Recommend
224 
 Thumb up
 Hide
20 Posts

Thunderstone» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Thunderstone -- Who Will Like It and Who Will Not rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Edwin Karat
United States
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
After reading a number of contradictory reviews of Thunderstone and reading the rules online, I approached my first game with an open mind. Now that I've actually gotten a chance to play it, I can see why some people would like it and some people would not. In this review, I want to bring up a number of points about the game that, depending on your own personal preferences, may either be a good thing or a bad thing. Hopefully, readers can get a better idea whether or not this game is for them.

Note that there are already a number of reviews that explain the rules quite well -- better than I could, in fact -- so I will concentrate on the salient features of the game.

* 1) This game is not Dominion. Yes, its central mechanic is the same as Dominion, but instead of focusing on that, it utilizes that mechanic to do other things. As a result, Dominion and Thunderstone shine in completely different ways. So, if you go in expecting this to be a fantasy-themed Dominion, you will be disappointed. However, if you approach it as its own game utilizing a newly-familiar mechanic, you are much more likely to enjoy it.

* 2) This game does not allow you to build a finely tuned deck engine. Once again, if you expect this game to be Dominion and want to be able to chain actions to pick up your entire deck each hand to obtain the highest scoring card each time, you will be disappointed. Few cards have actions, and there is no action limit on the number of cards you can play. Extra card draws are present but not as common, and extra buys are rare -- I didn't see any in the default setup, though the rules do support them.

* 3) Instead, this game gives you more in-game choices (rather than the more deterministic choices in Dominion). Every turn, you will have to decide if you want to go to the Village and buy a card, go to the Dungeon, kill a monster, and gain victory points and experience, or skip your turn and trash (sorry, I mean *destroy*) a card. My overall impression was that you needed your deck to be somewhat balanced (eg You need some light, but excess light isn't useful. Also, once you pick up a few disease cards, you will want to add healing to your deck, but too much won't do you any good. When fighting a monster, there can be more than one valid choice depending on which rewards/penalties you want to face. So, instead of choosing a strategy at the beginning and following through, you get a more tactical game of choices -- your overall strategy is important, but choice of strategy doesn't win or lose you the game.

* 4) This game provides a little more depth at the cost of being less simple and elegant than Dominion. Still, if on a scale of 1-10, Dominion is a 9 for simplicity and elegance, Thunderstone is a 7. It's not that it's clunky or fiddly -- in fact, it flows quite well after your first couple of turns. It's just that it's always being compared to a game that shines in simplicity and elegance. So, in providing more depth and choice, it loses some of that simplicity and elegance.

* 5) With regards to choice, there is a lot of variety in the cards available in each game. Each game features the same 4 basic card types (a hero, a weapon, some food, and some light), plus access to the disease and experience point cards, which you get when instructed. In addition, you put out 8 out of 19 possible piles of village cards, 4 of the 11 types of heroes (with 3 levels each per hero, including slightly different abilities on each level of hero), and 3 types of monsters (which come in 5 versions per type, which scale in power and provide a variety of abilities between versions), plus the thunderstone. That's 42 different cards (though the experience point cards and the Thunderstone never enter your deck -- so your deck can consists of up to 40 different card variations), as opposed to 17 in Dominion. While a few of the village cards (particularly the cheapest ones -- while future games may in all likelihood cause me to change my mind, I don't see much reason to buy the cheaper cards) were never touched in the game I played, you will likely see a number of them. As such, I'm more enthusiastic about playing again with the default setup, whereas in Dominion I was pushing to play with other setups already after my first game.

* 6) While there are a huge number of different cards, most of them come down to granting you some combination of light, attack (or magic attack), strength, cost, coins, victory points, or experience. While there are some special effects you can play cards for, these seem to be limited. So, while there are a large number of card variations that are *different*, they don't really feel unique. It is my hope and belief (as has been hinted at in the Designer Diary) that this will change with expansions. So, don't count this too strongly for now, as there is still enough variety in the initial set.

* 7) In terms of complexity, this game somehow manages to feel both complex and simple at the same time. You have to juggle a lot of values -- light, attack (or magic attack), strength, cost, coins, victory points, and experience -- and all of these are given in different areas of the card that you pretty much just have to memorize which is which. On the other hand, while this sounds terrible to manage, it really isn't after the first couple of rounds. In fact, I think the game could support quite a bit more complexity after you've got a few plays under your belt, and I hope the expansions provide this.

* 8) This game has a theme, though the mechanics do not support it as much as they could have. Once again, on a scale of 1-10, if Dominion is a 2, then Thunderstone is a 4. It's definitely got a lot more theme than Dominion, but that's not saying much. It would score higher on theme, but there are too many cases where the mechanics and theme don't completely mesh. For example, if you run out of level 2 thieves, you can't upgrade your level 1 thief to level 2, even if you have the experience to do so. However, you can still upgrade a different level 2 thief to level 3. There are other examples. You need a hero to wield a weapon but not to cast a spell. Monsters can only give you spoils that you can buy in the village anyway. The list goes on and can be found in other reviews. However, that's a personal preference -- design decisions were made to support the mechanics, not the theme, even in cases where they come into conflict (as evidenced by reading the Designer Diary on boardgamenews -- which I recommend you read if you're on the fence about this game). If you just want an excellent mechanic without a theme or a game dripping in theme without good mechanics, this isn't for you. It's a blend of the two, but one that still favors mechanics at the cost of theme sometimes.

* 9) This game takes about an hour to play. It's not a short game that can be played while waiting for other people to finish their game, but it's not a marathon game either. It hits a nice, sweet middle spot, but once again, this is a personal preference.

* 10) This game supports 2-5 players (with solo rules online). However, there total number of cards is the same for 2 players as it is for 5. Plus, you have to get through the same number of monsters for 2 as for 5. Thus, on average, a 2 player game will have 2.5 times as many defeated monsters in your deck as a 5 player game. I want to play it with different numbers of players to get a better feel on how the game varies, but I feel like it will be a different experience with different numbers of players.

* 11) There have been clogging complaints about this game, but I only saw it minimally. In the default setup, I'd only say that the 2 Noxious Sludges (immune to edged weapons and halves magical damage) and the 1 Sphinx (immune to non-magic damage) clog up the dungeon deck -- that's 3 out of 30 creatures. On the other hand, we had a Noxious Sludge start in the first slot of the dungeon and stay there for half the game. Nothing else really seemed *that* hard to kill, really. After the first couple of rounds of village turns, I felt that I could kill a monster more than half of my card draws. However, towards the end of the game, there was a Sphinx we couldn't kill and my opponent said how she felt like she couldn't do much to make her deck good enough to defeat it.(*) Still, this issue can lead to lulls in the buildup. Perhaps an optional setup variant might address this -- this is certainly possible, since each monster type has 5 different variations that increase in difficulty. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that this is the solution, since part of the problem was our own decks becoming clogged with monsters we had defeated (while some provide benefits, most are simply dead victory point cards), so the strength of your deck does go up and down over time rather than just strictly increasing.

(*) Strategy may come into play here. I couldn't defeat the two Noxious Sludges because I had focused on getting thieves with short swords and clerics, whereas my opponent got both Noxious Sludges with her Fighters. At the end, we both scrambled for wizards, as the Sphinx ended up guarding the Thunderstone to end the game. Of course, either one of us could have just voluntarily picked a fight with the Sphinx and lost to end the game (and I'm glad this is an option), but it was more fun to see if we could kill it -- plus, it was 10 points (7 for the Sphinx and 3 for the Thunderstone) for whomever did so.

* 12) The rules could use some help. Now, once you know what you're doing, it's pretty simple, but the rules don't help much on the first play. On the other hand, the author is revising the rules on what seems to be a weekly basis since the release, and a glance at version 1.4 of the rules answered all but one of the rules questions quite explicity. On the other hand, the new version of the rules does differ from the original significantly in at least one place that I noticed -- in the newer version, you upgrade heroes *after* buying items, and so can now use the money value of heroes even if you upgrade them later. Also, the rules are being revised so quickly that there are a few inconsistencies, such as whether you pick a rank (and take the light penalty into account) before or after calculating other bonuses and multipliers. One section said one way and another section had it in the other order. (I ended up adding the light penalty to the difficulty of the monster, which made sense (and is equivalent to subtracting the penalty *after* doing all the calculations to get your final result), but may not be correct. So, while there is still an outstanding inconsistency that I expect will be addressed in a future version of the rules, I strongly recommend you learn from the updated rules and not from the version in the box.

* 13) Overall, Thunderstone seems to strike a balance between a number of extremes. The design choices seem reasonable, even if it isn't the pinnacle of design from any single aspect. You can find games that are more elegant or are shorter or more complex or whichever end of the spectrum you prefer. Still, the design feels like a successful balanced approach, with the most notable flaw (in my opinion) being some inconstancy in the pacing -- there seem to be lulls and rushes at random. (Though according to the Designer Diary, the designer preferred the randomness and variety it brought.)

So, in summary, you might not like Thunderstone if:

* You expect this to be a better Dominion.
* You want a finely tuned deck engine game.
* You prefer simplicity and elegance above all else (or prefer highly complex games).
* You are put off by juggling a lot of different numbers.
* You want each card to feel unique.
* You focus only on strategy and don't care about tactical decisions.
* You focus only on mechanics and don't care about theme (or care about theme at the cost of mechanics).
* You want a quick game that you can pick up and play in half an hour (or want a marathon game that takes multiple hours to play).
* You want the same play experience regardless of the number of players.
* You dislike lulls in the pacing at random intervals and prefer a more consistent ramping up.
* You are liable to become frustrated in the first couple of rounds of your first game trying to figure out which number means which.

However, you might like Thunderstone if:

* You realize that while this is more similar to Dominion than any other game I can name, it is still a vastly different game with different design decisions.
* You want a variety of valid choices on your turns.
* You like having a lot of different cards in your deck.
* You like a bit of complexity, but not too much complexity.
* You like a balance between tactics and strategy, with a leaning towards tactics.
* You like a balance between theme and mechanics, with a leaning towards mechanics.
* You like games that are about an hour -- not too long and not too short.
* You are okay with a lot of variety in your experience depending on the number of players, which cards come up, in what order the monsters come out, etc.
* You are willing to give the game a play or two to get down the rules and figuring out which number in which spot means what.
* You are willing to pick up an expansion to add more to the game once you've gotten enough plays under your belt.
* You download the latest rules to learn from.
  • [+] Dice rolls
Garyp
Australia
Berry
NSW
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Great review - could you review every other game on BGG as well please - that way I could save a lot of time sifting through the gush, the super critical and the nit picking.

Somebody explain to me how you give thumbs please.
just worked it out - click on the thumb/gold icons - doh
29 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Brian McCormick
United States
Lansing
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Tasteless Brute
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Fan-tas-tic review!!! I mean it. You did a great job. I'm already sold on Thunderstone (it's in the mail and on its way to my house), but your review made me really excited to play it.

Keep up the reviews!
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Omari Brooks
United States
Woodbridge
Virginia
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
I might have to print this review out and hand it people that are interested in playing my copy. :)

You've nailed the key differences that I've had trouble articulating myself. Thunderstone and Dominion are cousins in my opinion. They share a common DNA but there is more variation than if they were siblings if that makes any sense.

I've only played a handful of vanilla Dominion games and feel like there is a stronger emphasis on tactical decisions and building a lean deck in Thunderstone. I love the fantasy theme that makes sense more often than not. You could strip away all theme from Dominion and it would still be an awesome game that played the same.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dave
United States
Summerville
South Carolina
flag msg tools
What daring! What outrageousness! What insolence! What arrogance!... I salute you.
badge
Conan! What is best in life? Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
karat wrote:
11) There have been clogging complaints about this game, but I only saw it minimally.


Unfortunatly, you missed the rule that states "If your combined attack value is lower than the health of the monster, then you have been defeated. The monster retreats into the dungeon: place the monster card on the bottom of the dungeon deck."

I don't agree with the term retreat in the rule, I like to think of the monster escaping the dungeon hall instead. But anyway, doing this keeps the dungeon hall from becoming clogged. Also, this rule can be used to keep another player from gaining the victory points from the Thunderstone, if it's in the 2nd stage! Just scare the tough monster away and the game is over, thus preventing someone else from gaining 3+ victory points to thier total.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Edwin Karat
United States
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
dmcallahan wrote:
karat wrote:
11) There have been clogging complaints about this game, but I only saw it minimally.


Unfortunatly, you missed the rule that states "If your combined attack value is lower than the health of the monster, then you have been defeated. The monster retreats into the dungeon: place the monster card on the bottom of the dungeon deck."

I don't agree with the term retreat in the rule, I like to think of the monster escaping the dungeon hall instead. But anyway, doing this keeps the dungeon hall from becoming clogged. Also, this rule can be used to keep another player from gaining the victory points from the Thunderstone, if it's in the 2nd stage! Just scare the tough monster away and the game is over, thus preventing someone else from gaining 3+ victory points to thier total.


We were aware of that rule, but we were stubborn and wanted to defeat it. Still, I am glad that rule exists. I referred to it briefly, but perhaps I could have been more explicit.

karat wrote:

Of course, either one of us could have just voluntarily picked a fight with the Sphinx and lost to end the game (and I'm glad this is an option), but it was more fun to see if we could kill it -- plus, it was 10 points (7 for the Sphinx and 3 for the Thunderstone) for whomever did so.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Amy Muldoon
United States
New York
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Great review-and exhaustive. A big thumbs up for sure. I think Thunderstone is a good game, a good social game, and very replayable.

It's a very themey game, and absolutely earnest. It's funny to play "Dungeon Lords" and "Thunderstone" back to back. Not only are they opposite perspectives, they are diametrically opposed serious/humorous.

You didn't mention the on crucial thing about the rules text. One of your "you might like it if" criteria should be "you love exclamation points".
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dave
United States
Summerville
South Carolina
flag msg tools
What daring! What outrageousness! What insolence! What arrogance!... I salute you.
badge
Conan! What is best in life? Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
karat wrote:


We were aware of that rule, but we were stubborn and wanted to defeat it. Still, I am glad that rule exists. I referred to it briefly, but perhaps I could have been more explicit.


Ahhh, I see. That alone will make the game last an hour...lol. Great reveiw, thanks.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Williams
United States
Chapel Hill
North Carolina
flag msg tools
mbmb
dmcallahan wrote:
karat wrote:
11) There have been clogging complaints about this game, but I only saw it minimally.


Unfortunatly, you missed the rule that states "If your combined attack value is lower than the health of the monster, then you have been defeated. The monster retreats into the dungeon: place the monster card on the bottom of the dungeon deck."



Sure, the rule is there. But there is no incentive to use your turn for this purpose until someone else is likely to be able to defeat the monster. Even then, its usefulness is dubious. It simply does not solve the problem if people are trying to play rationally.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
John Sizemore
United States
Richmond
Virginia
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
www.NevermoreGames.com
badge
This is NOT a Chihuahua. It is a Sphynx cat. A bald, grouchy Sphynx cat who will bite you if you mistake him for a Chihuahua.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Great review! But I don't think the problem is that people are expecting a better Dominion so much as it is that this game really does feel (to me, anyway) like a chromed-up and re-themed version of the same game. The relationship between San Juan and Race for the Galaxy is well-known, and yet those two games feel more different than these two do. The biggest difference between Dominion and Thunderstone is that you now have separate "currencies" for buying resources (town cards, bought with copper) and point cards (monsters, bought with attack values). If I could trade money for attack or vice-versa, it would be better, but... then the game would be even closer to Dominion. I realize that there are other differences, but they also mostly just complexify things that worked pretty well in Dominion.

The question, having played both games, is whether the new chrome really adds anything. To put it another way, what do I get in return for what I lose in simplicity if I move from Dominion to Thunderstone? I'm going to give it a few more plays, but so far I haven't been impressed.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
JoLene Ramm
United States
California
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
hycanth wrote:
dmcallahan wrote:
karat wrote:
11) There have been clogging complaints about this game, but I only saw it minimally.


Unfortunatly, you missed the rule that states "If your combined attack value is lower than the health of the monster, then you have been defeated. The monster retreats into the dungeon: place the monster card on the bottom of the dungeon deck."



Sure, the rule is there. But there is no incentive to use your turn for this purpose until someone else is likely to be able to defeat the monster. Even then, its usefulness is dubious. It simply does not solve the problem if people are trying to play rationally.


My husband and I had our first play last night. Besides the issue of confusing rules, we really liked the game alot. We ended in the same situation with the Sphynx sitting in 1st positon and the Thunderstone in 2nd with neither of us getting enough magic to kill the thing. Of course, my husband decides to try --- but lost, (just when I had drawn enough magic to kill the thing). We actually think that there should be a penalty to the person that tries but doesn't kill something, because you could end up with a game where you are just going up against the "big" monsters just so that your opponent doesn't get the VPs. Anyone else have the same thoughts??
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
John Stonebraker

Georgia
msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
To me, being able to end the game by bringing the thunderstone to rank 1 without having killed a monster is what keeps it from being broken. I initially thought it was broken, but after a few plays, I decided it really just required a different strategy, and manipulating the ranks to prevent others from getting the thunderstone actually makes it more fun.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Moffett
United States
Toledo
Ohio
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Outstanding review, very informative and impartial, precisely what I was looking for.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Craig Somerton
Australia
North Ryde - Sydney
NSW
flag msg tools
designer
Duplicitous!
badge
I don't play to win - I play for enjoyment and social interaction.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice review, however, not mentioned is the major design flaw, in my opinion... the design of the cards.

Too dark, icons, text and symbols way too small to read comfortably. Also the critical icons you need are illogically positioned on the cards, especially given they take-up so little room.

You can't simply fan your cards and see in an instant what your decisions may be. You have to palm and separate cards, flicking back an forth.

I like the game, but the fact the cards are so user-hostile, acts as a turn-off to me.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Adam Lucas
Canada
Belleville
Ontario
flag msg tools
It's a perfect day for some mayhem!
badge
It's a perfect day for some mayhem!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
The first expansion, Wrath of the Elements, has solo rules and varying levels of difficulty. I've played a lot of these solo games on my own lately and the game works pretty well for it. You do have to change your normal strategies a bit for it. You'll need to go into the dungeon as soon as you can and alternate between the village and dungeon. Also, you'll want to remove any cards that mostly affect other players. Tavern Brawl and Sidhe come to mind. Finally, there's a little more luck involved in these games. If the more powerful monsters arrive in the dungeon hall early then you're fighting an uphill battle.
Still, the game is very playable solo and I have a lot of fun with it.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Beiter
United States
Tonawanda
New York
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I think this review has tipped the scales for me to buy this game. I have been on the fence since the day it was released, but kept reading all the negative reviews etc and I stayed away from it.

But when I read your "If you like" section, I found I was saying yes to everything.

I just hope the rest of the people in my gaming group will appreciate it as much as I believe I will.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Robin Reeve
Switzerland
St-Légier
Vaud
flag msg tools
badge
Looking for a game session in Switzerland? Send me a pm!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thank you for this excellent review.
It explains very well the pros and cons of the game.
In my case, I have ordered TS, as I need a game to offer me some "immersion" : Dominion feels too "mechanical" and too "abstract" for me.
TS keeps me in the theme.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Was George Orwell an Optimist?
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
flag msg tools
The Herbie Nichols Project - Dr. Cyclops' Dream
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
karat wrote:
...on a scale of 1-10, if Dominion is a 2, then Thunderstone is a 4. It's definitely got a lot more theme than Dominion, but that's not saying much.

You made a very important point there, but it didn't make it to the summary of key points at the bottom where you listed reasons people might not like Thunderstone. For me, it was the key element that killed the game for me.

I could have lived with all the rest, but what attracted me in the first place was that Thunderstone appeared to be a Dominion variant with a theme I could get into. In the end, that failed, because there is no risk involved in fighting monsters - you only fight ones you know you can beat. If all are too tough at the moment, they pose no threat; you simply go shopping to buff yourself up some more before tackling them.

So, if I hadn't already been down this road, I might skim through the list of bullet points at the bottom and think Thunderstone might suit me. Only if I read closely and homed in on the bit I quoted would I see the warning sign that it might not be my cup of tea.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.