An interesting new card and table top game released a couple of years back from game creator Michael Elliott and AEG, or Alderac Entertainment Group, called Thunderstone. It has since seen a great deal of popularity and launched a couple of expansion products to its core game showing off its success and loyal following. Thunderstone is a card based table top game for two to five players and takes about an hour or so to play once players have adjusted to the rules and learned the core mechanics of the game. Suggested retail on Thunderstone is $39.99, but you can occasionally find it for as cheap as $25-$30 in some retailer’s stores. Set up can five to ten minutes as stacks of cards for each game are determined randomly and therefore require some preparation before players begin each new game. The rules should be gone over in detail, like any game, but can take some getting used to if you have not players a deck building or card drafting game previously, such as Dominion and its like. If you have played games like Dominion before, the game core mechanics will seem very easy and familiar to you as you go along with your first game. For those that are new to deck building card games such as Thunderstone or Dominion, a quick beginner play through is suggested in the rules for your first game and you will have the core card mechanics and game flow down in no time as it is easy to grasp and flows very well.
Thunderstone borrows and takes much of its core engine from the Dominion design so if you enjoy Dominion and enjoy Fantasy themed games; this game was meant for you. But where Dominion leaves off at fast paced strategy, card gaming fun, and math and card combinations, Thunderstone continues into story based questing, fantasy gaming themes, and good old hack and slash RPG tones. If you would like to read a little bit more about Dominion to better get a grasp of the game mechanics and flow of Thunderstone, you can read my Dominion Review HERE and it may help you grasp the concept of Thunderstone a bit more.
The first you notice as you open up the box of Thunderstone is that there is no board, no dice, and no game tokens. Thunderstone is about 500 or so cards with beautiful art by fantasy artist Jason Engle, who is well known in the fantasy art world as he has worked on many games, cards, and books, including core Dungeons and Dragons monsters and gaming books. The many beautiful color fantasy cards break down into several categories such as Village Cards, Hero Cards, and Monster Cards. Village Cards are represented by such things as weapons, food, local NPC’s who can help on your quest and adventure, spells, torches, local Militia guards, and more. Hero Cards the specialized heroes for the most part that you think of in any fantasy themed RPG or Board Game. There are fighters, dwarves, elven wizards, archers, amazons, barbarians, knights, paladins, clerics, rogues, assassins, and more. The monster cards are broken down into classes of monsters and are represented by such creature variations such as Dragons, Abyssal Creatures, Oozes, Undead, and many more.
The object of Thunderstone is to build up your deck of cards you are playing with to make your adventurers more and more powerful as they go along. This will allow the deck and the adventurers you assemble to slay more and more powerful monsters in the local Dungeon and eventually uncover the fabled Thunderstone, which is the trigger to end the game. Once the Thunderstone is found and brought out of the Dungeon, all players add up their total Victory Points gained in the their player deck and the highest score wins the game! Victory Points are scored in a couple of ways, such as gaining the Thunderstone once it comes out of the Dungeon, or leveling up your Class Specific Heroes to their highest levels, but the main and easiest way to score Victory Points is to slay creatures. The more powerful you build your party, the more weapons and spells you put into their arsenal, and the more you level them up and buff them with support cards, the more powerful foes they will be able to vanquish and claim as prizes, hence adding to your end score and helping you win.
One of the things that I hear often enough from players of games like Thunderstone or Dominion is the lack of true player to player interaction the game feels like it has as it goes along. I have even heard that from certain reviews and commentary on games like Race for the Galaxy, another table top card game, but with a different core mechanic than Dominion or Thunderstone. I get this opinion about games like Thunderstone, but it does not strike me in that way and I never find myself having a huge problem with that feel. But, it may feel like that to you, so it may be something you wrestle with as you play along in your games of Thunderstone.
The game begins by randomly drawing the monsters that will fill your dungeon for this adventure or game. This is done with randomizer cards as part of your set and will allow each game to feature three monster classes each game. You then will pick four of the available Hero sets randomly to play in this adventure, and then populate your local village where resources are gained to power up your adventurers, with eight stacks or sets of items, NPC’s, spells, light sources, food, etc. Because of this random game mechanic and because there are many more than the 3 sets of monsters, 4 sets of hero classes, and 8 sets of goods to help your adventure each game, the re-playability of Thunderstone is very good. Each game will be unique unto itself and therefore should not easily get stale. This is one of the many game mechanics that differs from Dominion, where you can choose which stacks of cards to use in your game or take the game makers set patterns to play a style of game in Dominion. With Thunderstone, the adventure and its components are set randomly each time and all blench and work well with one another for the most part.
Once you have your decks and stacks built and your dungeon populated, it is time for players to begin their turns. Thunderstone has a similar feel in turns and movement as Dominion in that each player’s turn takes about 5-15 seconds and quickens as players grasp the math and system. You will also find yourself ready and thinking ahead on other players turn so that your turn comes down to plopping down your hand or revealing it and buying or fighting each round, very quickly. This makes the flow of Thunderstone very quick paced and the action level fast moving, but paces the interaction as minimal between players.
On each players turn, you have three choices to use and you must pick one. You will begin each turn drawing six new cards and then doing one of three things; resting, going to town to buy new goods with your gold your hand generated on the draw, or going into the Dungeon to fight a monster with the attack values your hand generated from the draw. It is just that simple once you understand the rules and flow of Thunderstone.
Each card will have an attack value, either physical or magical, and those values stack to give you one offensive total. You will use this total value as is or combo it with card mechanics on the cards in your hand to boost the number value up, or potentially down if you don’t have enough light sources for the dark and deep Dungeon. This will represent a win or loss against the monster picked and most of the time, before you enter the dungeon, you can do the quick math and decide if you even want to go into the Dungeon and tangle with the monster. The same goes for your foray into Town. Once you draw your six new cards to begin your turn, you will add up the Gold totals each card can generate, combo that with card mechanics that may be used in the Village, and then you buy one more card you can afford, to add to your ever growing personal card deck.
If you think you need a Dwarven Fighter, he costs Seven Gold, you need to draw a hand that adds at least seven gold to your purchase power and then bang; you get to add a Dwarven Fighter to your deck. Next turn, you return to town and know that the Dwarven Fighter should get a Torch so he has light for his dungeon quest and does not take penalties to fighting once there, so you generate three gold and buy a torch, putting it in your discard pile to see again soon. The next round, you generate six more gold and instead of heading to Dungeon this turn, you buy your Dwarf a short sword to fight with to add bonuses to his attack value. Turn four comes around and all your cards have played through, like a hand of solitaire, and you reshuffle your whole deck and draw another six cards from the deck you have been building. Lucky you, as you look down here in turn four or five, you have drawn your new six cards and you see the nice fighting combo of your Dwarven Adventurer, his Short Sword, and a Torch amongst the six cards. There will be no town buying this turn as you head to the dungeon and watch the Dwarf mow down a Griffin who was first in line in the Dungeon Halls. The Dwarf cheers in victory, you get some experience points to add to your collection and spend later in town to level up your Dwarf if you would like, and you claim the monster as a trophy / gold generator card, and notice on the bottom right of his card, he is worth Victory Points. You just scored VP’s and are now on your way to winning the game. Draw six new cards and get on with your next turn. It is just that simple and the pacing is fast and game play is fun!
Thunderstone borrows a lot of game mechanics from its predecessor, Dominion. And Thunderstone borrows a lot from RPG classics such as early versions of Dungeons and Dragons, where Dwarves. Elves and Fighters gather torches and weapons to venture into deep dark Dungeons and kill random creatures for gold, magic, and glory. But, it is that fast paced card action and RPG themed fun you have that really is fun for fantasy fanatics such as myself. Thunderstone is quick, easy to learn, and each game is different. Thunderstone is a very fun game that is unique unto itself in what it brings to the gaming group and gaming table and I would highly recommend it for those fantasy table top gamers who don’t have time for a long game of Talisman or don’t have enough time for their Tuesday night Dungeons and Dragons game because someone could not make it. There already have been a couple of expansions for Thunderstone and I will try and cover them in upcoming reviews later this year.
If you are interested in purchasing Thunderstone from your local gaming stores around the Denver Metro area, try checking at Attactix in Aurora, Black and Read in Arvada, Valhalla Games in Wheat Ridge, The Haunted Game Café up in Ft Collins, The Wizards Chest in Denver, and Enchanted Grounds in Highlands Ranch. Most of these retailers should be able to help you pick up a copy of Thunderstone.