This is not a full review, but as the title implies my impressions after playing the game once.
As you all know Thunderstone is a firm favourite in my house, hitting the table nearly 70 times in the last year; so when I heard AEG was updating and streamlining the game I was excited and a little nervous.
When I saw the previews, which showed the updated graphic design I was very impressed, they’ve certainly come a long way. However now I finally have a copy of the game (courtesy of AEG) and here is what I think.
Preparing to Play
First and foremost the rulebook is a MASSIVE improvement, clarifying every single rule and making me realise that I’ve been playing things wrong for ages! Admittedly they were minor things, but this is a testament to just how clearly written this rulebook is.
The switch to “Keywords” over cumbersome text is something that has been coming for a long time and I commented on with the release of Thornwood Siege. In Thunderstone Advance cards feature several keywords which clarify their timing, similar to the system used in Cosmic Encounter. The distinction between “Battle” and “Aftermath” for example removes the need for long winded rules like:
“All Dungeon Effects trigger before you begin the battle. However, the Battle Effects of the Monster you are fighting resolve either during or at the end of the battle. All Battle Effects occur, regardless of victory or defeat.
Any cards destroyed by a Battle Effect remain in play until the end of the battle — Heroes fight until the bitter end! All other Battle Effects occur during the battle”
Now it’s simple, Battle Effects occur before and Aftermath afterwards. The Keyword Trophy also replaces the harder to explain cog icon.
In addition to the rules being simply better in every way, it seems they were also written by someone with a sense of humour making them fun to read even for a veteran player.
Anyway, enough about the rules, what about the game?
I liked it.
The artwork is not as nice as previous sets. This is really the first thing that strikes you. Yes, the layout is a huge improvement but the art is kinda… meh. Also, why are all the weapons on a pink background? I know they were trying to make them stand out more from heroes and other cards but I’ve got to say the weapons look ultra bland compared to their old school counterparts.
The new game layout is also a little harder to take in than the old “dominion style” layout. The villagers especially feel a little, tucked away, down at the bottom of the board. However, I think that the layout will prove to be better in the long run and will work visually well for new players.
New mechanics? I really liked them. The familiars are a great little boost without being overpowered or over complicated. The fact that when you use your familiar he is discarded into your discard pile is a genius mechanic. Not only does it generate a small cost for using the card (you effective only get 5 cards in hand when the familiar comes back out) but it also means that you get the extra boost from the familiars often in the early game and less in the late game as it would take longer to cycle the card through your deck. The prepare action is a great addition that doesn’t remove the usefulness of the scout. It’s not an option I’ll take often but could be handy late game when buying stuff just clutters up your deck.
Game play? It felt faster (although reading all the new cards takes more time). The synergy between the Regular and the Long Spear make for a faster start to the game. The additional XP generated by the Thunderstone Shard allows you to make use of your familiar quickly, while the reduced cost of levelling up Regulars means you can get more heroes into your deck from the get-go.
Playing on the wilderness side of the board meant I was more inclined to risk the dungeon as the odds of finding something to kill were higher when attacking a higher rank meant only a –1 penalty not a –2. Thus I was willing to risk going when I didn’t have enough attack to beat any monsters but with a lucky card draw I just might.
The Trophy Keyword made it very easy to keep track of what bonuses cards were giving me as I could often overlook a monster in my hand under the old system. However the increased XP gain meant I concentrated more on heroes than on items, spells or villagers in the village. This may have been because I was rushed for time and the fewer cards I had to read the better but it could be something more.
Curses? The new curses I picked up all had an option to remove them from your hand without skipping a turn to do so. There was always a price involved in this and no benefit like you might get if you used a cleric but it did make me feel like I had more control over how my party would deal with their problems.
Overall, this set is a series of small changes that seem to make a vast difference and aside from a few minor quibbles, this is inarguably the best thing to happen to the Thunderstone line since Dragonspire and one of the best and clearest products, from a rules, card graphic design and wording point of view on the market today!
Well done guys!