buy two copies of the same game. So feel free to post, or e-mail me at tricket@gmail.com if that's the case with you!

    • anabolicMike

      I bought it and I don't like TD games. It's fun though. I just can't find the store lol. I got gems. And stuff but where the F is the store? :/. Do you come across it after playing for ahwile? Lol. Sad eh?

      • Tom Ricket

        Sorry for the confusion!

        As soon as you have *any* gems, when you go into the "Defensive Deck" area, you can use the gems to increase your deck space and add more cards.

        Then at about level 4 or 5, you'll unlock two new buildings -- "Mike's Magic Mansion" where you can combine extra cards into new forms, and then "Smooth Sam's Store," where you can sell extra cards for gems, or buy new packs of cards.

        But yeah -- we didn't make it show up right away because it confused our beta testers (of course, a bunch of them weren't familiar with TD or various other game styles).

      • NOFX

        Yup! I don't know why so many developers do this but you are correct. You have to play through a few levels to unlock the store and magic mikes card fusing store. Just stick with it you won't regret it! Oh, as well as a level creator and the ability to create an offensive deck too! Take care

    • NOFX

      Thanks for posting here it's great to see the developer have a presence on the forums. Thanks for the awesome game by the way! Can't wait for a sequel and whatever else you guys decide to create! Take care

      • http://ManAtArmsGame.com Tom Ricket

        Thanks! We're game players as well as developers, so we try to make sure we treat players like we'd like to be treated. :) We're working on an expansion pack (new map style, buildings, cards, and monsters) for the current game right now.

  • Derek Chin

    Sounds exactly like the system used by Prime World Defenders

    • TortisVamp

      Sounds like it but it's not. The towers have cards, but each upgrade level has a card as we'll. only like archers for support, then you only need the first level card. Want a high level barracks, then you need a card for each level. You can find rarer cards that decrease the gold cost to upgrade the tower, and adds a little more damage, but requires more energy to be in the deck. I just found a Mage card that adds a defender to help the Mage. I got entirely too excited about it. In relation to prime world def though, it takes the idea to another level all together.

      • Derek Chin

        Hmm.. thanks for the clarification!. Maybe I will check it out!

  • TrencH

    Sounds really interesting. I might have to check this out.

  • NOFX

    Easily my favorite game out right now! Love the card system along with the tower defense genre. This game feels so deep due to the card system and the summon abilities. I never got into card type games but this really opened my eyes to the possibilities. There's cards for literally everything. Everything from basic tower upgrades to increasing your starting gold, debuffs for enemies and super rare tower altering cards. Thankfully the in app purchases are limited to one type of currency. I really didn't like the two system IAP system and the buy one type then exchange it for the other type of purchases. The IAPs are basically just so you can expand the carry capacity of your deck and to buy new cards. Thankfully combining or fusing cards are FREE! In any case IAPs are totally not necessary! I hope I don't ruin the game for the developers but you can exploit the level creator to get free gems. As a matter of fact one user already made a map just to farm gems. It's called "very quick gems" and it's created by erikduss. But if you like the game please send some money the developers way hopefully to encourage a sequel. Hope this convinces more people to give this game a try. Take care

    • http://ManAtArmsGame.com Tom Ricket

      Thanks, NOFX! And yeah -- we don't worry too much about people exploiting things for gems, as long as the game remains fun. The IAP is really for people who just want to zip ahead, but we never want to make it required.
      Meanwhile, the iPad version just had v1.5 out with a few new cards, levels, and bug fixes -- the iPhone version is lagging a bit, but we'll synchronize it soon!

      • NOFX

        Thanks tom! I updated this afternoon and have purchased some IAPs for the cause! I haven't been this enamored with a game in awhile thank you so much for all your work and being so generous with the gem exploit and IAP amounts. One of the few rare games that maxes out the IAP at 10 dollars. I have no reservations about using the IAP store because of how awesome you guys are. Please keep us posted for future games and hopefully a sequel. You guys are awesome! Take care

      • http://ManAtArmsGame.com Tom Ricket

        I'll try not to get into a positive-feedback-loop, but thanks for the thanks, and I'm glad you're really enjoying the game! Yeah, I end the levels on some games and it pops up a, "Wouldn't you like to spend $20 to get a little farther?" dialog. And that's just ... argh, irritating, as a player. :) So hopefully we can avoid doing that to our fans!

Man at Arms TD Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 4