Introduction: Last night after the heat dissipated I decided to walk my dog Cooper and watched the impending thunderstorm that crept towards us. I scrutinized the moon as it mysteriously appeared between dark jagged clouds and lighting strikes and my mind quickly turned toward thinking of the game that I have been playing all week Thunderstone: Dragonspire a deck building game with a difference from AEG. Now I am sure you probably have already heard about the Thunderstone franchise unless you have been doing missionary work in the juggles of Burma, but if you haven’t heard then I will give you a quick overview.
Thunderstone: Dragonspire is a standalone expansion and an excellent entry point to the Thunderstone series. When playing the game you have two choices you can go the village and find equipment, hire heroes, and villagers to strengthen your party, or you may also enter the darkness of the dungeon itself and battle the monsters hoping the unseen combination of cards you drew can beat one of three monsters that have surfaced from the ensuing depths of darkness.
Designers: Mike Elliott & Brent Keith Artist: Jason Eagle
Materials: I wanted to make a note here that the cards of a phenomenal quality they have nice textured linen like feel to them and are very durable (One of the few card games I won’t bother putting in sleeves). The artwork on the cards themselves is exquisite and brings you easily into this well laid out fantasy realm. AEG put a lot of thought into their box design for long term storage for all your Thunderstone series. It also introduces little tokens instead of the cards for experience points and this made a difference helping players to deal with less cards. I really appreciate the little details and attention that AEG put into this game.
Setup: What makes Thunderstone franchise interesting is that you don’t play with all the cards that come with the game. Like other hand management games you can use the randomizer for what cards you can play that game thus making the possibility of hundreds of combinations for future playing’s of the games (If someone would like to calculate all the possible options of cards combinations please post information below).
The Village: Is made up three parts: First you pick four heroes from the 11 choices and place them on the table. Then you pick eight village choices from the 18 different village card choices. Finally you place the standard four basic cards the Dagger, Iron Rations, Militia, and Torch. That creates all the options for you quaint little village (These all have new artwork different from the original game).
The Dungeon: Consist of a hallway with three different ranks or depths each darker and deadlier then the one before it. The card closet to the dungeon deck is rank three and is the darkest part of the hall or dungeon. Rank 1 is farthest away the dungeon deck and are easier to kill because they are closer to the outside. Only the Guardian creature card can leave the proximity of the dungeon and attack the village (Trust me, we do not want this to happen).
Resting:You have one last option to rest for a turn and discard one card that you do not want in your deck. If there is no card you drew that you want to give away then you can simply waste that turn and hope for better next time.
Game Play: Players start the game with a consistent deck of 12 cards and shuffle. You must decide where you are going first the Village, Dungeon, or Rest. Reveal the six cards in your hand from your draw deck and see what happens. All cards played and your new purchase from the village (or capture from the dungeon) must be put into a discard pile and will be shuffled and reused later once you have used all the cards in your draw deck. Sometimes when you think you have the right combo of weapons and Heroes coming in your hand you may want to go into the dungeon and slay the monsters in the ranking you can afford. The deeper the monster the more light you will need to bring in to defeat it properly, otherwise you incur a penalty for fighting in the dark.
Good: There is a lot of good to talk about here. The sheer variety of cards and combinations make this game really exciting. It opens up to different playing styles as well as players make conscious choices from the village and hope their combinations work well for them when they are fighting.
You also learn A lot when you play as you discover that certain monsters like the Minotaur can only be attacked of defeated with magic, and the next monster like Medusa will kill all heroes without an edged weapon and all you have is wizards with spells (Makes you want to start buying swords in town if they have them!).
You become attached playing some of your favorite cards. I love the Chieftains Drum for its unpredictability as you have to guess correctly what the next card in your deck is and then grants you two extra cards. With several of those you can create a great chain in the village or dungeon. After many playing’s (close to ten) I have still not seen or experienced all the cards and combinations yet which keep this game fresh for a long time.
Bad: The major compliant for beginning players is the icons & numbers on the hero and monster cards themselves is too many and the icons are similar in appearance and they become confusing. Almost everyone I have taught the game too had the same problem and even when I first played the game had the same experience. The good news is that this goes away with a little familiarity of the game (so hang in there!).
Another complaint is that people of a D&D and World of War Craft mindset will want to make a diverse party (I.e. one fighter, one cleric, one wizard, and one thief if the hero selection will allow). Although this is possible it makes it harder to build your effective combos and fills your hand with too many cards. Close attention to a streamlined strategy is highly more effective than the jack of all trades approach.
Some players who were having problems purchased poor combinations of cards making poor decisions like entering the village or dungeon unsuccessful because of mixed combos in their hand. This made it evident that if you’re bad at keeping track of how your cards are playing and the combination of cards didn’t allow for hand assistance like the scout (who could allow you to draw three more cards and they you keep the ones you wanted and place any three on top of your deck in the order you desire) then you were in a little trouble.
Games can run a little long at times with newer players. One of our games everyone couldn’t properly judge their opponent’s strengths with new monster sets and become wimpy and stayed in the village too long making the game last over two and half hours. This also causes the problem that if you spent too much time buying all the best cards fighting a monster in the dungeon becomes an exercise of sheer over kill.
Conclusion: If you like cards games with hand management with a fantasy theme this one needs to be in your collection. The theme of the game is wonderful and captivates your thoughts into questions long after the game is over (like what would have happened if I had built my party a little differently). I will play this game frequently in the future and give it a 9/10.
*One small note there was a minor problem with my game there were duplicate cards of some of the monsters and the game was missing some of the villagers. I want to praise AEG on how quickly the corrected the problem and demonstrated they support their games and have shown excellent customer service.