by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Now Weíre Cooking
While the world has slowed down and many of us have found ourselves spending more time at home, itís been a great time to pick up new hobbies. For me, itís been cooking. I got myself a great chefís knife, a book about the science of cooking, other odds and ends, and Iíve already been able to reap the benefits of a few nice recipes. I canít get enough of it; even when Iím not cooking, Iím thinking about recipes and how the things Iím eating may have been made. Maybe itís because of this newfound culinary calling that a recipe popped into mind the minute I started playing Monster Train. Itís a simple one.
Monster Train Cocktail
Yields one serving of deck building goodness.
12 ounces Slay the Spire juice
1 ounce Hearthstone zest
1/2 tbsp biblical lore
Begin with 1 cup Slay the Spire juice. Mix in the zest from Hearthstone, and top with biblical lore before serving for color.
Itís a simple recipe, but the result is a fun, fast, easy-to-learn-but-difficult-to-master deck building game thatís sure to be a hit for anyone that enjoys the genre.
Slay the Spire is too darn good of a game not to inspire a slew of imitators, and, to be frank, Iím surprised that itís taken this long to get a good one. To call Monster Train an imitator of the aforementioned is a bit of a disservice given all of the things it does differently, but the parallels are clear. Fortunately, the result isnít derivative and it doesnít feel like a knockoff. Monster Train is an absolute blast and I canít stop playing it.
Highway to Hell
An inversion of most game set-ups, Monster Train puts you in control of the legions of hell, desperate to protect a train delivering the last pyre capable of stopping hell from completely freezing over. To do this, youíll have to travel, region by region, through the underworld, gathering and strengthening your army and defending your three-story locomotive from a slew of heavenís forces determined to snuff out the underworld once and for all. Itís not much, narratively, but I wouldnít expect it to be in a game like this. Whatís there works and gives reason for some unique, creative creatures along the way.
Much like Slay the Spire, Monster Train is a turn-based rogue-like deck builder, which sounds like a whole lot of buzz-word malarkey, but itís a genre marriage made in... ahem... heaven. The game is broken into distinct sections (regions of hell), each one consisting of one battle. In each battle, youíll be tasked with summoning units and slinging spells to stop a wave of heavenly fighters from moving, one floor at a time, up to the third floor of your train to extinguish the pyre. What you can summon is up to the draws from your deck, and while your deck starts out with one leader, some weak damage spells, and some squishy generic defenders, youíll quickly be given the opportunity to beef up what youíre playing with. After every fight youíll get to choose some new cards, and before every fight youíll have the opportunity to do things like gain artifacts (permanent buffs or abilities), gain cards, purge cards, and more.
Strategy and Decisions
The actual gameplay mechanics are fantastically simple to understand, but they work together to create an incredible amount of depth. Adding, removing, and upgrading cards is simple, but which cards you do this to in order to support your overarching strategy is key. That big, tough unit you have the opportunity to recruit may do more damage than anything else you have, but, if youíre building a frostbite spell or defensive spike deck, is he really going to help you? Probably not! What strategies you use are largely going to be determined by which of the five clans you choose as your primary clan, but things are made even more interesting by the requirement to choose a secondary clan as well. I spend a good amount of time experimenting with different combinations, each one lending itself to a very different style of play.
They say adventures are about the journey, not the destination, and which route your journey takes through hell is important, too. After each battle youíll be given the choice of two routes for your train to take, and this decision determines which opportunities you have to strengthen your deck and train. You can see exactly which options are on each route (save for the caves, which offer random-but-always-positive encounters), so I often times had to put some thought into whether, say, my pyre really needed some healing or if I wanted a chance to recruit a tough new unit. The journey is also a joy because everything looks fantastic. While the cards and fonts look straight out of Hearthstone, each friendly and enemy unit is creative, unique, and engaging to look at. Youíll be able to control everything from classic horned demons to mer-people, and the forces of heaven which are made up of far more than angels. Itís clear that a lot of care and attention went into character design, and it really did a lot to pull me into the game.
Between being able to mix and match primary and secondary factions, unlocking new faction-specific cards, and the random nature of the game, replayability is fantastic. While the first few runs with each faction may be the most exciting before you figure out the ďoptimalĒ card sets for each, further playthroughs reward critical thinking and strategy. Between the three factions to unlock in addition to the two starting ones and the generous number of faction cards available to unlock- not to mention the ability to make and share custom challenges online- this is a game thatís easy to come back to time and time again. And you will want to come back. While itís easy to cast aside a game that takes inspiration from another as too derivative, itís hard to complain when the results are this fun. Monster Train proves that, sometimes, itís good to be bad.
Great art style, solid core gameplay mechanics, tons of replay value, easy to learn but tough to master
None of note.