“The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate.”
That quote is about as far from accurate as you can get for the game of Thunderstone. Unless the true adventurer isn’t concerned with winning the game, that is. I’m not new to Thunderstone. When I joined the GenCon Demo Team for AEG in 2010, Thunderstone took my sweet, innocent DBG cherry. In fact, in a statement that I’m sure will bring my credibility as a game blogger into scrutiny, I played my first game of Dominion just a few weeks ago. Both are fine games that appeal to different parts of my gamer brain, but I didn’t play Dominion at Archon, and I’m still talking about my experiences there. I ran a number of demos for Thunderstone, a tournament, and then played in a custom setting that was some of the most masochistic fun I’ve ever had with this game.
First, let’s talk about the basics. As with every DBG, you’re starting with a basic deck of underpowered cards. You add better cards to the deck over the course of the game that you can use to accomplish the win condition, which in this game is determined by Victory Points gained from defeating Monsters. Thunderstone’s setup consists of four random Hero stacks and eight random Village stacks. Heroes are adventuring types with better combat values and abilities than your starting cards, and the Village cards represent other adventurer’s staples like weapons, food, light sources and even hirelings. The Dungeon deck is home to Monsters, Traps and other nastiness. Heart of Doom, Thunderstone’s fifth expansion, is scheduled to come out later this month. Between the base set and the 5 expansions, the replay factor is huge.
On any given turn in Thunderstone, you can take one of three available actions. You can go to the Village, where you enlist Heroes and outfit them for battle. This is also where you can take your Heroes to level up, provided you have the XP to do so. If you choose not to go to the Village, you can go to the Dungeon, where you will try to murder whatever hapless creature is unlucky enough to stumble across your path. Your fault for being a Monster, chump. Maybe next time don’t be so Monster-y. The third action you can take is to Rest, where you may destroy 1 card in your hand and pass the turn. Resting is one of the things I like a lot about Thunderstone. In Dominion, there are certainly avenues to destroy your own cards, but they are through actions that must show up at the right time. Sometimes a hand comes up that you can do nothing profitable with, and you simply lose a turn. In Thunderstone, when that unfortunate hand comes up, you can choose to thin your deck by eliminating one of the useless cards clogging you up. Knowing what (and more importantly when) to Rest is a key skill in Thunderstone. In all 3 cases, you reveal your whole hand at the beginning of the turn and discard all cards at the end of the turn. There are no secrets in Thunderstone.
Thunderstone is a relatively simple game to grasp, and even the more seasoned techniques will avail themselves pretty quickly. Veteran players might chuckle when I say that I didn’t understand why Trainer was good my first couple of games, and avoided things that killed my Heroes, even when I had a handful of Militia. There is still some luck involved, though I feel confident saying that playskill is a crucial element to success in Thunderstone. There are different layers of strategy; being able to recognize the value of cards as situations and settings change per game is key. Some cards are weak in some games and very strong in others. Knowing which cards are good, why they are good, and how many to buy (there can be too much of a good thing) are also important skills that build with time. Thunderstone also provides a little bonus satisfaction when your deck performs the way you planned it to. It’s just a flavor mechanic, but I personally find myself a little more excited about defeating my victory points rather than buying them.
Thunderstone has become one of the favorites at our game nights. It never plays the same way twice and rewards strategic deck planning. One of the things I enjoy most about this game is that there is rarely one clear path to victory. Different people will take different approaches and their rewards will better reflect their own mental investment. Last night I played a game where 5 players, one of which had never played a DBG before. All took different approaches to their deck and no one did poorly. Typical of other DBGs there is little to be had in terms of player disruption, but this is the nature of the beast. Thunderstone also lends itself well to custom variants, or especially fun, memorable settings. Epic Thunderstone is one of these variants which looks pretty fun, but I don’t have much experience with it. If you are interested in buying into Thunderstone, I strongly advise buying more than the base set. While the base set was good, the packaging was terrible. AEG corrected this with future expansions.
After the tournament at Archon was over, Jeffrey Dohm of Steamfortress Victory, a fan of Thunderstone, introduced me and a few other unfortunate souls to a particular set-up he called “The Extinction of Sumeria”. I encourage Thunderstone fans to give it a try, but understand before you go in, this game was brutal. We limped past the finish line laughing at the misfortune of the others (and ourselves) every step of the way. I plan to use it as the final table for future Thunderstone Tournaments.
“THE EXTINCTION OF SUMERIA”
Heroes: Outlands (Conan), Selurin (Mako), Gohlen (Subotai), Amazon (Red Sonja)
Village: Feast, Glowberries, Goodberries (Conan needs to feed before battle), Sage (Conan needs to heal), Frost Giant Axe (Duh), Fortune Teller (Witch), Claymore (Also, Duh), Tavern Brawl (Conan like to smash!)
Setting: Doomgate (Where Thulsa Doom lives)
Monsters: Dark Enchanted (Conan kills snakes), Dragon, Dragon-Hydra (Conan eats dragons), and Cultist (Thulsa Doom’s people)
Traps: Draconic, Death
Guardians: Guardian of Revenge (Doom)
Special Disease deck. Enjoy. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Next up comes Chaos in the Old World, which I had an absolute blast with.