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    dkirschner's Monster Train (PC)

    [February 23, 2023 02:55:55 PM]
    Retiring Monster Train. It's so much fun, with obvious comparisons to Slay the Spire, and I need to delete it from my computer because I keep booting it up to play "just a little bit." I think it's just as good as Slay the Spire. They share similarities, but have important differences that make each a unique experience. In Monster Train, you ride a train through the 9 circles of hell, building your deck of monsters and spells as you go. You begin the game by choosing a primary and secondary clan. There are six clans to choose from (two at first; unlock more as you level up clans). Each clan has two champions and two starter cards. You choose a champion from your primary clan and a starter card from both your primary and secondary clans (of which you get five copies), which form the foundation of your deck, along with five Train Stewards, a basic unit with low stats.

    You immediately choose an artifact (like Slay the Spire's relics that provide persistent effects like "All friendly units enter the train with +5 health" or something) and upgrade your champion, then fight your first battle. After each battle, you get some gold, a unit draft, and after boss battles you get either +1 card draw, +1 energy (used to play cards), or +1 space on each floor (each unit takes up space on the train, so this lets you place more or bigger units). Then you really begin your journey through the nine circles of hell. Each circle has two paths with two or three stops before converging at a battle. Paths may have gold to pick up, random events (sort of like Slay the Spire's question marks), artifacts, merchants where you can upgrade units, spells, or buy artifacts, hellvents (my favorite, which let you duplicate any card except your champion), and a couple other things. You do this 9 times: choose one of the two paths, fight a battle, choose one of the two paths, fight a battle, until you get to the final boss.

    Whereas in Slay the Spire, you control one character and build a deck around their unique mechanics, in Monster Train you control a primary and secondary clan with a variety of units and spells with unique clan mechanics. Example: The first clan is the Hellhorned. They focus on stacking rage (adds damage) and armor (mitigates damage). Their unique thing is using imps, which are cheap units that do something upon summoning (deal 5 damage, add 20 armor to the front unit, etc.). Some other clan cards play off of the imps, like increase damage based on how many imps are in your deck, sacrifice imps for benefits, etc. The other clan you immediately have access to are the Awoken, who have a nature vibe. They have a lot of cards with thorns and healing. So, paired together, you get the Hellhorned with high attack and armor plus the Awoken with thorns and health regen. Nice synergy. Another clan, the Umbra, focus on "eating" "morsels." Morsels are little one-cost, one-space units that are automatically eaten by other units and increase the eater's stats. Some Umbra units have "Gorge," which grants extra bonuses for eating a unit. For example "Gorge 2 attack 4 health" means that when that unit eats a morsel, it gains whatever bonuses the morsel applies, plus the Gorge bonus. Using the Umbra with Hellhorned gives you some incredibly strong units, while using the Umbra with the Awoken lets you play a bit more defensively. Since you always have a primary and a secondary clan per run, and each clan itself can be played in myriad ways, there is a massive variety in the kinds of decks you can build.

    Each battle takes place on your train. Your train has four floors. You can play units on the first three floors. Enemies enter on the first floor. If they are still alive after clashing with your units on the first floor, they move up to the second floor and another group enters the first floor. Enemies enter your train and move up floor by floor until reaching the fourth floor, which is the "Pyre room." The Pyre is like the heart of your train, and you are ultimately protecting the Pyre. It attacks enemies who come to the fourth floor, but if they kill it, it's game over. So, place units on the three floors of the train and wisely use spells to efficiently kill enemies before they reach the Pyre room. Each battle has x waves of enemies culminating in a boss battle. Three of the circles of hell have actual boss battles; the other circles are minibosses.

    The regular game is very easy to win. I won on my first try and only started losing once I started gambling on purposefully making runs harder (but increasing rewards!). On the non-boss fights, you can increase the difficulty and get extra rewards by enabling enemy buffs (+4 thorns, +6 attack, +10 armor on all enemies, etc.). I can usually still win with all of these enabled. You can also change the "Covenant" level. I did this through Covenant level 5 (out of 25). This is like Ascension in Slay the Spire, modifying the game in some way for each Covenant level (e.g., more enemies on floors, bosses have more health and attack, you get Deadweight cards, etc.). Then, you can also increase the "threat" level. This lets you acquire some curse or something for gold or combining units into a powerful unit and stuff like that. The higher threat you accumulate, the harder the battles.

    Making the game harder is all in the service of getting more points, more rewards, more upgrades like card borders and leveling up clans, climbing leaderboards, and so on. If you tried to 100% this game, it would take so long because each clan has 10 levels, there are 25 Covenant levels, there are achievements for winning at Covenant level 25 for each clan, there are daily challenges with modifiers, and on and on. That was actually one of the coolest things that I didn't expect to enjoy, the daily challenges. These are like...multiplayer in a way. Since all players are taking the train through hell, doing the daily challenge represents multiple players' trains on the map, so you can see where other players are and can see a leaderboard as you move up. The game is transparent about builds. After completing the daily challenge, you can see the decks of each player on the leaderboard. The game also keeps data on each of your regular runs. It's impressive.

    Anyway. I wrote a lot here just explaining the game. It is fun with a lot of variety. It's easy for the base game, but becomes challenging as you enable modifiers. I like how much control the player has over the difficulty. There are some key comparisons to Slay the Spire. First, runs are shorter than Slay the Spire, which can have dozens of battles and I think has more agonizing choices for you to make. Second, while Monster Train has more variety in decks between runs (thanks to the six different clans from which you choose two each time vs. four different characters), the deckbuilding is less about adapting to circumstances. Your deck style will emerge quickly, and you stick with it. In Slay the Spire, you'll shift the deck's focus as you go, depending on your health, the bosses you are going to face, the cards you happen to draw. I think that Monster Train is more forgiving. Third, Monster Train has less enemy and boss variety. Enemies in Slay the Spire are both individually more challenging and require you to apply different strategies. I'm sure this becomes more important in Monster Train as you work up the Covenant levels, but by Covenant level five, I was still steamrolling my way through hell using the same basic strategy in a given run regardless of which circle I was on. Sometimes bosses require adaptation, like the one that gains buffs when you play cards on the floor he's on (if you ignore this mechanic, you will die!), but generally, you don't have to think as much.

    I chased achievements for a while after I'd unlocked all the clans, and that was fun, but it's clear that it'll become really grindy to level all the clans up, acquire every card, and eventually see the credits (which don't roll till after Covenant level 25!). Uninstalled, and maybe I'll pick it up again in the future when I have more time.
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    dkirschner's Monster Train (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Wednesday 21 December, 2022

    GameLog closed on: Wednesday 22 February, 2023

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Interesting that enemies attack in levels of the train! Intrigued for more. ---------- Fantastic game. Lots of variety.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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