Thunderstone the Deck-Building Game Review

Thunderstone‘s a deck-building game, the second to be released actually.  It’s an interesting game, though the rules have received a ton of revisions since it’s release to help deal with certain issues that cropped up during mass gameplay.  The latest editions all incorporate the change  though it’s worth noting this when reading other reviews. Overall, it’s still my favourite deck-builder; over that of Dominion mostly due to the higher level of theme.

Appearance: The card artwork in Thunderstone is average.  The artwork isn’t great or bad, it’s about average.  It certainly is more generic than say, Ascension; but it certainly is prettier than some of the work you’ll see in Dominion.  On the other hand, it’s not jaw-dropping great either.

Card stock wise; it’s pretty good.  The cards will wear down; but it’ll take quite a few games before it becomes noticeable.  Our set has seen over 20 plays so far and there’s no real major damage to any of the cards.

With regard to the insert & sorting – it’s pretty bad.  The initial game box’s insert isn’t very useful, and the various ‘divider’ cards aren’t much better.  The expansion – Wrath of the Elements – takes a lot of steps to fixing this; but if you just get the base game, be prepared for a lousy sorting system.  Rubber bands are definitely recommended.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Thunderstone is a deck-building game, so players all start out with the same deck of cards.  They then must choose to either visit the village to purchase a new card for their deck or the dungeon to battle monsters.   The monsters in the dungeon are generally how you win the game as they provide victory points, but they also provide XP which can be used to upgrade your Heroes.

In the Village you can purchase Heroes, Spells, Items & Villagers who can add to your attack ability, provide more gold or Light or add more ‘Buys’ or other rule-breaking abilities.  As you develop your deck, you’ll be able to deal more damage allowing you to take on the more challenging monsters in the Dungeon.

In Thunderstone, players can choose to attack any one of three face-up monsters.  Monsters who are further away from the ‘entrance’ of the dungeon require additional light sources to fight without penalty.  If a player does not manage to beat the monsters, these monsters are discarded to the bottom of the deck and a new monster is drawn.

Gameplay: Thunderstone is quite a fun game to play.  It’s not quick though – where Dominion can finish in 20 minutes, Ascension in 30 – 45; Thunderstone generally ranges from an hour to an hour and a half depending on the Village deck.

I like the fact that you get to choose which Monster to fight as well as the Heroes that you choose to use.  The variety of strategies available will of course depend on the cards that come out, but with so many Village cards offered, there’s quite a huge replay value.  Turns in Thunderstone are also quite fast – there aren’t that many cards that allow you to ‘pull’ from your deck constantly unlike Dominion; which makes every player’s turn relatively quick.

However, there are certain issues with the game.  It’s quite obvious that certain Heroes are better than others, especially with certain Village cards.  In addition, depending on the monsters that arrive; combat can be atrociously slow (e.g. Doomknights that increase the light penalty when there are no additional light sources / heroes in the Village). Also, as the number of cards with the ability to redraw cards are low; bad luck can play a seriously adverse effect on a player’s chances of winning.  This really is an Ameritrash version of a deck-building game.

Conclusion: I like Thunderstone because of it’s higher themed content and to some extent, the greater randomness.  Playing the game, I feel that I’m actually building an adventuring party with a set goal – unlike Dominion which feels a touch themeless at times.