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Subject: Facebook Thunderstone: Rise of the Bots rss

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Eric Foldenauer
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I just spent pretty much my entire weekend playing Thunderstone. This is unusual for me for a number of reasons. First, my friends and I don't have the desire to set the game up for more than a handful of games at a time before we are ready to move on and play something else. Secondly, in my gaming group, almost nobody wants to play the game with me unless I really turn on the sad puppy eyes (and it does make me sad, because I do have a fondness for the game, as well as having invested lots and lots of money getting all the expansions). I tried solo play for a while, and I liked it well enough, but, again, for the amount of setup I have to do to play the game, I find that I am not willing to play more than a couple of games at a time.

So how did it happen that I played Thunderstone the entire weekend like I was (censor)*ing a (censor)**y (censor)*** until my (censor)**** (censor)****** off? Well, this week, Zabu studios unofficially released their Thunderstone Facebook app in a beta version to a largely unaware public to give it a trot out in the real world.

Of course, it didn't take long for
Graham Smith
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to notice this and post it in the BGG Thunderstone forums for us BGGers to consume.

*lick
**tast
***ice cream cone
****tongue
******fell




Up to this point, I had been fairly obsessed with the www.yucata.de Thunderstone application, but I was just thinking I had my fill of it after close to 100 games. Yucata.de has a couple of features to it that limits replay value. First, and foremost, there are no expansion cards available on yucata.de. Secondly, the VP totals for each player, the contents of the decks, the remaining cards in the dungeon deck, and even the entire turn history are available to view at any time. This is largely necessary on yucata.de because all their games are turn based, and not real time. If you have 30 different games going on yucata.de, the site purposefully makes it so that you don't need to remember the events of each game you have in progress. Or if you want to play one game over the course of a month, the implementation facilitates that too.

But, when I find a game I like, I tend to play it to the ground and then play the ground until it's shaped like the game I was playing.

When I saw that there was a Facebook app for Thunderstone, my first inclination was to just say... "eh." Especially when I saw that not only were the cards limited to the base game, but that you had to pay money to get all the base game cards activated. Add to this that I swore off Facebook games after Mafia Wars, and you have one reticent (censor)* (censor)**

*cantankerous
**curmudgeon

Imagine my surprise when, against my better judgment, I opened the app up anyway and discovered, perhaps, my favorite way to play Thunderstone.

So let's rate some stuff. This is a review, after all (and my first at that). How does it compare?


The physical cards
Setup is a pain, the constant adding and subtracting can detract from the fun, and there are frequent times where the rules can be ambiguous. But there is an undeniable tension to playing in person, as well as a fun, relaxing social aspect that no online experience can replace. Also, there is a nice challenging solo game. Finally, this is the only way to play all the cards available in the game.


Yucata.de


No setup! The rules are firmly fixed (although unforgiving to learn). You can play over the course of a month, or semi-intelligently play 10 concurrent games if you want because every piece of information except the order of cards remaining in your draw deck is available information. It's nice, but the thrill is gone. This becomes a thinking exercise. There is little risk because the open information vastly simplifies the decision making processes. This eventually leads to dull games, especially when there is a clear runaway leader. Also, there are potentially a lot of cards to click on a turn and the order you do things is critical. You can lose a number of winnable battles because you forgot to equip a sword that you just assumed the game would figure out it was obvious you were going to do.

But, if you have a friend that is hundreds of miles away who is only sporadically available online, this is hands down the obvious way to play.


- Some things are better on yucata.de, and some things are worse than TS in person.

Facebook Thunderstone


Now take the online game of yucata.de and make it real time. Give it some AI bots! Get rid of all the open information. Tease us with expansion cards that will soon be available (at a moderate price). Provide constantly updating calculations of your actual attack value against each rank of monster in the dungeon. Provide multiple ways of playing the game - skirmish (single game), campaigns, and person vs. person.

For the first time, you can run through a game of Thunderstone in 15 minutes with no setup, and you don't have to concentrate at all on calculating the various values of attack in the dungeon. Now you can concentrate fully on the deck-building and focus your deck. What's more, because so much information is hidden, just as in a physical version of the game, the thrill is back. You can get a sense of how people are playing, but unless you are tracking every VP scored in each deck, you won't know until the Thunderstone breaches who won for sure.

Probably the best thing, though, are the AI bots. Now you can play a game by yourself. The game is best as a distraction when you want to kill 15 minutes or a few hours and you don't have to track anyone down to play.



So what is bad about the Facebook TS?

Well, for one, the bots aren't super bright. They aren't terrible, but with a focused strategy, it is difficult to lose, even with a full house of four AI bots against you. I have yet to see them purchase a pawnbroker over a torch when both are available. Keep in mind though, that the game is still in the beta stage, so expect improvements to the bots at some point.

Also, the rules are not the official rules established with the release of Dragonspire. Taking a hero's strength to 0 or below will not kill a hero. This isn't terrible, but there are significant strategy differences depending on if this rule is in place or not.

Also, only the barest entry level of this app is free. Unlike Yucata.de, if you want all the base game cards, you will have to purchase two upgrade packs. One costs 15 Facebook credits, the other costs 25 Facebook credits. At first, I thought a credit = $1.00, but it turns out that it actually equals about $.10 (this can be highly variable). So an investment of $4.00 to play the cards in the base game is not too bad, but still $4.00 more than you would pay on Yucata.de. And, although the expansions will be available, you'll have to purchase those in packs too. I suspect that each expansion is going to be in the range of $6 to $10 to unlock all the cards.

At this point, to play person versus person, you cannot request specific opponents. This is tough for me, because I prefer to use online games strictly as a means to play with friends I don't have the ability to play in person with. But this is something they are working to add, and, because the game hasn't officially been announced publicly yet, there aren't a ton of people using the application. So it's actually easier to play someone else intentionally than otherwise, because there aren't currently many people requesting games at this point. I managed to set up and, in a single afternoon, play a real-time game with a friend of mine currently working in the Sudan. That's quite a special thing for two guys who love to play board games with each other.

None of these things are really deal breakers. This is a very well done professional app, and it is still in the beta stage. So jump on in! The dungeon is dark and the monsters are plenty. Most of the concerns with Thunderstone on Facebook will be addressed over time. When it's up 100% and all the expansions are available, the one thing the app won't have is that face to face interaction that is the main reason I have been addicted to board games in the first place.

If I want spend a few minutes to play a game by myself against some AIs, or if I want to play a real-time game with someone halfway around the world, this is currently my favorite way to do it.

Well done Zabu!



Edit: adjusted image sizes thanks to a friendly tip.
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John Farrell
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fograsher wrote:
you cannot request specific opponents


Oh yeah, that is a dealbreaker. Thanks fograsher. I signed up for it but I now see that was a mistake.
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Jeremiah Lee
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I'm really enjoying it with the bots. I was having an issue where it was moving really slowly, but switching from Firefox to Safari fixed that up.

Thanks for the review, nice to see the comparison with physical/Yucata there.
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Eric Foldenauer
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Friendless wrote:
fograsher wrote:
you cannot request specific opponents


Oh yeah, that is a dealbreaker. Thanks fograsher. I signed up for it but I now see that was a mistake.
That was a big concern for me, but perhaps I didn't state clearly enough in the review that they are addressing it. This is from this thread where a Zabu developer is answering questions about the app:

chairman wrote:
2. Multiplayer: Currently multiplayer is working already, and the default mode is that you can play with anyone [i.e wether they are your FB friends or not]. We have tested this extensively and it is working fine. The dearth of multiplayer games is because we have not reached critical mass of players yet.

One of the feature we are working on is an "invite friend" feature. So when you start setting up a multiplayer game, there will be an option for "friends only", and you can select friends from your FB friends' list, and if they are currently online a chat pop up with a URL will be there. If they are interested they can click on that link then they'll drop into to your game lobby immediately. We think this is a useful and frequent use case.
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Milton Soong
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fograsher wrote:
Friendless wrote:
fograsher wrote:
you cannot request specific opponents


Oh yeah, that is a dealbreaker. Thanks fograsher. I signed up for it but I now see that was a mistake.
That was a big concern for me, but perhaps I didn't state clearly enough in the review that they are addressing it. This is from this thread where a Zabu developer is answering questions about the app:

chairman wrote:
2. Multiplayer: Currently multiplayer is working already, and the default mode is that you can play with anyone [i.e wether they are your FB friends or not]. We have tested this extensively and it is working fine. The dearth of multiplayer games is because we have not reached critical mass of players yet.

One of the feature we are working on is an "invite friend" feature. So when you start setting up a multiplayer game, there will be an option for "friends only", and you can select friends from your FB friends' list, and if they are currently online a chat pop up with a URL will be there. If they are interested they can click on that link then they'll drop into to your game lobby immediately. We think this is a useful and frequent use case.


Even today, because there aren't that many people playing multiplayers, you can actually do a game with friends:

1. Have one guy create a game.
2. Have your friend do a "Browse Games" to look through all the games out there looking for players to start (and because there aren't that many games right now, you should find it). Games are listed by the FB name of the person who set it up so if you know the person's FB name, you can find the game.
3. Click on it to join it.

This might not work 100% of the time, since anyone else can just click on "Play now" and jump into that game...
[Maybe the person shouls always setup a 5 player game so his friends have a chance to jump in?]

Milton
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My wife and I went online to play a few games. She created the game/room, I browsed for games and there was only the one game available. Pretty easy to find specific opponents.
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Kyne Tarse
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fograsher wrote:
Taking a hero's strength to 0 or below will not kill a hero. This isn't terrible


Yes, it is terrible. Almost a dealbreaker, really. Is this just a bug, or did they actually change the rules for some odd reason?
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kynetarse wrote:
fograsher wrote:
Taking a hero's strength to 0 or below will not kill a hero. This isn't terrible


Yes, it is terrible. Almost a dealbreaker, really. Is this just a bug, or did they actually change the rules for some odd reason?


Those are the rules according to the base game.
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Kyne Tarse
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ninjadorg wrote:
kynetarse wrote:
fograsher wrote:
Taking a hero's strength to 0 or below will not kill a hero. This isn't terrible


Yes, it is terrible. Almost a dealbreaker, really. Is this just a bug, or did they actually change the rules for some odd reason?


Those are the rules according to the base game.


Hmm. Guess I'm a little fuzzy on that then. Yucata is base game only, but follows the 0 strength = destroyed rule. I also started with Dragonspire, so maybe it's that as well.
 
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kynetarse wrote:
ninjadorg wrote:
kynetarse wrote:
fograsher wrote:
Taking a hero's strength to 0 or below will not kill a hero. This isn't terrible


Yes, it is terrible. Almost a dealbreaker, really. Is this just a bug, or did they actually change the rules for some odd reason?


Those are the rules according to the base game.


Hmm. Guess I'm a little fuzzy on that then. Yucata is base game only, but follows the 0 strength = destroyed rule. I also started with Dragonspire, so maybe it's that as well.


I believe Dragonspire introduced that detail as a core rule; prior to that there was specific mention on some cards' text that destroyed heroes if they reduced their strength to 0.

Magical Aura reduces all weapons' weights to 0, suggesting that the original intent, for example, was that Militia with Strength reduced by 2 ( to 0 ) can still wield the weapons.
 
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Eric Foldenauer
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kynetarse wrote:
fograsher wrote:
Taking a hero's strength to 0 or below will not kill a hero. This isn't terrible


Yes, it is terrible. Almost a dealbreaker, really. Is this just a bug, or did they actually change the rules for some odd reason?
It's not terrible for me because it's just a different playstyle (much like playing on yucata.de is very different from playing the game with their implementation). In some ways, it is better because the first player can get a huge advantage if they have the opportunity to wipe out a heavy militia opening hand. Zabu implemented the ruleset from the base game. The developers are discussing this over in this thread. It sounds like they currently plan to introduce the 0 strength rule introduced in Dragonspire when they release the Dragonspire cards. Feel free to weigh in with your opinion over there as they appear to be listening to our feedback at this time.
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steven riola

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Is anyone else having an issue with games against the 'bot' quitting half way through?
All 3 games I've attempted have said 'game no longer exists'.

 
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Jeff Thornsen
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yep, same issue for me. I even had one game where the Thunderstone was in Rank 2 and it was about to be my turn
 
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thearkhammonk wrote:
Is anyone else having an issue with games against the 'bot' quitting half way through?
All 3 games I've attempted have said 'game no longer exists'.

I've had that issue too, and it's seriuosly annoying. I'm trying to be forgiving, as the game is still in beta. It's quite a bit of fun.
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I had a couple games lock up and quit last night. Also, the AI moves VERY slowly sometimes.
 
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It was much faster last week and over the weekend before everyone else found out about the game and dragged it to a crawl. Hopefully they can add some server capacity and fix the memory leaks on their end and bring it back to a 8/9 experience for me... right now it's like a 2.
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InfoCynic wrote:
It was much faster last week and over the weekend before everyone else found out about the game and dragged it to a crawl. Hopefully they can add some server capacity and fix the memory leaks on their end and bring it back to a 8/9 experience for me... right now it's like a 2.
Agreed. With whatever problems they are having, yesterday was not fun at all. I haven't tried today.
 
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fograsher wrote:
I haven't tried today.


Don't bother. I tried & failed for us both.
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"Game no longer exists", right in the middle of the game. soblue
 
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ninjadorg wrote:
"Game no longer exists", right in the middle of the game. soblue


We have pushed out a fix for the slow response and "This game no longer exist" bug. We did some testing and it does seem much more responsive. We will continue to monitor the health of the server.
Thank you all for your patience while we looked into this!
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Tristan Hall
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chairman wrote:
Thank you all for your patience while we looked into this!


Look forward to an update on this. I have to say, it's a fantastic implementation. thumbsup
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Skaboy Green
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ok i may be a tad lazy today after sledding yesterday
but did i miss the link?
 
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Eric Foldenauer
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Skaboy wrote:
ok i may be a tad lazy today after sledding yesterday
but did i miss the link?
Huh. That probably would have been helpful. blush I found the app by typing "Thunderstone" in the search field on Facebook, and clicking on the link under games, but this link should work too: http://apps.facebook.com/thunderstone/

 
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wow i sucked bad with my 1st try
 
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