It’s time for the top three, and my pick this year is the current successor to the success of Slay the Spire.
#3 Monster Train
There are a lot of parallels between Monster Train and Slay the Spire. I had a chance to play both games during their early access (or in Monster Train’s case, their public beta) and I knew very quickly that both were going to be winners.
Slay the Spire became the gold standard for the idea of a deck building roguelike, alongside having some of the best UI design I’ve seen. Monster Train may seem like a competitor or a game trying to copy Slay the Spire (the lead designer of STS did help out on the design of Monster Train), but they’re really more like two different flavors of ice cream.
Monster Train was designed as a streamlined experience that focuses on your deck and strategies for what’s coming down the line. Instead of just copying Slay the Spire’s combat design, Monster Train forced players to adapt to waves of enemies entering their train, with the train’s engine being their actual health pool.
The multiple factions was a brilliant idea that I think worked better than the characters of Slay the Spire. By choosing two and a champion, there is a lot more variance to the game; more importantly, the variance that the player chooses and is not up to RNG. You always know the flow the game is going to take, but you don’t know each individual piece until you get there. Each faction has fewer cards compared to the heroes of Spire, but that also gives you more control and an idea of what to expect when coming up with a strategy. Choosing between the shop and a faction card pickup gives the player information about the possibilities, but leaves the actual impact unknown until the player finally decides.
Monster Train‘s design occupies that very rare middle ground of being rigid enough that the player can properly manage and plan out a run, while still being flexible to provide variance. RNG can still be a factor, but it’s not as doom and gloom that a bad event can cause in Slay the Spire.
The progressive difficulty with the covenant system provides not only increased replayability but truly changes the game. Once you get to the modifiers that affect how you can place units on each floor, it’s hard to go back to the earlier difficulties and not be thinking about those choices. The game has already received free updates and DLC, and like Slay the Spire, has the potential to keep growing.
What keeps it from going higher really comes down to enjoying #2 and #1 more from a design standpoint. Speaking of, the silver medal for 2020 goes to my new favorite FPS and a design I want to see more of from other developers.