Tacked on? Not a chance. Multiplayer was clearly important to the design of this game from day one. When paired with the level editor (I haven’t forgotten…I will cover the Level Editor in detail in my next section.), the multiplayer experience of Band of Bugs can extend into infinity. BoB‘s strong replay value results partly from said user created content and partly because the basic gameplay is simple but has enough variance and depth to make it interesting and new each time you play.
Let me (finally) explain more about the turn structure and its importance in multiplayer. Each game is divided into rounds. Each round is broken up into individual turns within which a player can move one unit. A full round is completed once all units have had the opportunity to move and perform an action (e.g., attack, switch weapons, cast a spell, use a skill, use an item, or just wait). The series of dots in the upper right hand corner (see picture) show you the turn order. The example here currently shows that it is Blue’s turn followed by Red’s, then Purple’s and so on. The dots are on two lines to denote the teams (Blue/Purple and Red/Black in this case). The number on the right is the round number. (Not important in Multiplayer really, but the number of rounds it takes to complete campaign levels factors heavily into your score and ranking.)
As part of BoB‘s casual-friendly philosophy, NinjaBee has avoided using a speed stat to determine the order in which units move. The onus falls to the players to decide when to move each unit within each round. The back and forth turn structure might be strange at first to those used to traditional turn-based strategy games like Advance Wars (It honestly confused me for a while because I was so stuck in the Advance Wars mindset). However, this seemingly small change brings a solid pace back to the genre. Pair that with the emphasis on combat (and not resource management, unit creation, etc.) and you get some really engaging and entertaining multiplayer. And most importantly, it does not drag on forever before you have some input into the outcome.
Multiplayer maps (included or user created) are limited by the 12×12 tile grid and by a total of 16 units split into up to 4 parties. Those constraints seem severely limiting at first but I quickly discovered how many variants could be created. I also found that some of the smaller maps were the most fun because I had nowhere to run. Another fun derivative was the two on one co-op battles (you and a buddy storm the AI stronghold, for instance). And the limits also assist in keeping the multiplayer quick and casual-friendly (do you sense a theme emerging?). Since the maps are not gargantuan the battles develop quickly and end quickly. Personally, I did not play any multiplayer match that lasted more than 15-20 minutes.
The pre-game options allow you to set a move time limit (lose your turn if you do not move in time) which forces you to think on your feet and get right into battle. It also prevents the “I’ll wait until you quit, so I win” type griefing. Of course, the option to turn off move time limits can allow you to extend the games if you would like a more leisurely pace. (Note: The options I saw for move time limit ranged from 10 seconds to 1 minute and also included an option for no time limits.)
There are four basic multiplayer modes that I played: Elimination, Escape, Capture, and Spider Hunter. Elimination is exactly what you would think, eliminate them before they eliminate you. Escape requires you (or your enemy) to move at least one unit to an escape point without getting wiped out first. Capture requires you (or your enemy) to move a unit onto a capture point and hold that point until the end of a round. The most interesting mode is Spider Hunter.
Spider Hunter places you and your competition on a map filled with (surprise!) a bunch of Spiders (see picture). To start, you select one of four character types to take into the map and any time you die you can choose to respawn as a different character type. Points are acquired by attacking and killing spiders. The person who has the most points when time expires is the winner. However, there are two twists in this mode. First, your points are never safe because dying will take points away. Second, there is also a very powerful Centipede stalking all of you on the map (one hit, one kill powerful). As a result, it may be useful to work together to take the Centipede down. But how much teamwork are you willing to use while still trying to win? Is it more advantageous to attack and kill your opponents yourself? The Spider Hunter matches I played were lots of fun because of those strategic dilemmas.
Ultimately, multiplayer moves quickly without feeling rushed (unless you select 10 second turn limits, yikes!) and it never drags on. Enough variety exists in the base game to play for a long time, but with the addition of the level editor, the sky is the limit.
My Co-op Multiplayer Tip: You can set a marker to point out a tile or unit to your teammates which can help when trying to plan an attack within a time limit.
My Competitive Capture Tip: Avoid putting a unit on the capture point at the beginning of a round. If you do that, the other team has their entire arsenal at their disposal to eliminate your unit before the end of the turn.
[Update]: Spider Hunter supports up to 8 players! The other modes are capped at 4 players.