The Trading Card Game genre isn't one that I have had much time with ever since my Pokemon TCG days back when I back in middle school. Since then, my only real experience around a deck of cards has been the occassional game of Texas Hold 'Em. With Monster Monpiece, I may have found something right up my alley.
The story itself is engaging enough. The backstory talks about how a god had first created the world and filled it with human beings. After feeling that human beings took too much advantage of the land they inhabited, that same god punished the humans by introducing a race of monster girls to help balance the power.
A young girl named May is training to become a wielder of these cards at the coveted Academy of Kunaguvu. There is an mysterious event occurring victims are being transformed into beings known as Lost, and the only way for humans to defend themselves against this phenomenon is by battling these demonized beings to hopefully knock them back to their senses. It doesn't take long for a dramatic event to happen early on in the game, kicking off the rest of the events in the story.
What is probably the most amazing thing about this game is just how good the Japanese voice acting is (no dual audio here). Every voice seemed to fits their respective character perfectly, and along with a solid script, made for a wonderful story that helps raise the game above its peers that tend to fall upon some cookie-cutter plot. The music is also pretty good, offering plenty of guitar riffs and to help supplement the experience.
The card game itself is also very easy to understand right at the gate, which is good considering I was rather intimidated going into Monster Monpiece based on that concern. The board is laid out in front of the players on a horizontal plane where cards can only be placed on one of the three lanes - think Mega Man Battle Network and you have a pretty good idea already.
When players first get a card, they have three different stats to look at - Attack, HP, and INT. Much like the simple card games found in Final Fantasy, much of the focus can be found here making it easy to understand that you better not be using a deck with a bunch of weak cards against an enemy with a dominating hand. Each card comes with its own Mana cost (there aren't individual Mana cards to be found here).
Of course, there are modifiers to be had - some cards come with different skills that are either inherent to the monster or can be unlocked by leveling them up. These skills include being able to outright deal damage to any enemy in their lane to boosting the attack power any friendly character in that vertical line.
So now we come on to the controversial "rubbing" aspect of the game, which is arguably trivial at best. Sure, it may be there for a giggle or two at the beginning, but after a while it's easy to completely forget what you are literally doing on the screen and end up just going through the motions to level up your card to a higher rank. Players are able to use this system after accumulating "Rubbing Points" either through beating opponents or purchasing them through the store. This is basically the only way to improve the rank of the cards. Leveling the rank of the cards can either boost stats or sacrifice stats to unlock new abilities.
I can honestly say that I had a lot of fun with Monster Monpiece. The barrier to entry is low enough that I never felt like the game had gone too far over my head to understand, and there are so many different strategies that can be used while in battle that I felt like most of the time I could pin the blame squarely on myself, even though the difficulty does curve upwards towards the end as you would expect.
There are also plenty of opportunities to move away from the storyline path to find hidden cards, money, and items, along with cutscenes unrelated to the main plot, like visiting a bakery or visiting the local hot springs (yup).
Replayability is very high as there are hundreds of different types of cards to collect that can all be modified to help create the perfect deck for you, providing a highly valuable experience that many people would be able to enjoy. Monster Monpiece comes well recommended. Just don't overthink the "rubbing" system, and you'll be fine.