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Subject: Thunderstone Dragonspire – Bah Humbug or Rhaa Lovely? rss

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One could legitimately wonder if there is a need for another review of the deck building game Thunderstone. Yet there are people who are just coming into the world of board games and who wonder which deck building would be good for them. The options are plenty, Dominion, Thunderstone, Ascension, and who knows what the next flavour of the month will be.

There are many reviews available on BGG and finding the right deck building for you will be a question of trials and errors. If you belong to a club, you may have an opportunity to test a game before buying it. If not, you will have to wacth hours of videos, read never ending pages of reviews and fan boy chronicles.

Ultimately, it is a question of personal taste and this is what this review will be about. Exceptionally, I’ll start by the end.

What I like: easy to learn, fast to play, purposeful (kill monster), logical (money is use to buy stuff), competitive, interactive, limited luck factor, and sense of achievement.

What I don’t like: set up time (though it is not much an issue, and you can play it online), storage (it becomes a very heavy game to carry around as more expansions are added).

Verdict: Rhaa Lovely!

Now into more details or at least some explanations. When I was looking for a deck building I did exactly as suggested above: I endured blistering winds and scorching desert, climbed to the highest room of the tallest screech.... maybe not! I readalot and watchalot and hoursalot later I could not really make my mind.

I was lucky enough to try Ascension which I immediately liked (dungeon, two currencies system, sparkling VPs!) and also to watch people play Dominion (lots of cards in plastic polypockets, groups of people playing what looked like a solitaire card game) which I immediately disliked. In between stood Thurderstone Dragonspire, which I bought first. Shortly after I also bought Ascension. What had happened?

I am not going to try to compare the three games (especially that I have not played Dominion, just watched it being played), though the comparison is unavoidable to some extent. I’ll leave that task to other.

So what is Thunderstone about and what do I like and find in Thunderstone (and Ascension) that I don’t like or don’t see in Dominion? For a start, there is a strong feeling of purpose in Thunderstone. Your goal is clear, you have to put together a team of heroes, equip them with weapons and then enter a dungeon full with monsters which when defeated give victory points, like a trophy (the head! gimme the head!).

Fighting monsters requires putting together the right team of heroes with the right equipment and provide them with some light before they enter the dungeon. There monsters are not passive but will fight back. You don’t always win (not everybody is a mathematical genius! And sometimes there is value in loosing). But if you do, you get VP but also a reward (money or bonus) that can help you in the future. Put simply, Thunderstone comes with a narrative.

There is an element of luck when setting up the game. Some find it annoying. For instance the dungeon may contain a number of monsters which will affect your ability to light it up or to use or carry some weapons. In some cases the village where you buy equipment and enrol heroes does not offer the best items providing light or the type of weapons/heroes. Well, that’s life; if you were able to order on Amazon everything you needed and get it delivered to your team before entering the dungeon, where would the fun be? That’s where you need to be clever, put together the right stuff and attack at the right time. In Thunderstone when you buy something it is for a purpose. A hero is for fighting, weapons are for killing, and light is for lightening. When playing Thunderstone you play purposely with items and heroes designed purposefully.

Compare that to a game of property management, where money buy money which is worth no more than what you paid for (Do you have the change?) and then buy stuff allowing you to buy properties that do nothing but clutter your deck, oh but wait you need them to win (any similitude between Dominion and Monopoly would be far-fetched but I will dare).

Then there is something interesting in Thunderstone as a deck building: player interaction. Some of your cards can affect other player's hand. This can be very annoying but at the same time exciting when you thought you had the perfect hand to fight this strength 8 monster that requires magic attack, decreases the strength of your hero and therefore its ability to carry that heavy but cut-throat weapon, but then someone comes up with a Selurin or other hero that forces you to discard a card which he will use to kill the baddy, pocketing the 7 VP just before you were going do it yourself!

There are obviously a few issues with the game. The rules could be clearer, the quality of the card is okay with a nice linen feeling but I had a few cards with scratches. I don’t care much for the art, so I won’t pass judgement; let’s say it does not bother me. The combat system can be challenging with the light system at first but after a couple of games it is very easy.

The game is best play with 2 or 3 players, more and the visible part of the dungeon gets depleted too quickly (the same applies to Ascension). It also plays well solo.

So here we go, this was a personal review of Thunderstone Dragonspire.

Edited for some typos.

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