Game Night: Thunderstone

This month, we’ll be doing something special with Game Night. All the bloggers will be reviewing the same game. If you want to see what the other participants thought, you can check out our list of bloggers from the Game Night homepage. And if you’re an RPG blogger, we’re always looking for more participants!

The whole concept of the Game Night blog carnival started because I realized that, by and large, people who play D&D also like to play other games. I wanted to make a  resource for the nights when your whole group can’t get together, and you end up playing board games. What games do D&D players like? The Game Night blog carnival seeks to answer that question.

Now, what if your D&D group only really likes fantasy games, or games with a D&D “feel” to them? Our list gets noticably shorter – Munchkin comes immediately to mind, though that game is too silly (and unbalanced) according to some. There are a few others as well, but not really that many. That’s why I was pleased to see the theme of  Thunderstone – it’s a fantasy themed deck building game from AEG (Alderac Games).

First, what is a deck building game?

Deck building games are card games in which you buy or otherwise obtain cards from common stacks or card areas in the middle of the table to construct your own personal deck of cards to play from. (When I say “buy,” I don’t mean you go to the store with real money to buy a random booster pack; I mean that you spend some sort of in-game resource to add a game card to your deck.) By obtaining good combinations of cards in your own deck, you can then generate even more resources to buy even more (or better) cards to add to your deck. Deck building games are NOT Collectible Card Games (CCG), though most deck building games have optional expansion sets that add new and different cards to the game. One of the great things about deckbuilding games is the commonalities between rules sets – once you’ve played one deckbuilding game, learning another one is a breeze.

Ok, I get deckbuilding games, now tell me about Thunderstone

Thunderstone has two distinct card areas to build your deck from – the village and the dungeon. The village has all the item and class cards, while the dungeon has all the monster cards. On your turn, the very first thing you do is decide whether you’re going to spend it in the village or the dungeon.* While in the village, you have the opportunity to buy new items, spells, and party members. On the other hand, in the dungeon, you have the opportunity to kill monsters (that you then add to your deck) and gain XP (to level up your party members). The decision changes every turn because there are only three monsters showing at a time, and as monsters are killed, new ones are revealed – and the monsters that are left advance towards the dungeon entrance.

*There is a third choice – rest – which lets you “burn” (eliminate) a card from your hand. In our game, no one used this option, though in subsequent discussion, we did come up with strategic scenarios where that would be a good option to take.

This game also has a unique end trigger. There is a Thunderstone card shuffled into the bottom of the monster deck. When the Thunderstone gets to the entrance to the dungeon, the game is over. Since the players only have a vague idea of where the Thunderstone is (somewhere in the bottom 1/3 of the deck), there is a sense of uncertain urgency towards the end of the game. This is compared to other deck building games I’ve played where the end game trigger was more obvious and visible.

We did have a few problems with the game. The most frustrating one was the symbology on the cards. Most of the symbols associated with card values aren’t intuitive. Strength is a shield, for example, and light, XP, and victory points are all simply numbers in different colored circles. Until we had the circle colors memorized, there was a lot of, “Which number is XP again?” and “What does the green circle signify?” Making the numbers on the cards more intuitive would go a long way to shortening the learning curve – simply writing XP next the XP number, for example, or using a tiny torch insead of a yellow circle for light values.

The opinion was also expressed that the mechanics had too many moving parts. Some of the players thought that one less mechanic would probably make the game better without reducing the complexity too much. While I personally didn’t mind the various stats I had to keep track of when deciding whether to fight a monster or not, I also don’t think I would have missed the Strength/Weight mechanic in favor of class restricted weapons (or some other weapon restriction mechanic).

In the end, don’t let the small problems sidetrack you; the final verdict was that the game is very fun. There’s a lot going on, between deciding which of your characters to level up, party makeup, what stuff to buy in the village, and figuring out which monsters in the dungeon you’d like to fight. We’re excited to give the game another try using the random setup, as we only had time to use the beginner’s setup. I give this game 4 out of 5 stars, and will probably be picking up one of the expansions after we’ve had a chance to play the base game through a few more times.

  • Game: Thunderstone
  • Players: 2-5 (AEG also has rules for solitaire play here)
  • Type: Deckbuilding
  • Time to play: 1 hour

In the spirit of full disclosure, we were given a review copy of the game.

<<—- Go to the Game Night home page  —  Go to the next blog in the carnival—->>

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4 Responses to Game Night: Thunderstone

  1. Pingback: Game Night: Thunderstone | Glimm's Workshop

  2. Michael says:

    My son and I really enjoy Thunderstone. We have the base game, and the first three expansions, Wrath of the Elements, Doomgate Legion, and Dragonspire. The expansions really do add nice variety, and Dragonspire adds a big enough box to hold all the products I listed above, in addition to much more functional dividers and some tokens.
    Also, we each downloaded a free Thunderstone app (one for his iPod, one for my Android) that does the randomizing for us. This greatly speeds up the set-up, and depending on the app, can do some “intelligent” randomization, such as not including ‘magic attack only’ monsters when there are no magic attackers or weapons available in the village.

  3. Alton says:

    Sounds interesting, but it must get expensive to buy these games all the time.

    I would love to participate, but the town I live in, it would be hard to find enough participants to play Game Night.

    Thanks for the review.

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