I’m clearly having a weird Friday morning, because I just clapped my hands together and squealed “ooh, this does interesting things” aloud to myself. I’m also clearly playing a very good videogame. This is Monster Train: a deckbuilding roguelike that wears its Slay The Spire influences on its sleeve, while spinning up a familiar formula in a completely different direction. You’re on a train to hell, and have to defend your engine against waves of enemies that come at you on three different levels. It’s like Slay The Spire meets Hearthstone meets Plants Vs. Zombies.
I haven’t been this excited about a deckbuilder since the Spire itself. Which is great, because it’s out right now.
Like the Spire, you’re up against a series of fights where you get the chance to improve your deck between every battle. Each encounter, enemies board your train and try to work their way upwards. You’ve got to stop them by casting spells and popping down defenders. If your defenders don’t kill the enemies on their level, then those enemies move up – and if they reach the top, they do some damage to your engine before being burnt to pieces by it.
That gives you a lot to think about at once. Is it better to wipe out that enemy, or heal one of your guardians so they don’t get biffed? Should you defend to the last, or cut your losses and soak up some engine damage so you can better prepare for the next wave? The outright *best* move is often indiscernible, and that’s the core of what makes a good deck ’em up.
I’ve only told you the basics. There are champion cards you can build strategies around, and points where you need to carefully weigh up the rewards of two different paths. It’s got Artifacts that work exactly like the Spire’s Relics, granting significant passive bonuses that can change how you build your deck. There are factions that change what cards you see each run, and an upgrade system that lets you make certain cards super-powerful. If feels like Shiny Shoe have looked at every idea the Spire had, and asked themselves how it could be improved and combined with their own innovations. That’s a fantastic way to go about making a videogame.
They’ve built a deckbuilding jacuzzi, bubbling away with interesting ideas and challenging decisions. I especially like how you sometimes get to bet on yourself, making an encounter more difficult but increasing its rewards. Tom Francis once wrote about why that works so well, and he’s dead right.
I haven’t had a chance to watch much of this yet, but here’s a vid where the devs take questions alongside Slay The Spire co-designer Anthony Giovannetti. It’s really neat to see developers chatting openly about inspiring each other – especially when they get such good results.
You can grab Monster Train from Steam, with a 10% launch discount putting it at £18/$25/€21.
The devs are also “extending a special thank you to Megacrit Games” by adding an extra 10% off for those who own Slay The Spire, for a combined 20% discount until May 28. Lovely stuff.