Updated: Jul 9, 2021
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:
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
30 Experience Point Tokens
A Dungeon Board
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 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 criticized 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.
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:
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 criticized 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!
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.