Welcome to the next edition of ‘Gamepass Gold or Garbage’. This week I’ll be rounding up my thoughts on Monster Train, a deck-building and strategy game with roguelike features set in the (not so) fiery depths of hell.
Hell has frozen over, & you transport the last remaining pyre on your train. You will need to defend it at all costs, or hell will completely freeze over for eternity. No biggie.
You start a run by choosing a champion from 5 uniquely different clans. There is the Awoken, Hellhorned, Melting Remnant, Stygian Guard & the Umbra. You also get to choose one of those to be a support clan too, vastly changing how you shape your deck throughout your run, and changing how you fight off the forces of heaven. Being able to combine these clans creates a multitude of approaches to even begin each run & is a little overwhelming at first.
I actually stuck with the same 2 clans as support & main for my first 5 runs or so in Monster Train, just so I could grasp a better understanding of the games concepts.
Laying down some pain on the Monster Train
Once in battle you’ll see there are 4 floors to your train, 3 normal floors and a pyre room where the last ember of hell rests. You can place units in the bottom 3 floors, and enemies always enter the train from the bottom floor (kinda lucky that they use the door).
The enemies goal is to reach the top floor and stamp out your pyre. Your goal is to absolutely obliterate them if they even consider trying. Each turn enemies will attack your units, get attacked by your units, and then progress to the next floor if they remain undefeated. Strategically place enough friendly units down, use spells to your advantage, and the earlier battles should be breeze. However the difficulty spike in Monster Train is not to be laughed at. You have been warned.
Each battle ends with a boss fight, and again they will politely enter through the bottom door of the train. Bosses are diverse in tactics, & can create problems very quickly if you didn’t prepare correctly for the fight. Every boss enemy has relentless, which means once it starts attacking on a floor, it will not stop until all of your units on that floor are dead, or until they are dead themselves. This is why you need to pay attention at the start of the run. You are able to see each boss you fight, how they plan on attacking you, what buffs/debuffs they will use etc. It’ll help you set up your deck appropriately and give you a slightly easier time with the penultimate and final bosses.
Are the clans that different?
Here’s a quick rundown of a play style for 2 of the clans in Monster Train, this isn’t the only way to play these though, it’s just what I’ve found to be the most enjoyable personally.
The Awoken are unlocked by default in Monster Train, and are a clan filled with high HP units. These units are there to tank attack damage from the forces of heaven, and to protect any high damage dealing units (Animus of Speed) with lower HP levels. There are also incant abilities here, where a monster will gain a power up upon casting a spell on that floor. This could be a flat damage increase, or more commonly, spikes. The spikes accumulated on friendly units damage enemies each time they attack, allowing the tanks to become … spiky tanks. The main focus of the Awoken in Monster Train is to keep your tanks alive using the regenerative spells that heal your units, whilst stacking your spike buffs to deal massive counter damage.
Easily my favourite clan in Monster Train, the Umbra sees you start with a champion that has high damage, but relatively low health. You can upgrade your Umbra Champion to have an ability called gorge, which means each time they eat a unit, they get a HP & damage bonus. This works perfectly for the clans’ main spell cards which allow you to summon Morsel units. These get eaten at the end of each turn by your front unit. The Morsels can boost your unit health, damage and also give them temporary buffs like a damage shield that negates all damage from a hit. Add Trample to your Umbra champion (damage will follow through enemy units) and you will be laughing maniacally at how ridiculously powerful you are.
The card upgrading system really shines in Monster Train. Each ‘floor’ in hell gives you 2 different routes to take, with a variety of events to choose from that can vastly improve your run or even save you from complete annihilation.
You need to get powerful quickly to have any chance of survival. You earn gold in many ways, from finding a treasure haul on one of the routes, to defeating each floors’ waves of enemies. This can be spent in shops to upgrade your units, or upgrade your spells. The shops contents are randomised however, but being able to give your tank units an extra 25 HP or strengthening your units with multistrike (your units attack twice per turn) is a potential game changer.
Do you decide to create a ridiculously powerful unit with 2 or 3 different upgrades, or share the wealth among all of your units and balance them all out? It’s decisions like this that create a ‘do or die’ situation in Monster Train. A small error can cost you the entire run.
Other methods you can use to strengthen your run in Monster Train is by gaining artifacts, these are the equivalent items to Slay the Spires relics, and can often cause some fantastic synergies to be made available in the way you play your cards, but generally, they strengthen your run massively so they are always a priority of mine. You can buy artifacts at shops, find artifact chests very rarely, & you can also acquire them from random in game events whilst travelling in your train.
The level of depth put into making each Monster Train run as unique as it can be is truly astounding. I love synergetic mechanics in games like The Binding of Isaac & Slay the Spire, but for me, Monster Train holds the torch higher. I have way over 40 hours into this game, and I don’t think any of my runs have felt similar. Whether I have chosen a different support clan, or whether the game has just given me a different roll of the dice in regards to card acquisitions, it always feels fresh and new, and I think this is one of the best deck building games available, and definitely the best on Gamepass.