RPS Advent Calendar 2020, 17 December

The rhythmic crackling of wheels on a track, the whistle of the engineer, and the scream of a dying angel guest. There’s a lot going on behind the seventeen door of the RPS Advent Calendar, then. Easy to learn, but difficult to master, one might say.

It’s Monster Train!

Imogen: Building roguelikes is my weakness. I love RPGs, FPSs, puzzles and events, but nothing calls me to my seat as a deck builder, and Monster Train is an exception. It was one of those games where I checked the title and thought, ‘god, that’s awesome’ – then I played it for seven hours and, well, it didn’t make the title better, but I understand how wonderful the game below was.

The art style and animations aren’t as slow as Slay The Spire, but it makes up for it with such complexity. On your Monster Train, you have to defend against enemies on three different levels, so you will always (always!) Assess where to place units to keep them alive (and the enemies that attacking). It’s so much to think about, and I often try to plan too many efforts in advance. Surprisingly, my brain didn’t explode. I mean all of this in a good way, because it’s very engaging and I like how clever it is (and by extension, how clever it makes me feel when I win mi).

There is a lot you can do to change your deck as well. Instead of a standard soft update for everything, in between fights you can usually buy perks for your spell cards or units. Want to turn a monster into a tank? Buy him more health. Do you want to do that when a unit dies they come back non-stop? It’s yours. Just need a card to deal more damage? Done. This stuff makes every run so different, and each build so different from the last one.

On a completely different but very relevant note, every time I upload the game I hear only the late Matt Cox give the words “toot fucking toot.”

On one side of a train carriage, a monster-like mass of walking candles, back with a purple squid female.  On the front, on the left, are two large soldiers armed in white and gray mind.  At the bottom of the screen, the deck of players' cards is covered.

James: Card games and roguelikes are kind of my thing too. After a lot of hours in Slay The Spire, the deckbuilding / roguelike genre mix, as it turned out, is a magical distraction of all kinds. Imagine the joy I had, then, when roguelike deck building was released in 2020 with five different races to choose from and the ability to mix and match to bring their powers together.

Monster Train have you plunged into the depths of hell on a train (of monsters), using your team’s abilities to destroy the army of angels trying to stop you. You get a champion of your main clan, an incredibly powerful unit that you want to build your deck around, and the chance to take out enemies on your way through the nine circles. And while this may be a bit complicated, I would definitely say that Monster Train is the most accessible and easy to learn game of its kind. The effects are clearly explained, your mission is obvious, and the game even does the math for you in terms of where your units will be after each round of combat.

You’ll be able to upgrade your deck with all sorts of sweet cards and effects as well, along with many special events. In one run, I picked up a handful of candles from some fella called Dante. The candles damaged my health if I hadn’t thrown a slogan at them, but by surviving in a couple fighting with them in a tow Dante was rocking again and joining him my team as a unit! He even gave me a trick for my problem – to apply a passive bonus for the rest of the run.

Race and heroism are everyone’s favorite, but some enemies and situations may encourage you to change things. Obviously, since the game has roguelike progress, every run is different, but you always make progress as your understanding of the game improves (and you unlock new cards and cool stuff).

While this isn’t my favorite roguelike of the year, I’m going to hold back on Monster Train. All sorts of new content has surfaced, too (check out the new heroes if it’s been a while since you’ve admitted). It’s a very simple sport that’s very hard to work with – basically everything I want in a game is entertaining me for a long time to come.

Monster Train screenshots show a train full of monsters, with the googly eye mode enabled.

Alice0: I like Monster Train, a lot. Coming on the heels of Slay The Spire, it shook a lot of that beautiful itch with a twist (that’s my signature move when itching). It’s great. I agree with what they said ↑. But since they’ve already said that, I want to get a little bit: Monster Train difficulty levels are bad.

After winning Contract 25, I’ve played a lot. But as I climbed the levels, I rarely thought that the new problem modifications were coming to each challenging level in an interesting way. Filling my deck with crap cards I want to remove as quickly as I can is tedious, and making future deck decisions and considerations so interesting. Biting big lumps out of my starter health, likewise, strongly motivates me to make certain decisions. And giving squillion health points to bosses means only a really, really broken deck with a strong chance of winning – so I called for those few rare combs. The problem system that is trying to take away my decision-making process makes Monster Train less interesting. I mean yeah, I beat Contract 25 last time and it felt great, but it’s a stain on a good game.

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