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Subject: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawl experience rss

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W. Tan
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This review summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of what I consider to be a dungeon-crawling (as opposed to deck-building) game.

Strengths:

1. Strong theme and alignment of gameplay with theme. Recruiting heroes from a village, purchasing items and spells, and entering a dungeon to kill monsters is classic role-playing fare. Dominion has a flimsy, pasted-on theme; Thunderstone has a strong theme combined with a mostly successful attempt to align gameplay with theme.

2. Games do not degenerate into exercises in multiplayer solitaire. Players can interfere with each other by killing off plum monsters, hiring Thieves, and purchasing high-demand village cards and Heroes. Games where players form and execute strategies with little interference do not appeal to me; I play board games because I enjoy the social aspect of gaming.

3. High production values, high-quality art aligns with theme. The designer could have made the art humorous (Munchkin-style), but decided not to. He made the right decision – the evocative art goes a long way to reinforcing the theme.

4. Feeling of accomplishment at various points during the game, rather than only at the end when victory points are tallied.
Players get a good sense that they are making progress when a powerful monster (Archduke of Pain, Sphinx, etc.) is defeated, or when a Hero reaches Level 3. These nuggets of satisfaction make the game worth playing even for those who do not ultimately “win”. This is not necessarily the case with other board games.

5. Low chance of analysis paralysis. There are only 3 monsters in the dungeon at any time, and 6 cards in a player’s hand. The pre- and post-battle options are finite. This facilitates Thunderstone being a multi-player game, since only one player can do anything at one time.

6. There is almost always something to do. At the very least, players with dud hands can Rest to destroy a card, making their deck more efficient.

7. Relatively short game length.
More games can be squeezed in over the course of an afternoon. Persuading people to play a 3-5 hour game that they feel lukewarm about is far more difficult than persuading them to play a 1 hour game, regardless of how they feel about that game.

8. Last but not least, humorous rulebook. From v. 1.4: “With different cards in play, this makes the game different” (p. 1). Very Zen. Or, “sooner or later, your party will head into the Dungeon, where they must face the terrible Monsters within. Being Monsters, the only thing they want to do is fight!” (p. 10). Each of these quotes, along with several others, made me chuckle. A designer who does not take the dungeon crawl theme seriously is a plus – I am somewhat tired of the “epic” tone (and length) of some board games.

Weaknesses, most of which are flip-sides of the strengths mentioned above:

1. Occasional disconnect between gameplay and theme. A Fireball and Lantern materialize out of nowhere, burning a Goblin to a crisp. Players who defeat monsters may purchase village items as spoils of victory, but only if they can pay for them. Heroes cannot level up if all cards for the next level have already been taken. For the most part, however, game play deviations from theme are minor, and necessary for the game to “work”.

2. Limited choice of monster to attack. This is the flip-side of low chance of analysis paralysis, above. Early in the game, there aren’t enough weak monsters for players to attack. Late in the game, there are too many weak monsters worth 0-2 VP. Late game players are hesitant to attack these monsters because a) they aren't worth many VP, and b) they don’t want to jam their decks with dead Goblins. There are some abilities and effects (for example, the Elf can return a monster to the bottom of the dungeon deck) that help mitigate this issue, but this is still a problem. Perhaps the dungeon deck can be split into 2 parts: weak and strong monsters (the Thunderstone is contained in the second part)? This fixes the problem of having a dungeon with creatures that a) no player can defeat or b) no player wants to defeat.

3. Limited monster types. The base game should probably have 2 more monster types (each with 10 monsters) for variety. This issue will probably go away once expansions are released.

4. Limited number of purchase options in the village. In general, it is not difficult to produce enough Gold to purchase any village card except for Level 2/3 Heroes. Items and spells max out at 9 Gold (Fireball); while level 2/3 Heroes are difficult to purchase, they are usually leveled into since there is no other outlet to use XP. Once players have purchased the "optimum" number of items, spells, and Heroes, which usually happens halfway through the game, there really isn’t much use for Gold. Perhaps make high-value (12+ Gold) items and spells, or let players purchase VP with Gold (10 Gold = 1 VP)?

Thunderstone is a solid, entertaining game. While related to Dominion and Descent, it is really in its own genre due to the existence of a dungeon, a Hero leveling mechanism, the need to have Heroes to wield weapons, etc. I expect great things from this franchise in the future.
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Eric Phillips
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
Thanks for the interesting review. This makes me more curious about trying the game out.
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Mike Mead
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
I can't believe you only made 2 references to Dominion in your entire review! Thank You!
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Fred Heis
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
Mmm, that might be the review that finally tips the balance and makes me buy the game. Thank you very much for an extremely well-considered and articulate review.
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The Galaxy is Just Packed!
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
Great review - and a fun game.

Be Sure to download the latest rulebook, instead of reading the one in the box!

(Edit: The advice above is for those who have yet to purchase the game.)
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Matt Olson
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
I enjoy a good concise review, and this is an example of how to do it right. Thanks, you've put this on my wish list
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Ralf Arnemann
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
Thanks for that precise and wellfounded summary.

wtan1 wrote:
Perhaps the dungeon deck can be split into 2 parts: weak and strong monsters (the Thunderstone is contained in the second part)?

Seems to be a good idea, easy to implement as a house rule and doing away with the one aspect of the game which irritated me.
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W. Tan
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
bryanwinter wrote:
Great review - and a fun game.

Be Sure to download the latest rulebook, instead of reading the one in the box!

(Edit: The advice above is for those who have yet to purchase the game.)


I echo this comment strongly. If you read the rulebook contained in the box (as opposed to the one available on the company website), you will find the game length extends to 1.5 hours, because 0.5 hours are spent arguing over whose interpretation of the rules is correct!
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Andy Daglish
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
1. Strong theme and alignment of gameplay with theme.

you have a disused public lavatory with three cubicles. The one furthest from the door is the darkest but not necessarily the most dangerous. Thats a theme? Its not a dungeon.

2. Games do not degenerate into exercises in multiplayer solitaire.

yes they do, and there's little idea about who is doing well.

3. High production values, high-quality art aligns with theme.

Its industry average, more or less.

4. Feeling of accomplishment at various points during the game, rather than only at the end when victory points are tallied.

Desperation by point #4.

5. Low chance of analysis paralysis.

Interestingly this hasn't been the case in our games. Uncertainty over rules was a factor, but various possible best moves had to be worked out carefully.

6. There is almost always something to do.

almost always? I guess whether or not to bother can be a tough decision. For sure buying cards that can be destroyed on use, in return for better performance, are always worth buying.

7. Relatively short game length.

much longer than Dominion.

8. Last but not least, humorous rulebook.

Agreed, but I'm not sure this is a strength.

OK, I think that makes zero out of eight.

Weaknesses,

Quote:

1. Occasional disconnect between gameplay and theme. A Fireball and Lantern materialize out of nowhere, burning a Goblin to a crisp. Players who defeat monsters may purchase village items as spoils of victory, but only if they can pay for them. Heroes cannot level up if all cards for the next level have already been taken. For the most part, however, game play deviations from theme are minor, and necessary for the game to “work”.


its a bit too simple to take this seriously.

Quote:
2. Limited choice of monster to attack. This is the flip-side of low chance of analysis paralysis, above. Early in the game, there aren’t enough weak monsters for players to attack. Late in the game, there are too many weak monsters worth 0-2 VP. Late game players are hesitant to attack these monsters because a) they aren't worth many VP, and b) they don’t want to jam their decks with dead Goblins. There are some abilities and effects (for example, the Elf can return a monster to the bottom of the dungeon deck) that help mitigate this issue, but this is still a problem. Perhaps the dungeon deck can be split into 2 parts: weak and strong monsters (the Thunderstone is contained in the second part)? This fixes the problem of having a dungeon with creatures that a) no player can defeat or b) no player wants to defeat.


in short the monster draw deck doesn't work. The late game also has its worries. The early game doesn't involve dungeon entry. Losing also puts a victorious monster on the bottom of the deck, but as with other options, it wastes your turn whilst helping your opponents.

Quote:
3. Limited monster types. The base game should probably have 2 more monster types (each with 10 monsters) for variety. This issue will probably go away once expansions are released.


More monster types implies more intelligent design on monster cards, as more puny ones will doubtless upset players.
Quote:

4. Limited number of purchase options in the village. In general, it is not difficult to produce enough Gold to purchase any village card except for Level 2/3 Heroes. Items and spells max out at 9 Gold (Fireball); while level 2/3 Heroes are difficult to purchase, they are usually leveled into since there is no other outlet to use XP. Once players have purchased the "optimum" number of items, spells, and Heroes, which usually happens halfway through the game, there really isn’t much use for Gold. Perhaps make high-value (12+ Gold) items and spells, or let players purchase VP with Gold (10 Gold = 1 VP)?


We had little problem buying the gold-level heroes. So gold is redundant, XP is redundant, the weaker monsters are redundant, the Light & Dark system is expunged by a Lightstone, so thats redundant, many of the village cards are redundant, and others become so as the game progresses...apparently now buying and levelling heroes is no longer allowed...

Quote:
Thunderstone is a solid, entertaining game.


on the basis of these points?

Quote:
While related to Dominion and Descent, it is really in its own genre due to the existence of a dungeon, a Hero leveling mechanism,


these don't work well even after the rules changes

Quote:
the need to have Heroes to wield weapons, etc.


not for Fireballs

Quote:
I expect great things from this franchise in the future.


expansions won't solve all this, but the idea is good enough to be lifted in the usual manner.
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W. Tan
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
aforandy wrote:


2. Games do not degenerate into exercises in multiplayer solitaire.

yes they do, and there's little idea about who is doing well.

There is no hidden information with regard to VPs. The source of the VPs, number of VPs, and player who gains the VPs are evident. I can usually deduce the leading player based on this information.

aforandy wrote:

4. Feeling of accomplishment at various points during the game, rather than only at the end when victory points are tallied.

Desperation by point #4.

If you say so.

aforandy wrote:

6. There is almost always something to do.

almost always? I guess whether or not to bother can be a tough decision. For sure buying cards that can be destroyed on use, in return for better performance, are always worth buying.

I actually think Resting is a better use of a turn - though this is all situational, of course.

aforandy wrote:

8. Last but not least, humorous rulebook.

Agreed, but I'm not sure this is a strength.

You aren't tired of the epic tone and length of some Fantasy Flight rulebooks? I am.
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Dane Barrett
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
aforandy wrote:
1. Strong theme and alignment of gameplay with theme.

you have a disused public lavatory with three cubicles. The one furthest from the door is the darkest but not necessarily the most dangerous. Thats a theme? Its not a dungeon.


This theme would give a new meaning to the title "Thunderstone".
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Matt
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
Great points, especially #4. It is for that reason I enjoy Thunderstone far more than Dominion.
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Matt
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
Also, while the limited choice of monsters to attack can be frustrating, I think it feels more realistic that strong monsters aren't off in some magical place waiting for me to get stronger. The challenges this presents late in the game, when weaker monsters are less valuable, adds an opportunity for strategy as well. For example the Thyrian Lord can automatically place weak monsters in the players discard pile when he enters the dungeon.
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W. Tan
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
mattrmcl wrote:
Great points, especially #4. It is for that reason I enjoy Thunderstone far more than Dominion.


In Dominion, a similar feeling occurs when one buys a Province. But even then, the sense of accomplishment is abstract and theme-less - "my deck engine allows me to reach 8 Gold". In Thunderstone, it's "my Heroes have slain a mighty dragon", or "my Elf Wizard has reached the pinnacle of magic mastery", etc. This makes for a more interesting game experience.
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Glen Graham
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Re: Thunderstone - a unique take on the dungeon crawling experience
Although I haven't played the game yet, I plan to get it soon, because my group has gone fanatical about Dominion, and it has all become just to dry for me. You points lay out exactly what I was hoping this game would be.
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