The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘thunderstone

My New Acronym — JASE

“Just Another Soulless Euro.” And the first recipient is Macao! Congratulations, I guess.

To be fair, one person’s JASE is another’s treasure. I’d be hard pressed to say why Hansa isn’t a JASE (although I think that the bumping ability, which lets you convert cubes to actions and vice versa, is a reasonable candidate). Perhaps the direct conflict. Macao’s dice provide one of those “Clever in theory” ideas that makes me wonder why “Gripping” doesn’t have an antonym.  In any case, I’m declaring Hansa “Not a JASE” by blogger fiat.

“Words on the Street” would works in theory. The actual cards annoy me, I think, but it’s a short game. It makes me think that there should be a Smarty Party style of play where you get a category and then teams get 10 seconds each until one passes.

The Thunderstone expansion improves the game. I still prefer Dominion, but a nice change of pace. It still feels like a rush job lacking polish, but not as much.


Written by taogaming

September 5, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,

Revisiting a few new titles

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.

I got in another game of Factory Manager, but now I’ve got a reasonable feel for it. It’s an odd auction, sometimes you want to bid more to affect how many tiles are for sale (since the # of tiles for sale roughly equals the number of remaining workers).  A unique idea, sort of related to New England’s “Bid what you like, but your price is your bid.” In a weird inverted way. Anyway, now that I see there’s something there, I’m willing to explore it for a few more games.

Another game of Powerboatsit’s a race game, alright.

I’ve been bringing Dungeon Lords to game night, and then not suggesting it. I vaguely think I should sell it, although I’d like to see the magic item variant first.

Written by taogaming

February 9, 2010 at 8:32 pm

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

Posted in Specific Games

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Thunderstone Initial Thoughts

Thunderstone showed up at the local game session, and I eagerly got in (after missing the first two games to play Cuba).

I like almost everything about Thunderstone, but to explain why I’m going to briefly review the mechanics. At it’s heart, very Dominion like. You draw your cards, then decide whether to go to the village (buy cards), go to the dungeon (fight monsters, which means, earn VPs) or rest (trash a card from your hand). Then you chuck you hand away and redraw. There are some actions that can only be done in the dungeon or village, which provides a bit more distinction than Dominions (base) actions. Heroes have a strength (which they need to wield weapons) and an “attack” value (which they use against monsters). Each character can only use one weapon during a dungeon crawl (So mages have low strength, but are otherwise not restricted on weapon).

Typically you can only buy one card a turn, but killing monsters earns you XP, which you can spend to “Level up” your heroes. At the beginning you can buy one of 4 (level 1) heroes, but you also start with 6 “Militia”, who provide 1 point against monsters, but can also be levelled up via XP.

There are always three monsters to fight, but the 2nd and 3rd monsters are deeper in the dungeon … you need more “Light” to get there. If you don’t have light, the monster effectively gets stronger. Monsters have various “Battle” special abilities (which affect when you fight them), and provide VPs and XPs. Most monsters just take up space in your hand (like VP cards in Dominion), but a few of the tougher monsters provide a bonus, simulating treasure. (Simulating sounds funny word, but Thunderstone is a dungeon crawl, and we all know what that means…). There are plenty of special abilities, in the two games I saw:

  • Adventurers who get a bonus with edged weapons, versus those who help spells, and one who works best with ranged weapons.
  • Monsters who disease those who fight them (similar to the Witch’s curse), as compared to monsters who kill your party, reduce strength (or even attack), destroy weapons or spells. Even a few who provide XP but no VP.
  • A “light-poor” setup, coupled with monsters who reduce your light.

I don’t think variety is a problem. Dominion’s base game has (25 choose 10) setups, whereas this one has (20 choose 11) * (8 choose 3) * (12 choose 4). And Thunderstones cards seem to vary more. Additionally, when you pick monsters (8 choose 3) you really get ~5 different monsters that range from weak to strong that have a theme (like “Undead” or “Dragons”). If you randomly get the strong monsters first, that will affect the game. The party members (12 choose 4) also include 3 different levels, with differing rarity. You can only buy the lowest available level, but can XP up whenever possible. There are only 2 (I think) of the highest level card, which are also worth some VP in addition to having more abilities (a better attack, light, or whatnot.

So, why do I like Thunderstone:

  1. Variety — Today I also played a few games of Dominion with Seaside … my gut feeling right now is that Thunderstone and Dominion with 2 expansions have similar variety.  Additionally, even if you play with the same setup having big monsters show up early will block the game and lead to a different feel. When Thunderstone gets the (inevitable) expansion, it should have lots of game space.
  2. Having a few standard action  cards means you should always have a playable setup.
  3. You often have a tough call in attacking monsters versus buying. This is similar to Dominions “When to switch to the VP track” decision, but because the monster deck is slowly changing (and monsters have a variety of drawbacks and benefits), not nearly as straightforward.
  4. I’m not immune to theme. Dungeon crawling is a classic.
  5. The option to rest (and just trash a card) does prevent some poor draw options, although it likely won’t be enough to help. Still, I think that’s elegant. I approve.

The minor drawbacks:

  1. Like Dominion, you have an opening gold split. But it’s 10 points, and you could theoretically get a 10/0 or 9/1 split. Depending on the setup, that could be really bad (an 8/2 may be worse than the 10/0, and on our second game a player with a 5/5 split would have a huge advantage).
  2. Knowing the monster decks helps. For example, the stronger “Humanoid Darknights” (or some such) often kill a “fighter” character. If you didn’t know that and bought fighters when you could have bought mages, well, that’s a downside (but may still have been the right play).
  3. There may not be a great monster to kill when you have a great “killing” turn. So you earn a VP and XP or two, and then the next player (with a similar or even weaker turn) kills Sir such-and-such for 3+ more VPs than you earned.
  4. I think the art mainly sucks. I don’t care that much, but I know others do. I am actually annoyed that the Level 1/2/3 characters of each type don’t have different art (since they do have different abilities). But I suspect if they did some people would complain that setting up and putting away the game would be more difficult.
  5. XP are marked via cards instead of little gems or some such. Easily remedied, but XP cards seem to get shuffled into decks or misplaced, so I’m surprised about this one.

But the real downside? The endgame. You shuffle the Thuderstone into the last third of the deck . The game ends when it slides to the first monster spot. So in a four player game, if it shows up at the end of your turn, you aren’t likely to get another turn. No big deal.

But the player who ends the game gets an extra 3 VP. Considering both our (4 player) games ended with winners in the mid-20s, that’s huge. A random ending may deny a player one more turn, but getting the last turn is often 4-7 VP, occasionally more. And you can choose to fight a monster and lose (suffering all the effects of having the monster kill people and break stuff, which rarely cost VP) and then discard the monster. So if the Thunderstone is one slot away from the end, you can lose to the lead monster, get 3VP, and keep anyone else from getting a turn. You might kill the monster in the 3rd slot (which is, remember, harder to kill, requiring more light) to keep the game going, but the next player could just claim the 3 points. And likely (by this stage), kill the first monster as well.

In a two player game, I can see it. In a four player game watching the thunderstone flip up at the end of your turn (or the next player’s turn) means you can put your cards away.

Keeping the other players from getting another turn is bonus enough. And playing for 45 minutes only to have the game come down to who gets the 3 bonus VPs would make me question why I’m playing. (To be fair, the thunderstone bonus hasn’t yet decided a game I’ve been in, but it’s always been a non-decision once it shows up). I’m already tempted to drop the Thunderstone to 1 VP, if not nothing. (Perhaps a 2 player game could keep the VPs). Again, being fair, I’ve seen plenty of Dominion games where one player can’t be beat by the VPs left on the board, but in none of those was it a function of the random endgame condition.

That criticism isn’t enough to make me swear off Thunderstone, and I think I’ll get a copy. But it’s annoying me now just thinking about it. (Partially that’s because there’s already several copies of Dominion locally, and only one copy of Thunderstone).

Update — Based on Tim’s comment below (“you must defeat the first monster”), I feel a bit more mellow. I suspect you’ll still want to just concede the first monster (rather than risk letting any one of the next 3 players to defeat it), but if it’s a tough monster it may be realistic choice to just buy and hope, particularly in a 2 or 3 player game.  I’m not quite willing to Emily Litella, but that  downgrades it.

Written by taogaming

January 23, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Thunderstone, Wallace and Whatnot

I noticed Chris Farrell put up his Year in review and named Thunderstone his GotY. I hadn’t tried it mainly because, well, I don’t like Dominion enough to buy it, why play a knock off. But if it has more tactical depth that’s a good reason. Opinions?

Had a good session last night … I wrote up some Homesteaders thoughts but I’ll need to reformat them. But I think the most telling moment was

Rob — “Let’s play Rise of Empires!”

Tao — “Sure, a new game is good.” (Glances at box) “Er, it’s a Wallace game? How about Power Grid!” This struck me doubly because today I Chris’s line

Remind me never, ever to play a Martin Wallace game again unless I’m really sure I know what I’m doing.

I think I liked Automobile, but I’m definitely wary after the last few titles.

I see Rick T’s marathon on the Alea Box Set. I was psyched for this … two years ago. On the other hand, more cards for San Juan and new stuff for Puerto Rico and Notre Dame! So I’ll probably get this…

My copy of the Shadow Hunters expansion arrived at the store, but it’s so small they can’t find it. Odd.

A few more games of Snow Tails and I’m now thoroughly convinced its a race game.  Not a bad purchase, but not great.

How about you?

Update — “It’s a race game” should be interpreted as “its fine. Whelming, even.”

Written by taogaming

January 12, 2010 at 7:41 pm