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Subject: Thunderstone II: Thunderstone Harder! rss

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Aaron Fenwick
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A quickie review from a fan of old Thunderstone of the shiney new Thunderstone:Advance and the differences between editions
Enjoy..

Overview:
Way back in 2009 AEG jumped onto the Dominion led constructable card game universe with it's fantasy dungeon hacker Thunderstone. Thunderstone took the novel approach of having each player representing a party of Adventurers in a Gygaxian world of Dungeons, Villages and Monsters. The object of the game was to score Victory Points by slaying monsters and rescuing the mysterious Thunderstone from the depths of a dungeon. Like Dominion players build a deck, starting with very basic cards and buying more potent and effcient cards to add to their deck from a common play area. In Thunderstone your deck represents your party of Adventurers, their equipment, spells and allies. The game had two common play areas, a Village where new items could be brought and characters hired, and the Dungeon where players then use said characters to fight a hoard of nasty monsters.
Thunderstone brought in a few new ideas to Dominion's model; Combat, multiple resources and experience points. Experience points is probably the most important as it has yet to reocurr in other games and is central to the upgrading of your deck. At the start of the game your only Hero is the lowly Militia, with 1 attack and not a lot else. In the Village however there are 4 heros who's stacks posess copies of them graded from lvl 1 to lvl 3 in order with the lvl 1 version on top. You have the option of hiring heros with gold but you also have the ability to upgrade you militia or other heros using XP. If the card is available XP can be spent to make a Militia any lvl 1 character or upgrade a lvl1 character to the next level version. This was a cute mecanic and tied the whole game togeather well.
After a whole bunch of expansions and some small issues with the games increasing randomness; AEG decided to reissue Thunderstone with a revised set of rules designed to be a more satisfying play experience. So Thunderstone:Advance was born.

The actual Review:
I have a softspot for Thunderstone, I loved the idea so much I became very blind to the game's short comings. While the basic set was fairly well put togeather, a greater range of cards created more random set up possibilities which created setups that were sometimes unplayable; and a difficult set up in Thunderstone quickly becomes a slow and often quite dull grind. (Usually caused by powerful monsters in the Dungeon Hall and not enough resources to combat them) That's what I feel is the main task of Thunderstone:Advance; make the start of the game more resistant to bad setups without making the game so easy it's fast and dull rather than slow and dull.
I must say they have done a heck of a job, especially whilst trying to retain compatability with the old cards. Thunderstone:Advance is very much a retweaking of the way the existing game works, veterans won't be lost and the new card layout and rulebook style makes the game much more accessable to n00bs.
Other than minor rules tweaks the rules are only slightly different, most of the changes are to be found in the game setup. The Dungeon now contains three types of monsters (as before) and a Thunderstone Bearer; The Thunderstone bearer is basically a "boss" which needs to be faught to end the game. (Or it can escape) The Monsters are now given levels, from 1-3, denoting how powerful the monsters in that group are. When building the Dungeon you now included one monster of each level as well as one Thunderstone bearer which helps prevent the "three horribly powerful monstertypes" setup that could occur in the old game. The game also comes with two different dungeon halls, one like the old game has three levels while the new "wilderness" board has 4 levels and a different light penalty calculation to make it easier for new players. The Village also changes, now there are a limited number of "slots" for the different types of village cards. When all the slots of a particular type (spells, items, weapon etc) are filled up then you discard future cards of that type when drawing the random setup. So the idea is that it prevents setups that have too many Villagers or items and not enough Weapons, which makes the game slower as it makes the monsters harder to fight. This seems ok, there is still a bit of randomness but it is mitigated enough I feel.
The biggest change is the starter deck, of the old starter cards only Torch remains and the others (Militia, Iron rations and Dagger) have been replaced by more powerful versions. Militia is replaced by Regular who gets to draw cards when you equip him with a polearm, Dagger is replaced by Spear which is designed to work with the Regular by triggering it's ability and Iron rations are replaced by Thunderstone shard. The Thunderstone shard grants Strength like the Iron rations but it is also worth a VP and it provides a "spoils" ability (something you can trigger when you win a combat with the item) to gain an extra XP. The new deck is much more powerful and more flexable than the old, allowing players to take on bigger beasties sooner. (And also saving the lives of your poor lvl0 characters, who were often just fed to monsters in the old game to thin decks!)
Also added to the game are Familiers, a special deck of rewards that players can claim after they beat a monster. Each game you only get one Familier and it grants abilities based on the amount of unspent XP you have at the time. Unlike normal cards it is played in front of you and stays out until you use it, at which time it placed in your discard pile.
The biggest rules change outside of setup is the prepare action, an action that allows you to place any number of cards from your hand on top of your deck and then discard the rest setting you up for the next turn. Both Familiers and the prepare action makes the game feel much more strategic, there is still an amount of luck involved but it feels like you can mitagate it more than you used to.
The new card design and artwork is very nice, clear and bright with info easy to read and find. The board is much more useful than the old one that came with Dragonspire and the fact that the game is compatable with old cards is a delight for a fan like me. (the only annoying thing is the old monsters do not have levels, but the online randomiser Thundermaster fixes that and has levels for all the old monster types.)
All in all a good update to a game that has character oozing out of it's ears, the added strategy makes you feel like you are more in control of the fate of your party which ultimatly makes it a much more furfilling experience. For new players, this is a great gateway into a fun game line. Still not a game with the serious brainpower of Dominion or Nightfall but a fun play.
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Joe babbitt
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There may be a litte bias here, but I disagree with your last line. Strategy in Thunderstone can run pretty deep. Had you said Ascension, I might have agreed, but Thunderstone is every bit as deep (if not a little deeper) than Dominion, and probably deeper than Nightfall as well. All of which are good games, but I think suggesting Thunderstone is not a deep game is folly.
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Matt Epp
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I agree with Joe, and much prefer thunderstone.

Anyways, thanks for the review.

As an aside, you should really break up the WALLOFTEXT
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Brian Clymer
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amigo de fuego wrote:
There may be a litte bias here, but I disagree with your last line. Strategy in Thunderstone can run pretty deep. Had you said Ascension, I might have agreed, but Thunderstone is every bit as deep (if not a little deeper) than Dominion, and probably deeper than Nightfall as well. All of which are good games, but I think suggesting Thunderstone is not a deep game is folly.


I, too, find that Thunderstone - old and new, is deeper than Dominion. The complexity of Dominion comes from chaining +action cards together. That's not a mechanic used in Thunderstone, but that also doesn't mean that the game lacks complexity. Thunderstone forces you to act both proactively and reactively to certain monsters that appear as well as what to do when you've been collecting a type of fighter, but can't manage to upgrade them to level 2 before all the level 2 cards are out (sticking you with level 1 fighters with no way of getting level 3 other than to purchase them).

I find Dominion lacks depth, actually. All you do is play cards, often the same cards over and over and over again to buy VP. End of story. Thunderstone allows for the tangible defeat of monsters and holding them as trophies that count as your VP. The monsters also provide some bonus to them as they provide gold or special attack bonuses when they appear in your hand of 6. Dominion's VP are a complete waste of space making them useless and causing them to take up space in your hand - diluting your deck very quickly.

Personally Thunderstone >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Dominion.
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Matt Epp
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Amen, brother.

We actually play with a simple variant that lets monsters worth only 1 VP to be stored outside of your deck. Making them actually worth while to kill so that they don't just completely dilute your deck.
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Aaron Fenwick
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Sorry for the wall of text, I didn't reformat the review..
I do agree that the underlying stratagy of the game is very strong; but the original version had a decent probability of poor random setups which limits how far these stratigic options can be explored. In Dominion it is possible to get strange setups, but almost impossible to get a setup where progress gets "locked up" by the layout of random cards.The setup with no weapons is a good example of this in Thunderstone, the game becomes a bit of a grind to get started. This is a big limit on strategic choice as it often comes down to the player who buys the most of the best card first. (And that is an issue I have with Dominion as well, if a killer combo appears on the table the game quickly becomes about turn order..)
The additions in Thunderstone advance totally allow the game to reach it's potential But this sort of discussion is always good
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