It seems like everywhere I have turned this last year, one game keeps getting suggested to me: Thunderstone. Last year at Gen Con I was playing a new deck building game, “Ascension“, but every time I would talk to someone about it the first words they spoke was, “If you like that, you should try Thunderstone!”. Over and over again this game kept popping up, so finally I acquired a copy of the game and gave it a try.
At first glance it was a bit intimidating. The box comes with hundreds of cards, and it wasn’t immediately clear how they should all be sorted out. Reading through the initial set up instructions was a challenge. The first game we tried to play we inadvertently set up the game incorrectly, having left out a very important card purely out of shear ignorance. By the time we got to game two, we felt a little more surefooted and even managed to properly set up the game.
The playing surface is a combination of an alley of monster cards that will change throughout the game, and a large bank of cards that you can purchase from. The bank of cards consists of four starter cards (that are present in every game), four hero cards (which are picked randomly), and eight village cards (which are also picked randomly) that consists of spells, weapons, and other items. There is also a stack of XP cards and a stack of Disease cards (which is consequently what we left out of the first game) that is supposed to be present in every game you play.
My biggest component complaint is that all of these awesome cards do not have their own slots in the box, such as with Dominion. Instead there are a few large slots that many cards are stored in. We came up with a method of storing the game that worked well for us, but there is no obvious method of storing the game that won’t have you pulling your hair out the next time you try to set it up.
The game play is very interesting. There are three basic stats that matter throughout the game: Attack, Light, and Strength. Your heroes must have enough strength to hold any weapon you give them. They must also be carrying enough light to see deep into the dark dungeon. Lastly they must have enough attack strength to face whatever they might meet in the dungeon.
The added need for light is one of the things that makes this game so different than other dungeon delves. This added stat helps balance out the game so that it’s not simply the player with the most brawn who is the winner. A delicate balance is required. Not having enough light can be overcome in this game, but it makes it much harder, as it would if you were attempting to fight beasts in the dark.
Thunderstone also has a mechanic to slow down the person in the lead, also much like Dominion. Killing monsters is how you win the game, as each monster has victory points associated with them. However, these monsters go into your deck as you kill them, which leads to a clogged deck that doesn’t work nearly as efficiently anymore. Some monsters do have abilities associated with them to make them more useful once they are in your deck, but these are the exceptions to the rule.
Overall, I have really enjoyed playtesting this game. For me it combined all of the great elements of Dominion, but with a slightly more complicated spin that leaves you with more to consider than just how many actions and draws you need. This game is a winner, and I can now see why everyone told me I needed to give it a try.
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