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Subject: Lightning in a bottle....or box, I guess. rss

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Josef S
United States
Holland
Michigan
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I prefer to keep things light in a review - It's easier for me to write with a few witty (at least, or more often only, to me) asides while analyzing the mechanics and theme of a game. Simply put, I never take fun too seriously.

Thunder & Lightning, however, isn't just fun. It is, hands down, the greatest two player card game of all time. Seriously.

Now, I've made some bold claims in reviews before. Of course, since I wrote them on the internet they're all empirical fact (except for the ones that aren't), but "the greatest two player card game of all time"? Can even I, with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the charm of Oscar the Grouch, back that up?

Thunder and Lightning is, in essence, a card game version of the classic Stratego - cards are given a power ranking, a special ability, or both. They are laid out in a 3 horizontal by 4 vertical tableau, and the goal is either to find a single card in the opponent's deck (like finding the flag in Stratego) and either challenging or destroying it. The decks are essentially identical. Some character cards have different names, but the type and amount of each card is the same for each person. The power and abilities are completely symmetrical.

Each player can do a few things on there turn, dictated by how many rows (up to 3) they have a card in - each row with a card gets you one action. You can draw, play a card, set a card on the battlefield, or directly challenge a front row enemy card with one of your front row cards. Continue these actions until the Thor player finds Odin's Crown in Loki's deck, Loki finds Odin's Ring in Thor's deck, one player is forced to start a turn with no cards on the field, or one player is not able to use all of their actions. Find the opponent's special object and you win - start a turn with no cards on the field or not be able to use all your actions, and you lose.

Just writing that out provides so little information about the overall strategy and feel for the game, it seems foolish as I have written it. It is within the card powers that the strategy comes to life. Many cards can directly search and challenge cards in the opponent's hand, so the victory card isn't safe there. Other cards can decimate the field, so it isn't safe there, either. The only place the victory card is safe is in the deck, but fail to draw enough cards and you risk having nothing with which to reinforce your battlefield. Actions need cards on the field. Cards on the field need to be resupplied from your hand. Your hand must be stocked from your deck. Drawing from your deck risks bringing the victory card into the game.

The greatness of this game is shown that every action brings multiple rewards and benefits. If you have the victory card in your hand, drawing more provides cover when your opponent uses a card to search one card in your hand. Playing a card to the field allows you to build a power-wall that both defends you and kills the opponent's character. Each choice, however, brings multiple risks as well. More cards in the hand? Might seem like you're hiding something. Death walls in your front row? They stop pretty much everything, but they can't attack either - trap yourself behind a solid defense at endgame and you can't use all your actions. That means you lose. Many games employ risk vs reward. Every choice in Thunder & Lightning is beyond such a simple dichotomy. Every reward must be balanced, individually and as a whole, against each separate risk. Analysis paralysis? This game can cause analysis petrification. I foolishly played with a chess clock one time - I am never doing that again.

Aside from the gameplay, the game is phenomenal. Cards? Top notch, big, sturdy, and well-designed for easy comprehension. Artwork? Gorgeous, life-like with the humans, amazing but still sensible with the gods and goddesses of Norse mythology. Odin and Loki wooden tokens? No reason for them to be there at all, but they are, and I love 'em. Rulebook? Nary a problem in there. Rules are presented in a logical and reasonable order with any clarifications needed.

If one flaw could be posited, it is often the price. T&L retails for about 35, and yes, that does seem a tad steep for two basically identical 50 card decks and 2 utterly pointless wooden markers (they do have a point, but they are far from necessary). Initially, I would have agreed. After racking up over 400 plays in less than a year of owning it, I no longer can.

In simplest terms, a review asks a basic question - having played this game once, is it worth playing again? For T&L, the answer is yes. In truth, I will be purchasing another copy in case this one is ever lost or damaged, or simply worn out.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this game isn't the greatest two player card game of all time. Maybe I should remove "two player card" from that claim.
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