Mark Collins(GrimTree)United Kingdom
Full article with pics here http://grimtreegames.com/grimblog/?p=312
First, a confession. I am late to the Thunderstone party. I played Thunderstone at the Games Expo last year and was very impressed. It was a quick and easy game to play with plenty of depth. Since then I kept meaning to pick a copy up but it didn't happen. There have been a couple of base sets and several expansions, however this latest base set looks to clear up a lot of rules questions and advance the rules further, so it’s ideal time to crash the Thunderstone party.
We have already put up our Thunderstone videos showing what you get in the box (over here http://youtu.be/w41oynGKGrY) and how to play the game (and over here http://youtu.be/wBtLD6NGrqA), so we took it to the Wigan Wargames game night for a play. We played a 5 player game with all new players, at the start of the game someone asked how long the game ran for. The box says 45 mins, however our game took 3 hours to wrap up. Like I say however, 5 new players, so there were a lot of rules checking and working out strategies. The last half hour we all knew exactly what we were doing and flew through the turns, so our next game will be much quicker. There are a few things you can do to speed your turn up as well if you have a few players, you can be looking at your cards and deciding what you want to do as the other players take their turn, as most of the actions you take are not directly affected by other players actions.
Our video takes you through the rules in more detail, but the idea of the game is to build your personal deck of cards, full of heroes and weapons, then work your way through a dungeon of monster cards till you beat the Thunderstone bearer. At that point all players add together the victory point values of each monster they killed, the player with the highest points wins. Each turn you can either go to the Village and buy cards to add to your deck, or go to the Dungeon to fight monsters.
The game started well, the players picked up the base rules quickly. As with all card games, you can only fit so many rules on the card, so some of the cards needed more clarification for everyone. Some benefits were not immediately obvious, but when combined with other cards the benefits became clear.
After having played a solo game before hand there were a few tactics I wanted to try. When you are in the village buying heroes you can either buy a Regular (a basic fighter that you start the game with 6 of) or a level 1 named hero. These have special abilities and can be levelled up past the first level to level 3 to increase their power using xp points gained from killing monsters. Also Regulars can be levelled up to any level 1 hero. I tried to avoid buying any more regulars and went straight for the heroes, with the plan up level them up as soon as possible.
Quite early on we got a couple of basic rules wrong, a common problem when playing a new game for the first time. One of the starting cards is a Thunderstone Shard which give you +2 to a heroes strength. Our rookie mistake was to add that the attack strength when fighting monsters, wrong! Each hero has a strength value that determines what weapons they can use, as each weapon also has a strength rating. A hero can only use a weapon if their strength rating it equal or higher than the strength rating on the weapon card. What this meant is we were giving heroes +2 attack, but they could have been using weapons that they previously couldn’t because there were not strong enough. By the time we had worked out we were doing it wrong it was too late, so we carried on using our "house rule" for that game.
Initially we also over looked the Regular special ability. In a dungeon if he is equipped with a Polearm you can pull an additional card for the combat. Your starting deck contains Longspears, which have the Polemarm keyword, so can be used for this ability. This brings an element of chance into what could be a dry combat system, where you counted your attack value and knew before entering combat if you were going to win. The Regular card, and other cards that let you draw extra cards once in combat, allows you to take a chance and start a combat with a creature that has a higher defence value than you could beat. Then, when drawing the extra cards you are gambling on getting cards that boost your total attack value.
I greatly enjoyed trying to work out the card synergies available. The scenario we played had the Bandia’s Wisdom card in it. This gives you +1 strength to each hero, gives you 3 xp, but then takes 2 xp from you at the end of combat. On its own the card doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, when used with Whetmage in combat, this lets you level a character up during combat and put it straight in your hand. So, cast the spell, gain 3xp, level up, then fight straight away with the newly levelled character. If you don’t have the 2xp to give back at the end it doesn’t matter, so you might as well use them. As you use different card sets from the basic set each game, you will be able to see different card synergies and have to be able to work out how to use the cards together.
We all managed to enjoy curse cards at one point or another. A curse card is put into your discard pile to be drawn at a later time. This can happen a few ways, it’s usually monster effects that curse you, and sometimes give you the option to curse other players. When drawn all curse cards give -1 attack and have various ways of discarding them if you draw them into your hand. You can take a rest that turn (do nothing else and destroy the card), or you can carry out the action on the card to destroy it. These actions vary, one player had to discard 2 gold, I got one where you basically had to walk into the dungeon naked to destroy it, harsh.
Another observation we made whilst getting our heroic party ready, if you get a strong draw of monsters in the dungeon you may be in a position where nobody can defeat them with the cards they have. The options seem to be either keep trying to build your deck and get better hands, or fight the monster and lose. The reason for this is when you lose, the monster goes to the bottom of the deck and the dungeon fills up again, with possibly weaker monsters. At the time we mulled over why, if you thought you already had enough victory points, you wouldn’t just purposely lose fights to get to the Thundersotne bearer at the bottom of the deck to end the game and win it. After thinking about it, it’s too risky a manoeuvre, it would mean wasting a turn for quite a few rounds whilst other players potentially took out the lesser powered monsters that came out and claimed those victory points. Also some monster cards have unpleasent side effects or curses for losing combat, or by not beating the the monsters defence by a certain amount.
The game finished with one clear winner (not me), however 2nd to 5th place was a closer run thing. The game took around 3 hours to play as I said before, but that was mainly due to getting used to the rules and most cards prompting the question "so what does this do?". Next play through should be a lot quicker. Due to the way it plays you draw your next hand at the end of your turn, so as play passes around the table you can be planning your next move to save time. One thing we did find good for new players is on your turn you actually reveal your cards so everyone can see them. This makes it much easier to help new players with their cards without resorting to cryptic conversations about what cards they might have.
As with these types of games, at the end you don’t want it to finish as you have spent all game crafting your perfect deck. Although it is very satisfying going though your deck counting victory points at the end, and looking at the little army you have put together.
I liked this game a lot, and will getting a lot more play out of it. If you want to pick up a copy its available from us here http://www.grimtreegames.com/thunderstone-advance-tower-of-r....
Thanks for reading!