The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Thunderstone followup

Played a few more games last night, and I think this has fallen into my “I don’t need to buy it” list. It just felt mildly irritating, and if I’m like that after only four plays, then I can hold off a while. That being said, some of the new cards we saw (Banish, Flaming Sword,Magic aura) did amuse me. But our first game was one of those that should have just been called after 15 minutes, and the setup/teardown time seems excessive. I mused that TS hit the “Anti-sweet spot” in length, in that it wants to be a touch shorter OR a touch longer. Perhaps I was just annoyed it wasn’t campaign manager….


Written by taogaming

February 2, 2010 at 8:46 pm

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  1. Played a bunch more this weekend. New thoughts:

    1) Set up/Tear Down is REALLY GETTING OLD. Hard to go back to back with Dominion.

    2) I continue to be frustrated with how effective the high VP monsters are. Played 3 3-player games and came in 1, 1, and 2, mainly by never fighting weak monsters and building decks for big combos.

    3) For all the cards, the games don’t feel that different anymore. Let’s face it, most of the cards don’t interact in complex ways, so you don’t have that much strategy. When the board is laid down, I look at amount of light, combos of strength/weapon, and for Fireball (the most effective card in the game). Even Clerics and Disease doesn’t really matter very much.

    4) The Thunderstone 3 VPs is just a purely random gift. Never swung the outcome, but just silly design.

    5) The higher level heroes seem to easy to buy. I wish you could only get the top one with XPs…it keeps bothering me that I end with 3-6 XP and nothing to do with it.

    All that being said, I had fun and have now played 10 times without getting sick of it. Greyson (7 yo) loved it. More shockingly, he played well, finishing, 1st, 2nd, last, while playing with confidence and pretty quickly. That alone made the game score well with me.

    Right now I’m waiting on the expansion. It’s an 8, and could go to a 9 with a good expansion, and a 6 with a poor one. Dominion, by comparison, it pretty much set at an 8 for me.


    February 2, 2010 at 9:26 pm

  2. It would be nice if you could play online where setup/takedown wasnt an issue. Wow, I love Dominion on BSW so much.

    High VP monsters: Its like playing Dominion where half the provinces are removed, and then you shuffle the estates, duchies and provinces into one stack. The top 3 cards are available, with the second at +1 cost and the third at +2. You can choose to spend your turn moving one to the bottom instead of your buy.

    The Thunderstone: In that stack of point cards I just mentioned, one of them at random near the bottom is worth +3 and ends the game.

    The heroes: Hero leveling seems to work well in 2 player, since its hard to buy off the level 1 heroes. But with more players, what happens is that some peole buy the level 1 heroes, trying to level them, and others just buy the level 2 and 3 of that version.

    I feel that overall it has things which are superior to Dominion, like theme, and skipping your turn to trash a card, and more options of what to buy during your turn (but maybe not more viable options?). And then on the other hand it has some flaws, like how scoring works. Overall its pretty good, and is at lesat interesting for a while. Better than most games but not ‘great’ like Dominion.

    The main problem I have with it is that its mechanics/strategy do not match well with the theme of Dungeon crawling. In a dungeon crawl you start out by going to the dungeon to improve your character, gain experience, and increase your power. In Thunderstone you sit around in the town to improve your strength. Going to the dungeon scores points but weakens you, in general. (There are exceptions, but this is true for the average monster).

    I think that instead of sitting around in the town having Iron Rations and Torch be worth $2, you should have to grind small monsters in the dungeon to build yourself up initially. Then later in the game you should do something else to score points.

    I think that Thunderstone should have discarded the Dominion mecahnic of ‘point cards go in your deck and weaken it’, and instead came up with a new mechanic that fit with the theme. It should have replaced or mostly replaced ‘buying’ with ‘grinding small monsters’ as the way to build your deck.


    February 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

  3. I’ve played a bunch of solo 2-p games since buying the set. Some issues:

    a. A few of the village cards are an active hindrance to your deck, to the point that if you started with them you’d be looking to get rid of them. The other cards are also not well-balanced. Fireball, trainer, lightstone gem, and pawnbroker are all tier 1: very easy to use and very powerful. Feast and banish may be as good but can require a little more finesse, and I think all the other cards are marginal at best, perhaps not an improvement over discarding.

    b. The adventurer types for sure are not well-balanced. Both types of wizards are always very good, no matter what monster/village setup you get, and both types of archers are completely terrible.

    c. There is very little incentive to go out and kill a weak (1vp or 2vp) monster, since it will clutter your deck. That means that if all the monsters on the board are low-value, then no player has incentive to go monster-hunting.

    d. Buying high-level characters is a lame mechanic. However, without that, you can get a scenario where you have enough gold to buy anything on the table but have nothing worth buying, which is equally unsatisfying.

    e. Having the same # of cards available for 2 players as for 5 seems foolish.

    Given that they’re already on v1.4 of the rules, it seems like they released this one without anywhere near proper testing, to be first to market with a Dominion clone.

    I still like it though.

    Fred Bush

    February 5, 2010 at 1:39 am

    • Feast seems pretty good to me. It’s worth 3 gold, it’s a food so fighters can eat it, and it’s +1/hero. Remember that Militia are hero cards, so they get +1, too.

      Yes, the adventurers are poorly balanced. The fighters are clearly superior to the others. It’s probably best just to buy fighters and weapons and not worry about anything else. Light is easily overcome by pure power, and fighters are power. If there are flaming swords out there, that covers magic and light, too. Thieves are mediocre—forcing players to discard a card doesn’t happen until well into the game, and then most hands have monsters anyway. Or something which doesn’t fit. Maybe the discards should be random instead of selected.

      That the board can get clogged with worthless monsters is a major flaw. In particular, the humanoids cause this. We had a game with the board’s containing two zero-VP monsters and the Thunderstone. Deadlock. My partial solution so far is that the humanoids don’t get used.

      Yeah, one buy sucks sometimes; it’s not too hard to get up to 12 or 13 gold and have little worth buying. And it seems totally wrong that you can buy the 3rd-level characters. Or even the 2nds. But if you can’t buy them, one player can snag all the first levels and have a private stack, which also seems wrong.

      Yeah—why don’t the number of cards in each deck vary by the number of players? It hasn’t been a big issue so far, but it seems illogical.

      So it looks as if there is a simple best strategy, that the game doesn’t have deep tactics, and games aren’t really all that different from each other. But it’s fun. I don’t know why. Maybe the expansions will save it, but I bet they’ll just make it more complicated without making the game interesting. Despite all the flaws, it’ll get played.


      February 5, 2010 at 11:28 am

      • “I still like it though.”
        “Despite all the flaws, it’ll get played.”

        I agree with these. Thunderstone succeeds at the primary goal of the game, which is to provide a fun experience.

        That there are certain mechanics where I dont like how it works (like not wanting to kill small monsters, big monsters being too important, etc), put it into the category of ‘I like it and want to fix it’, which for me is the second highest category (below the rare top level of games that are both extremely fun and addictive AND perfected).

        I’d rather play Thunderstone or Battlestar Galactica because they are fun (even though they have flaws), than a themeless euro that doesnt inspire me, even if its mechanics are better.

        The truly great games will have both and get the most play.


        February 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      • Jeff: the wizards are also quite good. The elves have light, and their L2/L3 special abilities are quite good at manipulating the monster deck, and the Seleurans basically end up with unlimited attack power due to their multipliers and bonuses, as well as stealing hero cards from opponents. Stealing a L2 or L3 hero from an opponent and then running it into a monster that will destroy it is almost game-breaking. Plus there are a lot of monsters that can only be hit using magical attack.

        On the whole, I think wizards and fighters are stronger than all other classes. They shine in different deck builds.

        I think the value of the feasts depends on what you plan to do with your militia. If you plan to get rid of the militia very rapidly, the feast is a good card, but there are probably better choices available. If you plan to keep the militia in your deck, then it is quite good, and if in addition there are fighters available, then it’s the best non-adventurer card out there.

        The last few games I’ve tried pitting two strategies against one another: the first adding fighters, weapons, and feasts to create a big deck, and the second, using some combination of trainer/pawnbroker/banish to winnow the deck of all starting cards. So far those tend to be neck and neck, which raises my estimation of the game.

        I’ve also implemented some of the same fixes that you did: banned the humanoids and made the thunderstone worth 0.

        Fred Bush

        February 6, 2010 at 11:21 am

  4. OK, the rules change that absolutely is needed is that the game ends if the monster in front of the Thunderstone is defeated, regardless of whether that monster is in 1st or 2nd position. The winner of that battle gets the Thunderstone. Simple and obvious, and I have no idea why the original rules didn’t include it.


    February 5, 2010 at 6:32 pm

  5. The wizards are OK, better than most, but they are not as good as the big fighters, because they can’t use many weapons. In some games, they are better, particularly if there’s no other source of magic or there are no good weapons.

    The high-level Seleurans are very nice, true, but there are very few items with magic (pre-expansion) so that ability is pretty limited. So you need to have multiple of them in a hand (or a flaming sword and a way to use it) to get a lot out of the doubling ability. It will happen, particularly if flaming swords are in play, but not that often. In contrast, the second-level Outlands fighter with a hatchet is 8 attack, and if you draw monsters, he’s even better. That, by itself, can beat many monsters. With a polearm, he is an 11; with a flaming sword, an 8 with a light. If oozes are in play, a red ooze gives him enough to kill all but the biggest monsters with just a weapon. A 2nd- and a 3rd-level Outlands and one weapon can kill nearly anything (attack 15). A 2nd- and a 3rd-level Seleuran with a weapon (a dagger, since that’s all they can use without help) is 9.

    All in all, I don’t dispute that the Seleurans are pretty good. The elves are OK because of the light, but they can’t really kill the big boys by themselves, and the big fighters can.


    February 6, 2010 at 11:49 am

    • Whoops, gross spelling error on my part, apparently it’s Selurin.

      It’s true that the L2 needs to meet up with another Selurin to be a powerhouse. Or a fireball. The L3 with its hero-stealing ability usually will have no problem.

      The x2 magical bonus for L2 and L3 is cumulative, so a L2 and L3 Selurin together would have (2+2) *2 *2 magical attack, or 16.

      Fred Bush

      February 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    • Jeff, Selurin’s work with ANY item, not just magic items. They arent limited at all. You get bonuses from stuff like torches.


      February 7, 2010 at 1:01 am

      • Wow, that’s a change. The card says “Magic Attack Spells and Items,” which normally is read (and seems logical to be) Magic Attack Spells and Magic Attack Items.” The 1.4 rules, however, state clearly that any item works. Items, however, are only food and light sources, not weapons. So Flaming Swords don’t get the bonus. Fireballs still do. Note that they lose that ability once they level up, but a second level can double the first level’s pluses. Nice.

        Funny—the picture in the rules of the Flaming Sword says “Item-Edged.” It was changed to “Weapon-Edged” for the cards. I wonder what was intended.

        Yeah, the spelling is Selurin; I copied…oops. You’re right, it’s 16. OK, I’ll buy it. Selurin Wizards are as good as big fighters. Elf Wizards are not.


        February 7, 2010 at 10:16 am

    • Yes, I also find the Outland Warriors to be very powerful. (Selurins are the only more powerful hero imo. Both types cost 8, so they are justifying the cost).

      Elven Wizards are clearly weaker in general than a big fighter, but theyre also cheaper.

      The archer types seem weakest to me.


      February 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm

      • Yeah, I never get archers unless they are my only choice. Thieves are OK, better than Elf Wizards, I think. The money is nice. Clerics are mostly pointless, though the Chalice Defenders are decent. The Thyrian fighters are also very good—big attack, and they clean the food out of your deck when you want more offense and less money, though food is very nice if polearms are in play.

        The cost difference is really not signficant as a balancing factor; all it does is limit access to the better characters until someone gets lucky or a few rounds into the game when folks can get 8 gold. If one of the 8-cost characters is out there, however, it is very reasonable to get Town Guards early and trash them to get the studs. The good characters are way better than the crappy ones.


        February 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

  6. […] leave a comment » Two more games of Campaign Manager, including one where McCain needed to sweep the last three states (since Obama was at 268 Electoral votes), and managed to win. I’m still pondering CM, always a good sign. By contrast, Thunderstone is weakening. I like  simply ending the game when the stone hits space 1 (not 3VPs), and not playing Humanoids, and I’m sure I’m not playing terribly well, but I have no real interest in playing better, and all the things that bug me loom larger. […]

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