I’ve spent the last several weeks playing Monster Train quite diligently. It has its hooks in me as deep as Slay the Spire had previously. But where I felt more compelled to continue pushing forward in Spire on a quest to perfect my ability to play the game, the same motivator isn’t necessarily true in Monster Train. The difficulty is implemented in the same way as Spire, but I think it’s the variety that is born out of synergies that has me hooked with Monster Train.

In Monster Train there are five playable factions. Each has around twenty cards featuring abilities that are unique to that particular faction. At the start of every game you have to choose two factions to play as. One acts as your primary selection, altering your champion and the odds of finding certain cards, while the other acts as a secondary supporting faction. In a way you’re selecting what mechanics you’d like to play with. What’s interesting is how each faction’s unique abilities combine to create outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts.

For example, my favourite of the lot are the Stygien: a tribe of fish-folk that primarily rely on damage over time and spell casting. One of their abilities is known as incant. Whenever you cast a spell incant triggers providing some sort of boost to your monsters, or a debuff to the opposition. One these abilities provides one armor any time you cast a spell. By itself incant is straightforward, but when you mix it with other faction abilities it becomes something truly special.

Another of the factions, the Hellhorned, have the ability to grant armor to friendly units with their spells. One of the obvious synergies that immediately comes to mind is to use an armor spell to trigger incant granting additional armor. This immediately bolsters the spell’s power through the combination of a unique Stygien mechanic that normally isn’t available to the Hellhorned.

This can be pushed further with the addition of the Hellhorned artifact Railhammer. Railhammer provides an additional four armor whenever a monster gains armor. Suddenly incant for one armor becomes incant for five. With that much armor stacking up you’re likely to turn your forces into untouchable walls. This hugely game changing combination wouldn’t be possible without leveraging the unique attributes of both factions.

And that’s without even going over how cards like Guardian Stone, Guard of the Unnamed, or Battering Ram factor into the above example making it even more outrageous.

The continued thrill of discovering a new overpowered combination seems to be at the root of why I find Monster Train endlessly fun to play. Every time I think I have the game figured out I stumble my way into trying some new combination of cards and artifacts which results in a powerful combo. And that discovery is exciting.

Okay so I clearly have the Stygien and Hellhorned figured out. How can I say that discovering new synergies is exciting when I’ve optimized a strategy down to a tee?

Monster Train, like so many other games, makes use of random elements so that your runs aren’t identical. Because of this you aren’t necessarily guaranteed to find all of the components to the overpowered strategy I listed above. In fact, you’re fairly unlikely to find them with any sort of regularity. Thanks to randomness, players are forced to experiment and adapt to find something truly explosive. And if they fail to do so there is a good chance they won’t complete their run. When you do however, you’ll feel like the smartest person alive for moving all of the necessary pieces into place to nuke your enemies.

I don’t really have a question to follow this one up with so go play Monster Train. It’s presently on Steam, but console ports are in-flight according to a developer FAQ. If you’re in to card games it’s worth a looksie.