The Best Kind Of Crazy Train

HIGH Easy to learn, lots of replayability.

LOW I can’t stop playing.

WTF Candles and plants seems like a bad team-up.

Monster Train is a roguelike deck builder. The premise is that there’s a train holding the final ember of the fire that keeps Hell’s flames burning. The train must be kept moving to avoid the Winged — minions of Heaven that are trying to extinguish it. Minions are summoned to defend the train and keep it rolling along.

At the start of each run, players will choose two (of five total) different clans,  each with their own quirks – the Hellborn are all about powerful monsters and sacrificial imps, Awoken deal in spikes and regeneration, Umbra eat friendly minions to power themselves up, and more. These choices will determine which “hero” unit and supporting cards they’ll have to start with. 

Regardless of what they choose, each run will have players making their way through a procedurally-generated map collecting resources and cards while battling the Winged. While this might sound like a standard deck builder formula so far, where Monster Train differs is the train itself.

The train is divided into three levels. Attacking Winged will start on the first level and fight any minions there, and if not defeated, they’ll move up to the next level. Each floor of the train can only hold a limited number of monsters, so the question is how many monsters and of what kind should be placed on each level? Stronger monsters take up more room, and can occasionally fill up a room all by themselves. On the other hand, perhaps a swarm of smaller monsters is the way to go?

Each minion has values for attack power and health. Minions can only be played once per battle, so players must keep the train’s tiered layout in mind and effectively plan deployment locations in order to keep them alive and defending for as long as possible.

In addition to the minions, decks also contain minor spell cards that can be used multiple times (healing, damage spells, etc) and some powerful cards that can only be used once per combat, or even once per run.

Further enriching the gameplay, Monster Train‘s cards have slots for enhancements. Available from shops along the route, they can give stat boosts to health and defense, make cards cheaper to play, or even double or triple a card’s power. Enhancements can also give minions special abilities like a multi-attack, a life steal, or being returned to the deck (instead of the discard pile) once it’s defeated. The library of cards in Monster Train is deep enough to keep things interesting all by itself, but enhancements expand the options a great deal.

In other deckbuilders I’ve played, the starting cards are often throwaways only useful for the first few battles, but that’s not the case in Monster Train. Here, each card can easily work with any other (even before enhancements) and each has multiple strategic uses.  I’ve pulled victory from defeat using basic cards played effectively — every card is worthwhile, and when the player feels like they’re stuck, Monster Train offers multiple options to either skip adding cards or removing cards from a deck, which basically eliminates the possibility of getting stuck with a handful of useless cards.

As players complete successful runs, they’ll unlock Covenants. These are challenge modes that tweak the game slightly to give players a bit more challenge. This can come in the form of enemies having more health, penalty cards added to to the deck, shop prices going up, and so on.

When players have wiped the floor with the Winged, they can take their skills online to play a daily challenge for the highest score. There’s also a multiplayer variant where up to eight players (all starting with the same deck) see who can get to the end of the line the fastest. Creative players can dip into a custom challenge mode where they can create their own runs with various modifications.

As far as deckbuilders go, Monster Train is fantastic. The general strategy and the quirks of fighting on a multi-leveled train make it stand out as its own sort of unique puzzle that rewards players for cleverness. The runs are fast, it’s easy to learn, and the challenge modes give it plenty of depth and replay. Get on board before it leaves the station!

Rating: 10 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Shiny Shoe and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment.  It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and all cards were unlocked. Around 2 hours were devoted to multiplayer.

Parents: This game is not rated by the ESRB. The game shows monsters fighting monsters, all of which will explode into embers upon defeat. There is no blood or gore, and no suggestive themes. Approved for all ages!

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Most information is text-based, but the text is not resizable. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. This one is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The controls are remappable,  but it can also be played entirely with a mouse.

Eugene Sax
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