There are few things in fiction as epic as the battles fought between the forces of heaven and hell. Usually, those from the lands of the clouds and harps are the goodies, however, in Monster Train it’s the demons who take the role of protagonists. I’m not entirely sure if that makes them good guys but it certainly makes them the focus of Monster Train’s narrative and gameplay.
So, what is Monster Train? It’s equal parts digital, collectible card-game, rogue-like and auto-battler. It’s also equal parts addictive and excellent. Essentially, the forces of heaven have frozen the heart of hell and the only spark that remains is aboard the titular Monster Train.
To save hell and reignite its raging fires, you’ll need to battle heaven’s mightiest warriors as they board the train and try to snuff out the last ember. What this boils down to in gameplay terms is, playing cards to summon creatures or cast spells in order to defeat the soldiers of heaven.
Monster Train Review
You play Monster Train in ‘runs.’ These runs last either until you’re defeated or you manage to make it all the way to the heart of hell. Each run has a number of battles and each battle takes place on board your train. Your train has three levels plus a final level for your Pyre, which you need to protect.
Enemies appear, usually from the bottom floor first, and will proceed to the top unless you can defeat them first. Each turn, you draw a number of cards from your deck and play what you can with your pool of Pyre (mana). Cards in your deck are either creatures of spells.
Playing creatures adds them to the floor of your choice. However, each floor has a specific capacity and each of your creatures takes up some space. Your creatures also have a range of abilities as well as armour, health and attack. Once they’re in play, you and the enemy take turns attacking one another. If you deal enough damage, you can defeat a unit and prevent it from climbing higher.
But that’s not all.
Monster Train’s demonic hordes are split into factions. On each run, you choose your primary faction and another for support. Whichever you choose for your primary, you’ll be given a champion from. This champion costs 0 Pyre to play and is often an anchor for many of your strategies. Depending on your personal playstyle, you’ll figure out which champion suits you best.
I like Umbra’s multi-armed beast but that’s just me.
Between each battle, you travel along the train tracks and are required to choose from one of two directions each time. They always lead to the same place but they take you through different upgrades, shops and the like. Occasionally, you’ll be able to upgrade your champion. These are always tough choices; do you give them more attack power, more health add trample or something else?
Usually, you’ll be deciding between powering up your units or your spells, though, often you’ll need to decide if you’ll take a new Artifact or heal your Pyre.
Artifacts are another layer of strategy in Monster Train that grant you passive abilities. Some increase your train’s capacity. Others give you armour or health or even damage enemies as they travel between floors. Artifacts can be incredibly powerful, though RNG decides which ones you’ll be choosing from. By the end of a run, you should have a handful of artifacts that are helping you survive.
Being a rogue-like, on your first runs, you won’t have much in the way of cards or bonuses. And you will probably fail. Monster Train is punishingly difficult. However, as you play and progress, you’ll earn XP, upgrade your factions and unlock new cards. Once you start adding more cards to your factions you’ll be able to work on new strats and make it further through hell.
When you do manage to succeed, you’ll unlock a Covenant rank. Each of these makes your runs harder and finishing with Covenants active unlocks extra bonuses.
Monster Train might sound like a complicated game and it is but the way it’s been developed and the way it unfolds as you play make it really simple to understand and learn. There is a learning curve but it’s not for playing the game, it’s for discovering synergies and creating strategies. There are some really epic and powerful combinations in Monster Train’s cards and when you manage to pull of the ultimate combo, it’s pretty damn satisfying.
Fans of CCGs and rogue-likes will have an absolute ball with Monster Train. It’s hard, unique and really addictive. Here’s hoping it gets some post-launch support with more cards, factions and enemies.
Monster Train was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Monster Train