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Subject: Thunderstone: An in depth review rss

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Marc Zukerman
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**CRASH**

Kid #1: "You got your D&D in my Dominion!"

Kid #2: "You got your Dominion in my D&D!"

Both kids: "Heeeey, that's pretty good!"

Thunderstone is the latest in the AEG line to hit the shelves, and the fact that my last two purchases from them - Tomb and The Adventurers - are hits in my group meant this was a no-brainer. The game is a basic dungeon delve. Trite? Maybe. But it's popular amongst gamers so it goes without saying that people will buy it for that fact alone. But when you build in deck building (the new "nirvana-mechanic") - well, people are talking about this one! The game is about 45 minutes to an hour for 2-5 players; however there is definitely opportunity for analysis paralysis. I picked it up for about $32 from an online retailer.

First Impressions

I had been somewhat familiar with the artwork as I had been tracking this one online for some time. It takes a more serious approach than the previous fantasy production by AEG — Tomb. Some of the artwork almost borders on horror, which I think includes the box cover. Very dark and sinister. Not a bad thing, just different than some of the classic fantasy games that are out there.

Contents

The contents are exactly what you'd expect: just the cards and the rulebook. The rulebook is attractive and organized fairly well, however this was originally my biggest problem with the game. A number of rules seemed to be very unclear, mostly due to card interactions. However, much thanks to Ryan Metzler (slaqr on Geekdo) for his clarification thread as it has been invaluable in learning the game. And AEG really stepped up. On January 29th they released version 1.3 of the rulebook on their site and it fixed close to all of the issues that I and others had found. Another reason to really like this publisher. Interestingly enough, I had a similar problem with Tomb, but I chalked that up to the Talisman-like "we have so many cards, they are bound to conflict" rule.

The cards themselves are made of pretty good stock and will last awhile. Of course, with a shuffle-till-you-drop mechanic, I sleeved them before they had time to smell fresh air. There are five types of cards: Monsters, Heroes, Village, Basic and Experience plus the lone Thunderstone card. For the first 3 types of cards, there is a randomizer card that allows you to introduce more variety to the game between plays. In addition, there are divider cards that are a bit larger than the regular cards. They are a nice idea until you sleeve your cards; then they are less useful since they are now about the same size as the regular cards.

There are 8 monster types (10 of each type including duplicates), 11 heroes (12 of each covering 3 levels), 19 village cards (8 of each) and 5 basic cards (varying amounts of each). There are also 5 turn order cards which are a decent teaching aid. So how much replayability is there? I'm too far removed from doing probability analysis, but you choose 3 monster types, 4 heroes and 8 village cards. That's a pretty decent chance for a different game every time. However if you want to get a really good mix of classes of heroes and different types of village cards, you may get some vetoes as the random cards get revealed. This is of course a ripe opportunity for expansions (one of which has already been announced).

The cards have their own iconography which removes some of the necessity to read a ton of text, although there is still text on each card that goes beyond what the iconography can represent. You can see cost, type of card, strength, health, luminescence, experience, victory points, level of hero, etc. all represented as icons with values on the card. This took a little getting used to (similar to Race for the Galaxy); however after a couple of games it was pretty easy to understand.

Setup

Setup is fairly easy with this game. You go through each of the random sets and pull out the corresponding cards and place them on the table. You will mix the three monster types to form the dungeon and mix the Thunderstone card into the bottom 10 cards. You then take the four heroes and put them into the tableau along with the 8 village cards. Finally, you lay out the basic and experience cards (XP) adding them to the tableau. Everybody gets 12 basic cards, a mix of 6 militia (0 level heroes), 2 iron rations (food giving strength), 2 daggers and 2 torches. You seed the three levels of the dungeon with one monster each and you're ready to begin.

Gameplay

The object of the game is to get victory points and this is done by killing the baddies. You can also get a few by leveling up to the top level heroes and even possibly one of the village cards. Note that victory points should not be confused with XP. You actually get both by killing the walking uglies, but victory points are what count at the end of the game.

The game is played with the same Dominion mechanic of 1) take turn with cards; 2) dump all cards in play and in hand; 3) draw new hand of cards. The big difference here is you have 6 cards to play, not 5. When you start your turn, you will have the choice of doing one of the following:

1) Go to the village and shop/level up heroes
2) Enter the dungeon and fight the baddies
3) Rest and possibly cull your deck

The Village

The village is where you build your deck for the most part. You can buy cards based on the gold value that other cards represent. This is one point that one of my friends made as his biggest reason for liking this more than Dominion: The cards aren't *just* money, or *just* victory points like in Dominion (with a few exceptions). These cards serve multiple purposes. There is something to be said for walking into a shop and just because you have that thief card in your hand you have an extra 2 gold. Yes, that's right. She walked up to that barkeep across the square and lifted a couple of coins from his purse to help you afford that lantern. Most cards have some money total on them. The question is what should you buy? There are items that help with battle, there are those that help you see in the dungeon (important point that will be discussed later), and there are others that help your heroes with more strength so they can lift those big burly weapons. You can also purchase spells in the village, or even buy cards that just help you in the village later on in the game. When you buy these cards, they go into your discard pile for use when they come up later.

Once you are done with your buy, you can then improve your heroes. You've just come back from a romp through the dungeon with a red dragon, and boy are you itchin' to improve your abilities! Militia can become named heroes, heroes can become even better! This can be done in the village by turning in experience points and destroying (trashing) your old card for the new shiny one! Upgrade up to the 3rd level and you will get victory points, too! Note that there is a limit to upgrading. If the upper level doesn't have any more cards, you can't level up. This has become a big tactic for preventing your opponents from getting better. There's 6 1st level, 4 second level and only 2 third levels for each hero.

The Dungeon

If you don't feel like shopping and you feel adventurous, you can make your way into the dungeon to take on the best that danger can offer! There are three monsters each in different ranks in the dungeon. The ranks depict how far into the dungeon you have to go to fight them. Each monster has a health rating that you need to match to defeat. One of the credos of this game, which I think makes things a bit easier, is "everything stacks". Weapons stack on hero powers and powers stack upon other powers. For example, a hero with a +2 attack and +3 with edged weapons holding a spear (+2) and a spell of Battle Fury (+1 to all heroes attacks) gives you a +8 for that hero alone! And if you want, you can also throw that spear to stack an extra +3 on him totaling a whopping +11! That'll knock off most any monster. But it isn't of course that easy. Some of the monsters are only affected by certain attacks, or some may knock off some of your heroes despite your winning the battle or give you disease cards that reduce future battle scores. All of the info is on the cards.

One final factor to consider in battle is how deep you are in the dungeon. The further in you are, the less light there is. If you fight a baddie in rank 1, you get a -2 to your overall score. Rank 2 is -4 and rank 3 is -6. These penalties can be combated with objects that give off light. For every light bonus you have, it cancels out a -2 penalty. For example, you go into battle with 2 militia, 2 daggers, a Battle Fury spell and a torch, your score before light penalties is +6 (+1 for each militia, +1 for each dagger, +1 to each hero for Battle Fury). If you go against the creature in rank 1, you'll keep your +6 because the torch will cancel out that -2 light penalty. Go against the creature in rank 2 and it becomes a +4 total since you only canceled out 1 of 2 light penalties. This becomes very interesting when you have heroes which are more powerful against creatures deeper into the dungeon (archers). You can pick up items which grant light in the village. Defeated monsters may also grant light.

If you win the battle, the monster will go into your discard pile and possibly give you gold or even dungeon powers when it comes into your hand. It's always worth experience points and victory points though. You collect 1 XP card for each experience the monster is worth and put them on the side of your deck (not into your deck, which would be bad!). Those experience points can then be used in the village to level up your heroes.

If you lose the battle, the monster goes back into the dungeon (on the bottom of the deck) likely never to be heard from again. You suffer no ill effects except whatever its battle powers are. One interesting strategy a friend tried was to cull his deck as much at the beginning of the game as possible. He went up against a monster that wipes out the 0-level militias in the battle and sent 4 of them at it. He lost the battle and it killed all his militia, effectively reducing his total deck size. Since the militia don't actually grant any gold value, he was able to increase his purchasing power every turn after that and got heroes very quickly to replace them. He quickly trounced us in that game.

Resting

Got a bad hand? Drew 3 disease cards and no gold? Just want to cull the size of your deck a bit? Then resting is for you! You destroy one card in your hand and then get a new hand.

Game End

The game is over when the Thunderstone card that was in the dungeon deck reaches the first rank. You may also take the Thunderstone yourself (worth 3 victory points), if you killed the creature that caused the Thunderstone to move into the first rank. Whoever has the most victory points wins the game, with the Thunderstone acting as a tiebreaker.

Final Thoughts

I love Dominion and I love me a good dungeon crawl. This game merges the two very well. I had a really good time building out my deck and then going after monsters. It can get very frustrating though, similar to Dominion, if you can't draw good hands. That's part of the game though and did not take away from my enjoyment much. There is a decent amount of variety in the cards and therefore a good amount of replayability. I did find myself vetoing certain card combinations since they were so similar (like a lantern and a lightstone gem or two fighter types that have very similar powers). I believe with expansions, which I will definitely get, this will become less of an issue.

I have played 8 games, with 2, 3, 4 and 5 players. There really wasn't a drastic difference in game length no matter how many players there were. Once the group got a hang of the rules, the game moved pretty quickly. It's not an incredibly heavy game and if you have a dedicated group, playing more than once in a night shouldn't be difficult. I wouldn't call it a filler, but could be a nice way to finish up a night after a long Euro.

A couple of my friends who do not enjoy Dominion as much did like this game. They thought it was easier to grasp what each card did and you didn't have to feel like you were at a disadvantage if you hadn't tried certain combinations before. In addition, my wife, a big Dominion fan but not a dungeon crawler thought this was fun, though she preferred Dominion. A couple of my friends didn't like this as much or needed a couple of more plays to really grasp the game.

The biggest complaint I had about the game is the rulebook, but AEG has really come through.

Rating

I really enjoyed this game with any amount of players. It's a hoot killing monsters and then using their "trophies" for magical attacks in future battles. It was a lot of fun and the other players in my group found it quite amusing as well. I give it 8 out of 10 trolls.
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Jonathan Moodie
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zooks wrote:
This is one point that one of my friends made as his biggest reason for liking this more than Dominion: The cards aren't *just* money, or *just* victory points like in Dominion (with a few exceptions). These cards serve multiple purposes.


Ironically, this seems to be a sticking point for why many people dislike the game. I tend agree with your friend's POV on this one. I actually think it adds strategy b/c the deck you build has to take into account good buying power and good attacking power.

Very nice review.
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Ryan Metzler
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jmoodie wrote:
zooks wrote:
This is one point that one of my friends made as his biggest reason for liking this more than Dominion: The cards aren't *just* money, or *just* victory points like in Dominion (with a few exceptions). These cards serve multiple purposes.


Ironically, this seems to be a sticking point for why many people dislike the game. I tend agree with your friend's POV on this one. I actually think it adds strategy b/c the deck you build has to take into account good buying power and good attacking power.

Very nice review.


I honestly hadn't heard many complaints about the variety of uses of the cards (and trust me, I hear the complaints). I thought/think it adds a nice bit of choice in what you decide to do each turn...
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♫ Eric Herman ♫
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zooks wrote:
**CRASH**

Kid #1: "You got your D&D in my Dominion!"

Kid #2: "You got your Dominion in my D&D!"

Both kids: "Heeeey, that's pretty good!"


Cute.
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Derek Mondeau
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Great review. My wife won't let us get back to playing Dominion since purchasing Thunderstone. And that, is a good sign.
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