I decided that I loved Monster Train almost immediately, before I’d ever had the chance to experience its addictive, “just one more run” gameplay.

While the game features minimal story, there’s a brief opening movie to set the scene. Hell, you see, has frozen over after a devastating attack from the army of Heaven. The only hope is The Boneshaker, a train carrying the last burning pyre. If you and your army can protect the pyre, Hell can be restored. If the pyre is extinguished, all hope is lost.

It’s a simple and slightly silly premise, but there’s something about it that I find really charming. Even though Monster Train doesn’t take itself too seriously, it sets high stakes and treats them with a slight air of gravitas. By the time I began my first run, I was fully invested.

Now, hundreds of hours later, I’ve protected the pyre and the future of Hell countless times. No matter how many runs I’ve completed and how many bosses I’ve beaten, the game’s hold on me has never faded. In fact, it’s pretty common for me to start up a new game only to think, “Man, I’d rather be playing Monster Train.”

What is Monster Train and what makes it so addictive? It’s a strategic roguelike deckbuilding game with strong tower-defense elements. You must defend your pyre against waves of enemies that attack you across several floors. Your goal is to defeat these enemies before they reach the top floor of the train, where your pyre is stored. If your pyre sustains too many attacks, it will be extinguished, and your run will come to an end.

Before you begin a run, you’ll select a primary clan and an allied clan, which will determine your card pool. At first, you’ll have just two clans to choose from, but you’ll unlock more clans and different clan leaders — and more cards — as you progress, allowing you to experiment with a range of combinations. Discovering card synergies is one of the most exciting elements of the game, and you can expect to be trying out new strategies even after you’ve been playing for hours.

For example, my favorite clan is the Umbra, a team of monsters that gains power by gorging on weaker morsel units. Since these monsters can be fragile at first, I’d initially thought that the best strategy was to pair them with the Hellhorned, a strong clan full of sturdy units. However, I eventually discovered that the Stygian Guard, a fragile clan I’d largely written off, gave me more ways to utilize the Umbra clan’s abilities, leading to some incredibly satisfying battles.

What really sets Monster Train apart from other deckbuilders for me — even top-tier competitors like Slay the Spire — is that the RNG is never punishing. You’re given information about the enemies you’ll be facing at the start of a run, and you can build your deck accordingly. You might wind up with a particularly great artifact, but more often than not, whether you succeed or fail comes down to the strength of the deck you’ve built and the upgrades you’ve chosen, and that’s tremendously exciting.

Not only is Monster Train deep and satisfying, but it’s easy to play a quick game, which is yet another reason I’ve stayed in its thrall for so long. Once you’ve unlocked enough cards, you can complete a successful run in under an hour, which makes it easy to convince yourself to play one more game, and then one more, and then one more. Some nights, I’ve taken my laptop to bed with me, telling myself I’ll go to sleep once Hell is safe.

Monster Train is the kind of game I can see myself playing forever. Whether I’m working myself up the Covenant ranks, trying out custom player-created clans, or just chilling out while I watch cartoons, there’s always a reason to come back. Monster Train isn’t quite the masterpiece that Hades is, and it doesn’t feel tailor-made for 2020 like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but it’s easily one of the best and most enjoyable games I played this year. In 2020, I spent more days than I can count riding The Boneshaker, and I plan to keep on riding this train for many years to come.

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