My journey to adding Thunderstone Advance into my collection is a bit of a strange one (as far as these things go I guess). When I first got into this hobby a few years ago, I tried out Dominion pretty early on, and soon after was very interesting in trying out it's closest competitor at the time, Thunderstone. I am very much into the fantasy theme, and thought it would be a much better game. But I never got the opportunity to try it out, and as expansion after expansion got released, I slowly decided to give up on it, since when I decide to get a game, I am all in for everything.
Fast forward a bit to the release of Mage Knight Board Game. I still did not have any deck-builders in my collection, and got to try this bad boy out at a gaming meetup. And it was awesome! Fantasy themed, leveling up and getting stronger across the game, it was a great adventure game using deck-building. Unfortunately, the game was looooooong. If I were to get this game, it was going to be a long time between plays, especially if I wanted to play with 3 or 4 (don't really do much solo gaming).
A few weeks later, I get to try Thunderstone Advance. And it was a lot of fun, I liked it much better than Dominion. A few days later, I decided that this was the game I was going to get to fill in my deck-building niche. Sure it didn't play exactly like Mage Knight, but it was fantasy, had heroes you could level up, and still had weapons, equipment, spells, and monsters to fight. The game was much shorter in comparison, even at higher player counts, and would be played much more often. I also decided that with the new Advance branding and layout, I would start here with Towers of Ruin, and not worry about all the past releases and promos.
So now I have had the game for a year and played it 16 times, adding in the expansions as they have come out.
Doom has been banished from his previous world with the use of Thunderstones. Of course, banishing him from one world means he has to go somewhere, and in this new world of Tala he has run amok. The Thunderstones have been scattered, and now we must recruit new adventurers to try to get them back and stop Doom from spreading his evil.
Cards. Lots and lots of cards, which is to be expected for a deck-building game. The cards can mostly be fit into one of three different categories: heroes, village (weapons, spells, items, and villagers), and monsters.
You also get a double-sided game board to make set-up easier, one side is for the default dungeon set up, the other side is for the slightly easier wilderness set up. Plastic thunderstone tokens are used to keep track of a player's experience points.
The rules are available online, so I won't go into too much detail. I will just give an overview of the basics. For those of you unfamiliar with deck-building games, the idea is pretty simple. In this game you start with a deck of 12 cards which you shuffle, and draw 6. On your turn, you will use those 6 to get another card from the setup, and then discard everything, and draw the other 6 cards from your pile for your next turn. Then on the next turn, you'll get another card with the 6 and discard everything. Now that your deck is depleted, you will shuffle everything in your discard pile, and draw a new hand of 6, repeating the process. The new cards you got were added into the discard pile and eventually shuffled in, and are usually better than your starting cards. So as the game goes on, you are adding more and more cards, which are more powerful and/or opens more options for you.
In Thunderstone Advance, you have two main options to choose from on your turn, go to the village, or go to the dungeon. There are also two main currencies, one for each of those two locations. In the village, you will use gold to purchase a new card, and in the dungeon, you will use 'fight' to attack monsters.
When setting up the game, you can use one of the scenario setups in the instruction book, set up the game randomly, or just choose to use what you want. The regular setup uses four heroes, eight village cards, and three monster sets (one each of levels 1, 2, & 3) along with the boss (the thunderstone bearer). The game comes with more than is needed in a setup which allows for a lot of variability in between plays, and the expansions just add even more.
Back to the game, as I mentioned, you will most often choose to either go to the village or the dungeon. The village is where you will add heroes, weapons, items, villagers, etc. to your hand to make you more powerful and allow you to defeat monsters more easily. The dungeon is where you will go when you are ready to defeat monsters. But just like buying cards in the village, defeating monsters will add the monster cards to your deck as well. This is necessary because this is where you will get most of your points, since all monsters have a point value. You will also get experience points which allow you to level up your heroes into more powerful versions in the village. But the bad part is most monsters do not do anything else for you, once they are in your deck. Some monster may contribute some gold value or fight value for you, but most will just clog up your deck with cards that provide no benefit. It's a necessary evil, since as I mentioned, at the end of the game you add the points in your deck which these cards bring. But drawing them into your hand decreases your overall effectiveness. It's just part of the planning and strategizing that goes into the game.
I like this game a lot, and think there is a lot of variety included in it. With so many different cards available that can appear in the setup, a lot of the fun can be in finding the cards that work well together.
This game does go on a bit longer than a game of Dominion. Some setups will be quicker, some will be longer, which can also depend on how the monster deck is shuffled. If a lot of stronger level two or three monsters come out early, it can take a bit longer to get your deck strong enough to deal with them. There are some variants in the rulebook that you can use to get around this, but I enjoy trying to deal with what comes up.
For the most part, this game can seem like multi-player solitaire. There are a limited amount of cards in the village, and each hero only has two cards available of it's highest level, so there is some competition in getting the cards you want before the other players. There are also certain cards you can use to increase the player to player interaction. Some of the heroes let's you use other player's cards, and some of the monsters affect all players, or are worth negative points that you give to another player instead of keeping it yourself. Like I said, there is a lot of variety, and different setups can accommodate different playing styles. I highly recommend the expansions which add even more.
This has quickly risen to being one of my favorite games. Following the BGG guidelines, I give this one a 9. As great a game as Mage Knight is, I find this a fantastic substitute to fulfill my fantasy deck-building needs.
As always, you can check out my other reviews at A Year With My Games. Thanks for reading!
Nice review, DoomTurtle. You pretty much nailed my exact thoughts on it.
Fernando Robert Yu
I have to mention that this plays GREAT solo, and the escaping monsters scoring against you really adds tension to your decisions.
Thufferin Thuccotash!! It'th Cold out Here!
I am happy to hear someone enjoying Thunderstone outside of the 'Epic' version. I think the challenges posed with each new combination of cards keeps the game fresh and exciting. I do not mind 'multi player solitaire', but I find we have much more table talk and open planning with this game than in other 'MPS' games.
As always, good review!