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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Lord of the Rings

Ok, so the twitter followers may know that I’m getting increasingly excited about the new Lord of the Rings co-op game coming out from FFG, but now it’s time to take a look at an old one.

Designed by the power house of games that is Reiner Knizia way back in the year 2000, a time filled with excitement as cinemas began to trailer one of the best movies of all time (made even better by being longer on DVD!). Lord of the Rings was everywhere, for years after that, you couldn’t go in a charity shop without falling over six copies of Knizia’s classic.

At the time however, I was far more interested in playing Lord of the Rings, the Strategy Battle Game, from Games Workshop, (still a great game with some fantastic minis) and so Knizia’s game remained largely ignored. Even after my board game epiphany back in 2008, (a Settlers related incident that is wholly responsible for me writing this review) I poo-pooed Knizia’s game, how could anything that came out of Hasbro be any good.

Nothing appealed to me about the game, especially the art, which I know a lot of people love, but for me John Howe’s vision of middle earth has never really been mine. Anyway, one day I came home to find the expansion, Friends and Foes sitting on my bed, a £1 Age Concern sticker proudly adorning its cover. Confused I asked why the game was there, an expansion to a game I had said “no” to on several other occasions.

Senility, it turns out was the reason. However, recognising the bargain nature of the purchase I went on ebay and within a week I had both the base game and Friends and Foes in my closet and even if you include shipping, I had only paid £6.

But, do I like it? Well, you’ll just have to read on and find out…


What’s in the box???

  • 1 Master Board
  • 2 Double-Sided Scenario Boards:
    • Moria/Helm's Deep
    • Shelob's Lair/Mordor
  • 1 Sauron Figure
  • 5 Hobbit Figures
  • 6 White Markers
  • 60 Hobbit Cards
  • 5 Character Cards
  • 5 Gandalf Cards
  • 35 Feature Cards
  • 23 Square Event Tiles
  • 11 Round Life Tokens
  • 32 Shields
  • 1 Ring
  • 1 Die
  • 1 Hall of Fame Sheet
  • Game Rules
  • Rules Summary

Because this game was mass produced at a time when component quality was not as big a deal as it is now, the contents of the box are poor. If that bothers you then you can pick up the FFG version which has much nicer, if much smaller components.

Personally I never play with the hobbits or sauron figures, instead substituting in models from my own collection which look much nicer. The Boards and Cards are all pretty nice though and very clear and easy to understand.

(Adding my Own Minis)

Once it’s out on the table the game takes up a lot of space, not quite as much as 4th edition Talisman, but still quite a lot. I’ve also added a tile bag (from Tempus) to my set to help randomise the tiles drawn at the start of each players turn.


You are a hobbit, a humanoid creature that is smaller than a dwarf, with large bare feet that have a leathery sole and furry top. You enjoy the finer things in life, food, ale, pipe weed, dancing with the local bar wench, however, your world is turned upside down the day that the Grey Wizard comes to town.

Soon you are off on a dangerous quest with a magic ring and only some other hobbits for protection. Together your merry band is subjected to war and strife and death until at last, if you are lucky enough, you get to wander, open eyed and bare-footed into the heart of a live volcano, where, with what little strength remains, you can attempt to fling the magic ring into the fiery pit, thus saving the whole of Middle Earth.

Playing the Game

Ok, so, this is a Reiner Knizia game and that means that the theme will be a little abstract, I admit, it’s there and it’s informing the mechanics of the game, but it;s not immersing you into the story.

To set up the game the players lay out the Master Board, this informs you of where you are in your quest, how close the dark forces are to you and which quest will be coming up next.

(Click for Larger Image)

One of the 6 white markers is added to the top section of this board, this marks the progress of the fellowship through the story. Each players Hobbit token is then added to space 0 on the lower track. The Sauron token is added to space 15 on the lower track.

Each player is then dealt 6 Hobbit Cards, these are basically like action cards and correspond to tracks on the scenario boards. There are 5 suits, these are Friendship (Hand) Travelling (Foot) Hiding (Tree) Fighting (Axes) and Wild (Star).

Each player is dealt a Character card which shows one of the 4 major hobbits from the books and, to allow a 5th player, Fatty Bolger is also present. Which Hobbits are in play depends on the number of players. Frodo receives the Ring and play can begin.

The players begin at Bag End and set out on their journey from there. They follow each of the steps at Bag End in turn. Firstly they receive their Hobbit Cards (already done). Next, the Ring Bearer can choose to roll the dice and take any negative consequences (5 in 6 chance of something bad) if he does so the Hobbits get 4 more cards face up that they can distribute amongst themselves.

Finally, the Nazgul appears and one player must discard 2 hiding cards or the Sauron figure moves one step towards the Hobbits. Should the Sauron figure ever land on a hobbit he is eliminated, if it should land on the ring bearer all the players lose the game.

With Bag End complete the players move onto Rivendell, again cards are distributed and various tasks are completed. Once this is done the players are ready to move on to Moria.

The Moria Scenario Board is now placed on the table and the white markers placed on the various tracks.

(Click for the Larger Image)

The Moria board has three tracks on it, Fighting, Hiding and Travelling. Also, down the side it has an Event Track. The Life Tokens and Shields are placed near the board, along with the two Scenario specific cards. The Event Tiles are shuffled and placed in a stack. The Scenario can now begin.

Play begins with the Ring Bearer, he draws tiles from the top of the stack until he reveals either a Foot, Axe, Tree or Hand, resolving any other effect on the tiles as he draws them. Once he draws an activity tile (Foot, Axe, Tree or Hand) he moves the marker on the appropriate track and takes any action listed on the space, usually this will be take a shield, life token, card or roll the dice. Even if there is no activity line for the tile he drew, the player can stop drawing tiles as soon as he draws an Activity Tile.

Apart from Activity tiles there are also event tiles which trigger one of the six events on the board (representing famous events from the book) If the 6th Event is reached, it’s effects are carried out and the scenario ends and play is returned to the master board.

There are also tiles which cause either Sauron or Hobbits to move on the lightness/darkness track on the Master Board.

Once a player has drawn an activity tile and moved the appropriate piece he may play upto two cards from his hand. He may play 1 white and 1 grey. Each card will move one of the white markers 1 –3 spaces on the activity tracks. If the end of the main activity track is reached (the one that runs across the centre of the board) that scenario is over and play returns to the master board.

A player may play any number of yellow cards on his turn, or at any time during the game. He may also spend 5 shields at any time to play a Gandalf card, these each have 1 of 5 special powers and are always available to players but each can only be used once.

Once a player has played upto 2 cards it is the next players turn. Players may choose, after drawing tiles until they get an activity tile, to skip their go. If they do so they can draw either two Hobbit Cards, or move back one space on the Lightness/Darkness track on the Master Board.

When a scenario ends, each Hobbit needs to have one of each of the three life tokens, a Sun, a Heart and a Ring. For each token he is missing he moves forward 1 space towards the darkness on the Master Board. It is worth noting that in a four or five player game it will be impossible for all players to get all the life tokens.

After the Scenario ends play returns to the master board and the fellowship moves on to the next location following the instructions. The game ends when the players reach the end of the main activity line on the Mordor Board and successfully destroy the ring, or when the Ring Bearer is knocked out of the game, or if the Event Marker reached the Big Eye space on the Mordor Board.


I like it. I didn’t think I would but I kinda do. It’s not that thematic, yes it has all the events that happened in the book, but they are represented by a white marker moving or by cards of a certain type being discarded. Perhaps its the art that keeps me from being absorbed in the game or perhaps it’s the mechanics, but regardless of the cause, I don’t feel like I’m saving middle earth, in the same way that I don’t feel like I’m saving the world in Pandemic.

That said, it’s still enjoyable, perhaps because the game is such a challenge. 10 games in and we’ve only won twice. I certainly think that knowing the events and working to prepare for them will give you a better chance of survival, but really you are at the mercy of the tile stack. In theory you can draw 6 event tiles in a row and fail the scenario before you ever got a chance to play a card. However, through skilful use of yellow cards (which usually represent powerful artefacts from the mythology of the books) and timely use of the Gandalf cards (which cost 5 shields but can be used at anytime) you can mitigate some of the luck involved.

Often times the game will come down to pure sacrifice as players deliberately throw themselves into harms way, often even out of the game, so that the Ringbearer can survive and win the game. So while you are constantly aware of the mechanics of the game, you still get that feeling of team work and sacrifice that runs throughout the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One problem that the game suffers from is lack of change. The events are always the same, the boards are always the same, even the characters are always the same. Part of that is necessary to deal with the totally random nature of the tile stack that runs the game, because without foresight the game would be much harder, but this predictability does mean that you will always feel like you’re playing the same game over and over.

The fact that Lord of the Rings is so damn hard to win helps with replayability, as it stirs within you a desire to beat the game, but, perhaps I would have preferred the game to be a little less brutal, but to have a little more variety. Event Decks for each board so that they felt different each time perhaps, alternate paths to victory or a larger pool of playable characters with special powers.

Final Thoughts

Overall I enjoy the game and I think that every now and then it’s a good game to break out, if you feel like being brutally beaten by a game.

Of course, that make victory all the sweeter. The game also plays in a short enough time that if you do lose it’s entirely possible to have another go.

If I were buying this game now, I’d probably plump for the new Silverline Edition, because the components look nicer and the game takes up less table space. But if you do stumble across the game in the charity shop, with it’s cheery Hasbro label on the front, pick it up and spend a hour or so questing through Middle Earth with your friends and family, And of course, when you’re done, you can always give it back for someone else to enjoy!

Until next time, have fun questing…

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Board Game News Special: Lord of the Rings LCG

I’ve been tweetng all week about the preview videos for this game, but just in case you haven’t seen them, go check them out.

Seeing the game in action I can’t wait for it to arrive, unfortunately it looks like that wont happen until early May. The game seems to have the simplicity I loved so much about Warhammer: Invasion, but also the depth and replayabilty too. I’m really hoping that I can add this game to 2-player staple and get it to the table as often as other co-ops like Pandemic!


Due to a massive blackout of the Virgin Media network in my area my broadband was down Wednesday and Thursday this week so I didn’t get chance to do a review. I promise to make my best effort from now on to keep up the weekly schedule!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Board Game News: Tasty Minstrel Special

Tasty Minstrel has been on the scene for a while now, publishing games such as Homesteaders and Terra Prime. They had some publishing issues when they first started out, but I believe that has all be straighten out now and the company is forging ahead with more new and exciting games.

Designer, Jason Cormier, contacted me this week and asked me to tell you all about his new game that is coming out via Tasty Minstrel Games, Train of Thought.

Train of Thought is a party game that uses word association, the faster you can get the other players to guess your word, the more points you can score.

Check out the how to play video below:

And here is the publishers description:

Train of Thought is a party word game. Players take turns trying to get opponents to guess a particular word, giving only a 3 word clue – and one of those words must be from a prior answer! For each clue given, each player may make 1 guess. If none are correct, the clue-giver creates another clue, using one of the guesses and up to 2 other words.

When the word is correctly guessed, the guessing player and the clue giver each get one point, and the clue giver draws a new card and continues making clues. Get as many as you can in 2 minutes!

Train of Thought can be played as a partnership or team game as well – guess as many words as you can in 2 minutes, see if the other team can beat that!

Train of Thought really makes you think differently than other games in the genre. An excellent party game!

All Aboard!  This party game challenges you to stay on track.  Score points by giving clues and making guesses as you and your friends ride the Train of Thought!

Thanks for letting me know about your game Jay and good luck with it!


And now for some House Keeping

Just a few new things going on this week. Firstly, the Review List which some of you may have noticed has not been getting updated has now, with the help of some hand code from Blogger Sentral, been set to update automatically meaning that you can always find games that I have reviewed without me having to lift a finger!

Secondly, Tweet Deck, the program I use for accessing Twitter recently added a longer post feature, I have been using this new feature to post impromptu reviews, first impressions, news updates and other stuff that isn’t long enough to constitute a full post. So, sign up and follow me on Twitter for the full Unboxed experience. Also, while you’re there, why not add the UK Gaming Media Network too! 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Wits and Wagers

But first an apology… The real world can sometimes be a rather hectic place, filled with boring normality that takes over everything you want to be doing and buries it under a ton of stuff you really don't want to be doing…

In the last two weeks I’ve worked like crazy and my computer died so unfortunately blogging and reviewing had to take a back seat. Computer is now sorted, even more than sorted in a bizarre confluence of circumstances, and work, while still taking up more of my life than I’d like is quiet enough for me to sit down and write…


In Wits and Wagers you play a guest at party which involves trivia games. However, rather than playing a bored, know-nothing pleb you get to take on the role of a high stakes poker player, using your keen senses to accurately determine the correct answers to unanswerable questions all the while accruing a stack of poker chips higher than your house!


So what’s in the box?

  • 100 Question Cards each with 7 questions
  • 1 Betting Mat
  • 60 Red Chips
  • 20 Blue Chips
  • 14 Player Chips
  • 7 Dry Wipe Pens
  • 7 Dry Wipe Boards
  • 1 Sand Timer

The UK price point for Wits and Wagers is quite high compared to the US, in fact I paid £22 and a quick BGG scan shows that you can pick it up in the US for $20 so that’s quite a mark up. For me, I felt the components could have been better for the price. I’ve heard people talk about the original mat for this game, which was rubber backed, as opposed to the folded felt that comes in the second edition, I think I would have preferred that. Also, if you want the game to look and feel nice you’re probably going to want to change the plastic chips for clay chips.

However, the boards and markers are great and I’m glad they were included rather than expecting you to provide your own or use reams and reams of paper. However the meat of the game lies in the questions, 700 of them. Each game only asks 7 questions which means you can play Wits and Wagers 100 times without getting a repeat question. In fact if you cycle through the cards without changing the order (or dropping the stack on the floor) you will ensure that you go through every single question without needing to do anything fancy.

The questions themselves, while being a little US-centric are generally fun and difficult to answer which makes them very good as you will soon understand. However, what I really like is the “bonus material” that often follows the answer, giving you a little bit more information or citing the original reference and the relevant year so you can make an educated guess based on a time and place reference.

Playing the Game

Wits and Wagers is simple. Each player begins the game with 2 chips, they always keep these regardless of the outcomes of their bets. They are also given a wipable board and a pen.

One player is chosen as question master and reads the question numbered 1 on the top card. He flips the timer and everyone (question master included) writes down an answer to the question. These questions are almost impossible to answer, for example, How Many People Did Jack Bauer Personally Kill In Season 5 of 24? And the answer will always be a numeric answer.

Once each player has written down their guess (some of which will be amusingly high or low) they are arranged on the betting mat in ascending order. Their position on the mat will determine the odds of that question being correct and depending on the number of players the odds range from 5-1 to 2-1 with a 6-1 odds that all answers are too high.

Using their chips the players then place bets on which answers they think are closest to the correct answer, meaning you don’t need to know the answer to win at this game! They may bet on two different answers or throw all their eggs in the same basket and put both chips on the same answer. In later rounds players may bet any chips they have, but they can only split their bets over two answers, using their player chips to mark their stacks.

Once all bets are placed the question master reads the answer and the closest guess pays out, all player chips are returned, all other chips are lost.

Play continues in this fashion for 6 more rounds, the player with the most chips at the end of the game wins.


I really want to like Wits and Wagers and for the most part I do. I generally don’t find it to be as rip-roaringly-fun as others have suggested it to be, but I’ve also never played with more than 5 and never in teams, which I’ve heard dramatically increases the fun.

However, there are some things that I don’t like about the game other than being a little underwhelmed based on what I thought the game would be like. Firstly, the game uses a betting mechanic that can do two things. Firstly it can mean that random luck can win you the game on the last question and secondly the chip leader can simply keep enough chips in his hand to ensure that he can’t lose even if the other players win the maximum amount they can on the final round.

The second problem I have is that the scoring mechanism relies on maths. It’s not personally an issue for me, but I find the game slows down a bit while everyone calculates their odds and their winnings.

Now, there is a simple solution to both problems and that solution comes from Wits and Wagers Family. In that game you have two markers, just like in the basic game, but one is worth 1 point and one is worth 2 points. The game is then played to 15 (I think) points. This eliminates the gambling aspect (which can be a turn off to certain players), the issue off working out odds and of a lucky guess in the final round winning the game.

So, if you want to play the game with all the luck that was intended then original scoring system is fine, as long as you don’t mind doing a bit of maths. However, if you prefer a more tactical game that rewards you for guessing correctly then the scoring system from the Family Edition of the game can be used. If you use a piece of paper to track the scores and give each player a red chip and a blue chip (to mark their guess as worth 1 point or 2 points).

Final Thoughts

So, as it stands I enjoy a game of Wits and Wagers, but it is not my go to party game (that would be Absolute Balderdash). I think the questions are great and pretty interesting. I think the betting mechanic will appeal to certain gamers but will also be a bit of a turn off to others.

For the quality of the components I think the UK price point is a little high (double the US price point). However, if you are fan of trivia games at parties then this is a great one to try out. As I mentioned earlier I really feel I need to try the game with a larger group to really explore the “fun” but I’m glad I own it and I think it makes a great gateway game for people looking to move beyond the classics like Trivial Pursuit.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Board Game News Special–Deck Builders

Over the last few weeks I’ve been running a poll to determine which deck builder is best:

    • Dominion  8 (50%)
    • Thunderstone  6 (37%)
    • Puzzle Strike  0 (0%)
    • Nightfall  0 (0%)
    • Arctic Scavengers  0 (0%)
    • Resident Evil  1 (6%)
    • Ascension  1 (6%)
    • Heroes of Graxia  0 (0%)

Other than Thunderstone, Dominion really doesn’t seem to have any competition. Now, to be fair, Nightfall has only just released, Arctic Scavengers was a small release and has been out of print for a while and Puzzle Strike was a reasonably small print run. So can I really draw any meaning full conclusions from this data? Probably not.

But what I can say is that Deck Building isn’t dead. Fantasy Flight games is releasing yet another 2 deck builders this year, the first of which is Rune Age. I threw some of my thoughts on Rune Age up on Twitter last week after the announcement, but, like in Thunderstone, Rune Age seems to offer a reason to build your deck in a certain way.

Rune Age will, according to the FFG website, be scenario driven and based on the fact that the game will only release with 4 scenarios we have to assume that these will be massive game changers and not just slightly altered victory conditions.

If this is the case then Rune Age may well be the first implementation of the deck building mechanic that really elevates the game to more than just Deck Building. By which I mean while the primary mechanic revolves around building a good deck, you have significant challenges to overcome using that deck.

That of course is just speculation and until the game hits I reserve judgement. The second of the Deck Builders is the rather overly anticipated Blood Bowl Team Manager. Since the initial announcement of this game before Gen Con there has been not one single peep from it.

Of the two games Blood Bowl has my interest piqued, especially having recently played Thunderstone for the first time, as the concept of building your team of heroes in TS can easily be seen to work for building a sports team too.

Of course there are many questions about how exactly the game would function and how you could possibly play an entire season in 30 minutes, but even so I’m kinda pumped for it. Blood Bowl has always been a game I wanted to like, but even when I played the PC version I couldn’t, The game was ultimately too clunky and too random. A single failed dice roll cost you 1 of you 16 turns, lose multiple rolls in a game and you’re at a massive disadvantage,

Obviously a card game can be just as random but with a sound design philosophy (as opposed to rehashed mechanics a couple of decades old) and FFG’s production quality and I might just have a version of Blood Bowl I can enjoy.

But… despite all that will these games ever garner the respect lavished on Dominion, or the loyal fanbase that has been a gift to Thunderstone?

In 2008 Dominion was the first of it’s kind and so far it seems to have remained king.What do you reckon, can FFG knock Dominion off the top spot and re-write the book on Deck Building or will this just be another drop in an ever growing ocean of choice?

EDIT: Just checked the Description page for Rune Age and which paints a much clearer picture of what to expect from the game including faction specific decks, scenarios which can include co-op play, random events and more. Check it out… I can already feel the pennies leaving my pocket!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Thunderstone Dragonspire

So, for the last two weeks only two games have hit the table Descent Road to Legend and Thunderstone Dragonspire, and I haven’t been bored once!

I was very fortunate, once again, that the nice people at AEG sent me out a copy of Dragonspire to try out and, spoiler alert, I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’ve never played a deckbuilding game before and to be honest the concept never really appealed to me but Thunderstone has hit the table every night this week.


In thunderstone you are the leader of a party of heroes, or perhaps a wealthy lord capable of hiring a cabal of heroes. Of course, while claiming to protect the local farms and villages your true goal is to get your hands on one of the precious Thunderstones.

The Thunderstones are the pinnacle of power and will elevate any who holds them to the status of demi-gods, so it should come as no surprise then that you are not alone in your quest for the stones. Other powerful men are too seeking the stones you seek, so you must be faster, stronger and just plain better than the competition, as you venture into the dungeon in search of treasure, fame and fortune.

Kill monsters, use their gold to increase your power and influence so that you can venture deeper in search of even greater rewards. Control your horde, trim the fat and shape your loyal followers into the perfect fighting machine that will lead you to an inevitable victory in the bowels of the earth.


Sounds exciting no? Well, lets take a look in the box. Thunderstone Dragonspire comes with:

  • 2 Thunderstones
  • 7 Monsters Sets
  • 11 Heroes Sets
  • 18 Village Items
  • 1 Set of Traps
  • 1 Set of Treasures
  • A full set of Torches, Daggers, Iron Rations and Militia
  • A set of Disease Cards
  • A full set of Randomiser Cards for all previous editions
  • A full set of Dividers for Dragonspire
  • 7 Settings
  • 2 Guardians
  • 30 Experience Point Tokens
  • A Dungeon Board
  • Rulebook
  • Reference Cards

I should point out here that Dragonspire is both an expansion and core set for the Thunderstone game. I have not played the original but from everything I’ve read, at least from a production point of view, Dragonspire is an improvement in every way on the base game.

The set features all the basic cards you need to play, with all new art. It replaced the Experience Point cards from the base set with plastic Thunderstone shaped tokens which are smaller and easier to manage. The box itself follows the same design philosophy as the previous expansions, featuring two card holding slots, the length of the box, with extra large dividers and big chunks of foam to fill up the gaps.

The cards themselves are a nice linen finish and they all have great artwork on them, very evocative during gameplay. The new Settings cards however only have a single image on all 7 cards, it would have been nice to see some unique art there to really bring those settings to life.

The card layout and design (which I have heard criticised elsewhere) was fine. I liked the fact that the experience points gained from a monster was in the same location on the card as the experience you needed to spend to upgrade a hero. This means that whenever you look at a card, the icons physical location tells you what other stat it might be interacting with, like Strength and Weight for example.

The abilities and the wording on the cards took a little getting used to but after a while most things became obvious and because AEG has such a fantastic presence on Board Game Geek, any questions were quickly answered by a member of the FAQ team.

The Dungeon Board, which I’ve heard a lot of people getting excited about wasn’t that big a deal for me. It was nice to have a defined area for the dungeon but I found the handy reference text difficult to read from a distance, so it didn’t really help. I also didn’t use the reference cards, so I can’t comment on how well they help during play.

However the reason that I felt I didn’t need the Dungeon Board or the Reference cards was because of how well the Rulebook explained the game. AEG has been criticised for their rulebooks before (the original Thunderstone book went through 3 revisions) but I’ve got to say I had no problems with it. Of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t get a few things wrong on my first few plays but more on that later… Let’s get to the game.


I have never played Dominion so you will find no further reference to the similarities between this game and that one. I have also never played a previous version of Thunderstone so I can’t comment on any updated rules.


To start the game players layout a 4 x 4 grid of cards. This includes 4 basic cards Torches, Iron Rations, Militia and Daggers. 4 Hero decks, each of which contains a certain number of level 1, 2 and 3 heroes (with the exception of the Phalanx (only 2 levels) and the Veterans (4 levels)) Each level of hero is more powerful than the last.

The remaining 8 sets of cards are village cards, these are items, weapons spells and mercenaries which will help you on your way to victory. Each set contains several copies of the same cards. That means you only need to know what the 8 cards in play do because they will not change as the cards are bought.

Once the village is set up it’s time for the dungeon. The dungeon deck will always contain 3 different types of monsters, along with at least 1 Thunderstone. The monster sets usually contain 3 or 4 different types of monster. In addition to Monsters, there are also Traps, brutal and deadly to almost all players at the table, Treasures, valuable items that can give you a big boost and Guardians, big nasty monsters that are hard to take down but worth it in the end.

While the dungeon deck is set up randomly there are always at least 3 monster sets in the deck. After shuffling all these together deal ten cards off the top, add the Thunderstone to it, shuffle the pile and place them on the bottom of the dungeon deck. The Thunderstone itself will act as a game ending device. Once this is done 3 cards are dealt face up from the top of the Dungeon Deck to represent the three monsters already in the dungeon.

Next each player receives a deck of identical cards, 2 Torches, 2 Iron Rations, 2 Daggers and 6 Militia and the game is ready to begin.

On your turn you can do one of the three things:

  • Fight
  • Shop
  • Rest

Resting allows you to destroy (remove from the game) any 1 card in your hand. The rest go into your discard pile. It is important to note the distinction between destroy and discard. Whenever your draw deck runs out your discard pile is shuffled to form a new draw deck. However Destroyed cards are out of the game permanently. Whenever you finish your turn you must discard your entire hand and draw 6 new cards, this is important because effects and traps triggered by other players can affect your hand meaning you may well have fewer cards at the start of your next turn.

If you choose to shop you reveal your hand. Each card will have either a gold value (a coin on the left of the card) or no gold value (no coin at all, not a 0) You can now trigger any effects with the trigger text VILLAGE. After these effects have been triggered and all changes to your hand have been carried out (i.e. cards discarded, destroyed or drawn) you may buy 1 card from the village equal to or less than your total gold value.


After you buy a card you may upgrade any number of heroes in your hand by spending experience points. The number in the lower left corner tells you how many exps are needed to upgrade a hero. When you do upgrade a hero you destroy that hero and take the next level hero from the appropriate market stack. The new hero is placed in your discard pile (and therefore you cannot upgrade it a second time because it is no longer in your hand). Militia can be thought of as level 0 heroes. They can be upgraded for 3 exp to any available level 1 hero.

Once you have finished shopping discard your whole hand and draw six new cards.

If you choose to go to the dungeon you reveal your entire hand. You then carry out any effects with the DUNGEON trigger text. If a card has a symbol that looks like a spiky cog on it, that means it is a mandatory effect, if it has no such symbol then you always have the option of not using the effect.


The same is not true of heroes, spells, items and weapons. If you choose to go to the dungeon all the cards in your hand go with you.

Once you have carried out all DUNGEON effects you add up your total ATTACK value, this includes both ATTACK and MAGIC ATTACK, however some monsters are immune to one or the other of the attack types. Once you have calculated you total attack you must choose a monster to attack.

Each monster is in one Rank of the Dungeon Hall. At rank 1 you need 1 light, at rank 2 you need 2 light and at rank 3 you need 3 light. For every light you are missing you take a –2 penalty on your attack. Light is provided by items like the Torch or Soul Gem and by certain heroes and monsters. The light a card provides is show on the lower left side in a lantern symbol.


Once you have decided which monster to attack and applied the light penalty to your attack you must look at the BATTLE effects of the monster card. These apply immediately with the exception of a “Destroy” effect which only applies at the end of battle unless otherwise stated. If after light penalties and battle effects your ATTACK total is equal to or more than the monsters hit points (upper right corner) then you defeat the monster and gain experience points (lower left corner). Defeated Monsters go into your discard pile and are worth gold (if they have a Gold Value) and Victory Points at the end of the game (lower right corner.)

If you fail to defeat the monster then it is placed at the bottom of the Dungeon deck and a new card is drawn. Whenever a monster is removed from the hall all the cards move down to fill the gap and the new card is placed in rank 3.

Play continues in this manner until the thunderstone appears. If the thunderstone is in Rank 2 of the dungeon and a player defeats the monster in rank 1 he claims the thunderstone and the game ends, if the Thunderstone moves into rank 1 for any reason the game ends and no one can claim it.

Each player then looks through their deck and adds up the Victory Points (bottom right corner) on each of their cards. The player with the most victory points wins.


I’ve only had this game for a little over a week, so have I played every single variation in the box? No. Have played it enough to know I want to? Hell yes!

Each game I’ve played I’ve followed a different strategy, even though I used the same set up for the first 3 games. For example, in one game I concentrated on being able to control the dungeon by using Scouts to rearrange the top of the dungeon deck and then Polymorph spells to put the card I wanted to defeat into play.

While in another game I concentrated on picking up Belzur the Cleric so that I could make better use of the disease cards I was getting from the plague ridden undead in the dungeon.

So with all the stuff in the box Thunderstone Dragonspire is a very replayable game with a lot of strategy and tactics. Of course, there is luck, after all it’s a card game, but there are a lot of ways you can build your deck to give you a good chance of mitigating the luck.

The game has been criticised for the lack of interaction between players but I don't mind that so much because you are essentially on the same side, fighting the good fight, the real competition is to see who can do it better. That said there are ways to mess with your opponent, primarily Thief Heroes, but it’s certainly not a game where a single player will be constantly stolen from or beaten into submission.

Theme-wise this game played right into my wheelhouse, I am a big fan of fantasy and this is very well represented in both the imagery and the abilities of the monsters. The idea that you can only defeat the Medusa with an edged weapon, or only defeat the slippery bandits if you surround them with multiple heroes makes each monster feel different and unique.

Did I have anything bad to say about Thunderstone Dragonspire, actually, yes. Although all these things are really minor. Firstly, I would have liked a basic Thunderstone with no special ability to be included with the set, I know most people would already have one but as this was supposed to be a base set too it would have been nice.

Secondly, because this set is a base set and an expansion it felt like there was a little too much for a beginner. Traps, Treasures and Guardians were all introduced in expansions and they are all a little more advanced than a “base set” in my opinion. Of course, when you are ready to move onto more advanced mechanics they are all right here in the box so while it may seem overwhelming at first it quickly becomes a bonus that you’ll be glad of.

My final negative is that my box is just too empty and it needs more cards in it… luckily there are plenty of expansions to fix that problem!

Final Thoughts

So, did I like Thunderstone? Yes, yes I did. I played it 2, 3, and 4 player and had a blast. It makes a great two player experience, it plays fast, it’s not too confrontational and it’s a lot of fun. The replayability of set seems high and I’m really enjoying playing the game and I will certainly be going back and picking up Wrath of the Elements and Doomgate Legion.

For more on Thunderstone check out AEG’s website.

The UKGMN and The UK Games Expo

The UK Gaming Media Network is still going strong and this past week we finally confirmed that we will be working with the UK Games Expo to bring you some excellent seminars over the course of the Saturday and Sunday at the Expo. Full details are available here and Michael Fox has some thoughts on this over at Little Metal Dog and so does Mark Rivera over at Board Games in Blighty

You can keep up with all the details in our thread here. Of course the most exciting part of this is that on Saturday morning all the UKGMN guys will be in one place… And we’ll be answering your questions…

Competition Winners

Well, it was a great competition and with the help of my esteemed judges Mark Rivera and Jean Rolfe (from Simply Board) I finally have a winner.


Well done to Thaddeus Griebel who wins himself the prepainted minis from AEG.

Runners up Liz Gotauco


And Michele


Both win themselves a copy of my custom Top 52 Board Games playing card deck. Congratulations to all that entered and I look forward to another Unboxed Competition in the future.

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