For those of you following along, you will know that I gushed a little about this release back when I wrote my first impressions, well now I’ve had time to mellow and look at it more carefully and I’m ready to pass my final judgement.
Now I’m not going to cover the full rules so if you want to know how to play check out my Dragonspire Review first and then come back see what changes have been made.
Enough waffle, on with the review:
In Heart of Doom the hero’s vanquished Doom itself and in doing so they shattered the Thunderstones and were transported to a new and exciting world. Greater powers have been granted to them, along with clearer and more concise rules, as they venture into the new world, in search of monsters to slay and treasure to claim.
So what’s in the box?
- Basic Cards (95 total)
- Hero Cards (132 total—12 of each hero: six level 1, four level 2, two level 3)
- Monster Cards (103 total—10 in each monster group plus 3 Thunderstone Bearers)
- Village Cards (152 total—8 each)
- 28 curses
- 7 familiars
- 10 Thunderstone Shards
- Randomizer Cards (39 total)
- Dungeon/Village Board
- Quick Start Rules
- XP Tokens
Now I’ve talked about the cards before, they are nice quality, very clearly laid out; the artwork has been better in previous games of Thunderstone, but it’s still very good given how much of it there is.
There is only one complaint I’ll make about the new layout and that is the “level” of the heroes. Previously you could fan the cards sideways to see the levels and that made it easier to sort them now you have to look at the top of the card instead, it’s a minor quibble.
Also, I found it odd that the designers chose to add the keyword disease to Curses to make them backwards compatible with older Clerics but that they didn’t add the keyword Militia to the Regulars.
The quick start rules are interesting. They dont so much teach you the full game but instead create a mini tutorial, like you might find in a computer game “Try pressing the B button and see what happens” style. I’m not sure whether I’d ever use them but I think if you were approaching the game with a whole group who’d never played before they could be useful.
However, the main rules are awesome. Funny and clearly written in a way that was so concise that even I, a thunderstone veteran, learnt some things I’d been doing wrong. The timing sequence has been defined in a much better way and the whole thing feels much, much cleaner.
The board feels big and a little odd compared to the old setup but I think for new players it will work well.
Lots and very little. Thunderstone Advance is very similar to Thunderstone, in fact there are really only two mechanical differences and they are “preparing” and “familiars”
On your turn you can now take one of four actions. Village, Dungeon and Rest are all the same as before. Prepare however allows you to discard any number of cards from your hand and place the remainder on top of your deck for next time. In this way you can now count on getting your combos more often even if it means you have to spend a turn preparing for them.
These new cards give you a little boost every now and then. You take a familiar when you kill a monster for the first time and place it face up in front of you. You can then use any of three actions on the card, as long as you have the requisite number of experience points in front you (they are not spent, you are just required to have them). The familiar is then discarded and will cycle back into your hand on later turns as your deck is shuffled. On that turn you will effectively only have 5 cards instead of 6, but that’s a small price to pay.
The rest of the differences in TSA are really cosmetic. The layout has changed on the cards and they now have more keywords; such as races. These keywords will be used to help bring a greater variety of card effects into the game and even more combos.
The board now separates all the cards into types, while being aesthetically nice it doesn’t overly aid gameplay and fans of the original thunderstone may find it difficult to adjust to the new layout. The introduction of the Wilderness which features 4 monster slots and light penalties of –1 per point of darkness is a big game changer and can really effect how you play and what cards are useful to you. It certainly makes for a faster start and also leads to players taking more risks.
The defining of the turn sequence has made the game so much cleaner. It now plays more like a CCG with properly defined action windows that make following the flow of cards much easier and more straight forward, leading to fewer rule queries.
The rule about the destruction of cards has finally been clarified making exceptions a thing of the past. You cannot optionally destroy a card that has used a dungeon or village ability, but such a card can destroy itself. So, the Town Guard from the base game allows you to draw two cards as a village ability, but if you destroy it you can draw three. In the FAQ it explains that you can do both for a total of 5 but now that ruling is universal and has been clarified in main rules and not just on a card by card basis.
Many of the game’s more confusing and forgettable rules have either been clarified or complete removed. For example if your strength drops to zero or below you are no longer destroyed. While battle and aftermath has helped redefine the timing structure and completely remove awkward wording in the rules about just when things happen.
A big change to the game is how the starting hand has changed. Originally you began the game with:
- 6 Militia
- 2 Iron Rations
- 2 Daggers
- 2 Torches
Now you begin the game with:
- 6 Regulars (which count as militia for backwards compatibility)
- 2 Thunderstone Shards
- 2 Long Spears
- 2 Torches
While this may not seem radically different, it is and here’s why. The torch is identical, it provides 1 light and 2 gold. The Long spear weighs 2 and gives 2 gold and attack +1. The Thunderstone shard gives 1 gold, has a dungeon ability that gives a hero +2 strength, a spoils ability which grants a bonus xp when you win a fight and it’s worth a victory point.
However, it’s what these do with the Regulars that matters. The Regular is a level 0 hero with 3 strength and 1 attack. However when equipped with a polearm (like the longspear) he gains the dungeon ability to draw a card.
When equipped with a Thunderstone Shard he can carry most midweight weapons, such as longswords and warhammers.
And best of all he only costs 2xp to upgrade to any level one hero. All this adds up to a quicker start to the game. Yes, in the long run Regulars are less useful than real heroes but they can now offer some much needed support.
Curses have replaced diseases and are, in general, easier to get rid of. Unlike before they are really only a minor inconvenience and are actually more of a boon when combined with Clerics that power up by destroying diseases (which curses still count as for backwards compatibility.) Like diseases of old Curses give you –1 attack, but they also offer you a penalty you can take in order to destroy them. This could be minus light for the turn or it could stop you using abilities.
The final difference I’ll talk about here is the introduction of Thunderstone bearers. Basically these need to be killed or to enter rank 1 for the game to end. I like this idea and I’ve taken to adding guardians (with attached Thunderstones) to all my games so that there is always a boss fight to conclude the game.
I like it. I like all the changes that have been made and I applaud the rewrite of the rules, excellent job. However, I’m not sure that this is the best base set of Thunderstone that exists. There isn’t really a straight forward monster group in this set, they all have quirks that need to be applied. For example the Kobolds get stronger the more of them there are. And then the Thunderstone Bearers have global effects that can take a lot of thinking about.
So, while I think it’s an excellent rewrite of a great game I also think it is less friendly to new players who haven’t experienced Thunderstone before.
I also feel that games of TSA take longer to play than they did before, I can’t really explain why this might be as all the changes in the game are aimed at helping you progress faster but so far I’ve found the games take longer to play.
I’m still not a fan of the art direction in this set, although the previews I’ve seen for Caverns of Bane give me hope that the art will improve going forward.
As I’ve said before the graphic design is great although the text is smaller and more difficult to read at a distance than it was in the original. And as I mentioned above the hero levels moving from the side to the top makes it more difficult to spot what level your heroes are when sorting them into their respective decks.
I guess this makes it sound like I don’t like Thunderstone Advance and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s an excellent game and it improves massively on the original. I certainly wouldn’t go back to playing under the old rules.
It is definitely the cleanest implementation of this ruleset to date and it comes with a massive selection of cards, along with a series of variants, more of which are being published over at www.alderac.com on a regular basis.
If you haven’t tried Thunderstone yet, you owe it to yourself to try it but perhaps play with a veteran who will help ease you into some of the more complex cards that can come up in Thunderstone Advance.