about a game..., Board Gaming

Welcome to Thunderdome, er, Thunderstone!

Everyone's got a smile in Tala. Even the horrible horrible monsters.
Everyone’s got a smile in Tala. Even the horrible horrible monsters.

“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort” – John Ruskin

I’ve gotten some pretty positive feedback from my super awesome Chaos in the Old World Strategy Series, and I’ve decided to write another regarding another favorite of mine, Thunderstone.

What this will be: A close look at Thunderstone as per the “Advance” era and some tips on how to establish your superiority among your nerdy friends. What this won’t be: a detailed look at everything that came before or a comparison to Dominion. For the record, Thunderstone is way better. This series, like the last, makes the assumption that you know the basics of Thunderstone, so if you don’t know how to play already, these will not be of much help, but once you do, this can certainly help tighten your game. Let’s rock. 

I’ve been involved with Thunderstone in varying capacities almost since its release. 2008 was my first year with AEG’s demo team. Prior to GenCon, they sent me a copy of the game so that I could learn it well enough to teach people. It’s an important distinction to make that I was not required to learn it well enough to teach people to play with any degree of skill whatsoever. My first few games I didn’t understand why Trainer was so good, or why you might want to have your Outlands Warrior destroy your Iron Rations even if you’re already creaming the monster you’re fighting. It’s a dark time best left undiscussed. I started submitting card ideas around Doomgate Legion and was invited to join Playtest for Dragonspire. I made a few more submissions and was invited to join Design as of Towers of Ruin.

So, before I go any further here, it’s important to make a disclaimer here. While I am presently a member of the Design and Development Team for Thunderstone, I am not being paid in any way, shape or form to endorse the game, nor am I trying to pat myself on the back here. This is seriously just me glowing about a game I love and trying to shine a little light on it to get some to try it and others to get  more enjoyment from it.

2012 was a big year for Thunderstone with the introduction of the “Advance” series. This shook up the game in a number of positive ways, most notably:

Exhibit A: Heroes. The layout on the Whetmage is clearly superior. And that's the only thing he will ever have on the Selurin.
Exhibit A: Heroes. The layout on the Whetmage is clearly superior. And that’s the only thing he will ever have on the Selurin.

1. The layout of the cards changed. The different card types were now color coded. Village cards are green, Monsters are red, Heroes are blue, miscellaneous are brown. Why does this matter? Ask me when you’re putting the game away.

2. Timing changes were inplemented. The ambiguous “Battle” is now split into “Battle” (which happens before you determine victory) and “Aftermath” (which happens after you have resolved victory or defeat).

3. Monsters were grouped in levels, giving the Dungeon a more even spread of difficulty. Assuming you take the recommended spread of 1 level 1, 1 level 2 and 1 level 3, you get kind of a “smart” dungeon. 

4. Prepare is a new turn action that was introduced in Thunderstone: Advance. How many times have you found yourself with a hand that was 1-2 cards off of being monster murderingly fantastic, and then watching all of that potential flush down the toilet at the end of the turn? The Prepare action allows you to sacrifice a trip to the Village or Dungeon in order to try to build a better hand. You do this by choosing the cards you want to keep and putting them on top of your deck and then ending your turn. You discard your hand as per normal and refill to 6, which should give you the cards you wanted to keep plus a few new options to replace the ones you discarded. The addition of Prepare is a big improvement to the game.

5. The end game mechanic was tweaked and now rather than a rock that awards someone some extra VP based on luck of when it turns up, you now have to defeat a boss monster to collect those game-ending VPs.

6. The starting decks changed. Iron Rations were replaced by the infinitely superior Thunderstone Shard, Dagger was replaced with the almost-identical Longspear and the universally reviled Militia were upgraded into the largely inoffensive Regular.

The advantages of Regulars over Militia are many and actually deserve their own section.

To quote comedian Bo Burnham: "Dicks and vaginas are like Coke and Pepsi. I strongly prefer one but my Dad thinks they taste the same."
To quote comedian Bo Burnham: “Dicks and vaginas are like Coke and Pepsi. I strongly prefer one but my Dad thinks they taste the same.”

Militia are one of the single worst things you’ll have to deal with in *any* game. They don’t help you buy anything, have low Attack values, are too weak to carry almost any weapon and take THREE XP to turn into a first level hero. For most heroes, it takes 3 XP to go from 2nd to 3rd. This means it’s the same cost to go from “Absolutely Terrible In Every Way” to “OK For Now, I Guess” as it is to go from “Pretty Decent” to “Totally Rad.” Militia are so terrible that in all circumstances but one (Highland Officer, I’m looking at you) the most effective strategies in the game involve ridding yourself of them as quickly as possible, even when it means sacrificing whole turns to do this.

Now, onto Regulars. These guys…are not great. I’m not going to try to make them look better than they are, but here’s why they are leaps and bounds better than Militia. They still produce 0 gold. They still aren’t strong enough to carry the best weapons. They still only have a puny Attack value of 1. They also come with a sweet Dungeon ability which allows them to draw a card if equipped with a weapon bearing the Polearm trait. Like Longspear, another card you already have. Go go gadget synergy! They also only take 2 XP to level. The difference between 2 and 3 is monumental. The combination of these factors leaves you with a starting card that while not great, does not actively anger you with its existence.

There’s even a little bit of a storyline happening in the Thunderstone Advance era. I mean, there were always story elements at play, but there was an attempt to establish a meatier story presence, complete with fiction updates. I actually wrote several pieces of fiction for the Thunderstone Advance line and was more or less given a large degree of control over how to tell the story. Unfortunately, there was simply not enough mental bandwidth to keep up with the schedule. If there’s interest, maybe I can post the unpublished fictions here, though at this point, they would just be informed fan fictions and not canon.

Next up: A close-up look at Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin, the first chapter of the Tala trilogy. Card analysis, combos and nonbos.

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