Thunderstone Advance – The next generation of deck building dungeon delving

The Game

A few weeks ago a giant package arrived at the Troll in the Corner offices, and it contained a giant box of deck building happiness – Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin! I’ve now sat down and played this through several times and I’m ready to give you my honest assessment of the newest version of Thunderstone. To start things off on the right foot let me just say that I like this game a lot, but others in my gaming circles were a bit more on the fence. Here’s why!

Thunderstone Advance is a deck building game somewhat similar to Dominion, or Ascension, or many of the other deck building games out there. Thunderstone Advance differs though in theme and mechanics. You’re playing the part of an entire adventuring group, bent on building up your characters and equipment to enter the dungeons and fight your way to the fabled Thunderstone. You start off with a deck of 12 cards, drawing six per turn. You purchase new cards to add to your deck which allow you to defeat monsters or buy even more cool stuff. In defeating the monsters resident in the dungeon, you gain XP with which to do cool things, and accrue points that will allow you to (hopefully) win the game.  The deck building aspect of the mechanics are similar to other games, with the difference being your choice between acquiring new cards, or using your current deck to go defeat some nasty creatures.

Are you ready to go shopping and then kick some monster butt?

In Thunderstone, at the beginning of each turn, you must make a choice. Are you going to venture into the dungeon area to take on some nasty things? Or will you head into town to do a bit of shopping, perhaps pick up a bite to eat or a new spell?  You can also choose to do neither of these and either place cards from your hand into your discard pile, or remove one card from the game permanently.

We’ll start where the game generally begins –  In the village. It’s here where you can spend some cash to purchase equipment to help you defeat monsters, buy spells to help you defeat monsters or grab a new (or upgrade a current) party member. To help you defeat monsters. We found ourselves spending our first few turns here, though fewer than the original Thunderstone game required. It can take a bit of time to get your party to the point where you’re drawing enough of the right kind of cards to hit the dungeon.

Also while in the village, you can spend some of your hard earned XP (gotten from killing monsters) to upgrade your heroes. One of the coolest things about this game, and what really helps make the overal “fantasy rpg” theme stick is that you can level up the various characters that make up your adventuring party.

Speaking of dungeons, this is where the action is. Your dungeon has a series of monsters lined up, with the monster located the closest to the “front” of the dungeon offering the lesser penalty. As you venture further into the dungeon, monsters are in the deeper, darker recesses and thus are harder to hit. As you defeat these monsters, you gain them into your deck. They can give you more money to spend, help on future encounters and ultimately provide you with the points you’ll need to win the game.

That’s the basics. Now we’ll look into what’s different between this version and the original Thunderstone.

The New

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Militia of old are gone, replaced now with the Regular. This is a slightly more powerful card, which allows you to get into the dungeon a bit faster than you could before. You’ll also find Familiars. Once per game you can randomly grab yourself a familiar, and then use some of that XP you’ve been stockpiling to give you some interesting advantages.  You’ll also find yourself with Thunderstone Shards (not pictured) which offer heroes increased strength to hold heavier weapons and give an XP bonus to boot. Lastly, there’s no more Thunderstone card. No, you won’t see this powerful rock randomly rolling through the dungeon. Now you’ve got a Thunderstone Bearer, an extra tough monster who’s carrying the thing about. You’ll want to take these things out before they leave the dungeon to get some good victory points (and end the game).

Other improvements include a box that’s organized a hell of a lot better than the old box. Now you can have your cards and sort them too! Monsters now have levels, meaning you know a bit more about what you’re getting yourself into when you attack. There’s been some subtle but necessary redesign of the cards as well, making the iconography a lot easier to interpret. You can also say goodbye to XP cards. Now you get a quart sized zip-lock bag full of XP tokens!

There is no more disease in the world of Thunderstone. These have been replaced by a Curse deck, which are slightly nastier than the good old disease cards. You also get a brand new, double sided and very, very slick looking game board! This thing just looks great – with one side for faster, quicker games and the other for harder and more in-depth sessions. There’s a great option for solitaire play too!

It was played, here’s what we thought

First, I can easily say this game is an improvement over the original Thunderstone. Everything looks just as good or better, the mechanics have been tweaked just the right way and the addition of the new elements are all positive. If you’re wondering if it’s worth getting over the old Thunderstone you already have, I’d say yes. I enjoyed the original game and I enjoy this one even more! Here though is where our opinions split a bit. We have four people playing and we found ourselves divided in our opinions. The group was made up of two hard-core gamers and two not-so-hardcore gamers.

I personally really enjoy this game. I love the village vs. dungeon aspect of this, allowing you to make a choice as to whether you’ll fight the game or improve your deck through purchasing. You can’t win the game doing only one or the other and there’s a nice balance you’ll have to find with each session to get you as close as possible to that perfectly working deck. I’ve always been one to enjoy the process of building up my deck just as much as I enjoy the end game. My friend and casual player also enjoyed this aspect.

The other two players aren’t terribly fond of this however and felt that the game started off a bit slower than other deck building games.  I can agree that it is a slower build up, even with the tweaked cards and rules, but I find this actually enjoyable.

One of our casual players found the game a bit complicated, the other got into it after a few rounds (this being only his third or fourth gaming session). Both of us hard core folk didn’t have any issues with the rules or absorbing them. We could see however that the game can get into a stalled state, where the dungeon is a bit to hard to break into at first, and as you acquire more cards from the village it can become harder to come up with the correct sequence to storm the dungeon. The prep phase, where you can discard a few cards in the hopes of getting better cards for your next turn addresses this. I’m of the opinion that this mechanic works, while others thought it was a bit of a time waster.

The long and short of it

If you enjoy deck building games, or enjoy dungeon delving and character advancing type games Thunderstone Advance will be right up your alley. I’d recommend it to anyone at any level of gaming, provided you and your group can put in a play session or two to get a hang of the rules. If you liked the original Thunderstone, you’ll certainly like this, probably even more! It’s a good game for just about any level of gaming from casual on up. Just keep in mind that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  Game play time for us was 1 to 1.5 hours with four players.

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