Overview: Haven’t gotten to play Thunderstone yet and feeling behind with all the expansions? Just released last week, Thunderstone Dragonspire is a new stand-alone expansion, which means you can play it by itself or add it to the existing sets. It’s a monster-slaying deck-building game that’s a lot of fun.
Players: 1 to 5 players
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 45 minutes (though plan on longer for new players or the extended variants)
Rating: Excellent stand-alone expansion to the Thunderstone universe.
Who Will Like It? If you already like Thunderstone, this is a great addition that introduces some new features and is also better organized. If you haven’t tried it yet, Dragonspire is a great way to jump into the game, taking advantage of the improvements without having to buy the base set and expansions first. If you like the deck-building genre but want a little more depth of play and a lot more monsters, Thunderstone is a great world to explore.
As with previous installments of Thunderstone, this game is all about slaying monsters. You go to the village to hire heroes and mercenaries or buy weapons and spells; then you head to the dungeon to battle the various nasty creatures that come from the depths. The theme is one of the things that really sets Thunderstone apart from the other deck-building games (excellent though they are): if you like swords and sorcery, this game will be right up your alley.
What I appreciate about the Thunderstone games is that the benefits of the card make sense according to what they are — if you buy a torch, it provides light. Weapons increase your attack power, and Mercenaries provide various abilities either in the Village or the Dungeon. Sure, there’s some level of abstraction, but it’s not as abstract as Dominion.
Thunderstone Dragonspire comes with a lot of cards, as usual, but there are a few new additions as well. There’s a board (shown above) for the dungeon, which makes it easy to see the light penalty for each rank of the dungeon and has spots for the Dungeon deck, the three ranks and the Rank 0 for monsters with Breach effects. The board (as with Ascension) isn’t entirely necessary — once you’re familiar with the game you can omit the board and save a little bit of table space—but it can be handy. I used it while teaching a new player and it made it easy to point out the light penalty for each rank.
The other big improvement is the Experience Point (XP) tokens. In the previous version there were XP cards, which were the same size (and had the same backs) as the rest of the cards—that made it easy to accidentally include the XP cards in your deck rather than keeping them aside. Dragonspire uses little plastic tokens (seen above) in the shape of the Thunderstone. They make it a lot easier to tell how much XP you have at a glance and are just nicer to deal with than the XP cards.
Included in this expansion are the Basic cards (Militia, Torch, Iron Rations, Dagger and Disease) with new artwork (seen a the very top of this post); 8 Monster groups; 11 Hero groups; 18 Village groups; 7 Settings cards; 2 Guardians; 2 new Thunderstone cards. There are also Randomizer cards for both this set and all the previous Thunderstone expansions — this time, the backs are different, which means you can easily tell the Randomizers from the decks. That was a nice touch, including all the previous Randomizers, which means you can ditch the old ones and replace them all with these. Finally there are a handful of other cards like Turn Order references cards, Special Dungeon Features and the divider cards for this expansion.
All of it comes in a larger box with a plastic tray, sufficient for holding all the previous expansions (and some foam sponge placeholders in case you don’t have them). Of course, once the upcoming Thornwood Siege expansion shows up, I’m going to need another box.
As I mentioned in my previous review, the artwork on the cards is excellent and helps to set the theme, but the card layout itself is non-intuitive and the numbers are tiny. It can be hard to tell at a glance (especially with a lot of people crowded around the table) how strong a monster is or how many XP or victory points it’s worth. Now that I’m used to the game I’ve learned to read the cards quickly, but if you’re used to Dominion then you’ll find these cards a bit of a jumble. Of course, by now it’s too late for AEG to change the layout or formatting of the cards without reprinting the entire run, so it’s unlikely that will change in future expansions.
If you’re interested, you can download the rulebook to read all of the rules. I described the basic gameplay in my review of the first set so I’ll just give a very basic overview here and talk more about what’s new in this expansion.
The game itself is a deck-builder: each player starts with the same basic cards (a few weak Militia with Daggers, Iron Rations and Torches). On each turn you draw six cards. You can go to the Village to purchase weapons, items, spells, villagers and heroes. Or you can go to the Dungeon to attack one of the three monsters — gaining you victory points and experience points, which can then be spent in the Village to level up heroes. The game ends when the Thunderstone (shuffled into the bottom ten cards of the Dungeon Deck) reaches Rank I of the dungeon, and the player with the most victory points in their deck wins.
The Settings cards are new in Dragonspire and haven’t been in a previous expansion. They may come up in the Dungeon Features Randomizer cards: each one names a location and has a global effect throughout the game. For example, the Dreadwatch Setting means that after every battle the active player gets a Disease. The Feayn Swamp cancels out all light penalties, but forces a player to destroy a card at the end of their turn if they enter the dungeon.
Of the 11 new Heroes, there are two specifically that mix things up just a little more. Most of the Heroes have three levels, and you spend XP in the Village to level up a Hero. Generally it increases their attack value and grants additional powers; also, the level 3 Hero is usually worth some victory points. The Phalanx Hero only has two levels, Footman and Officer, but there are more of them overall. The Phalanx’s power is that each additional Phalanx in your hand increases the attack and strength of the others, which means having several of them show up at once can be a very powerful combo. Just three Footmen have a combined attack of 12, not even counting weapons. The Veteran Hero has four levels, with both level 3 and level 4 worth victory points. The Veteran’s attack power increases if you destroy another Hero card — which puts it out of the game, not just in your discard pile. The level 4 Veteran Warmonger has an Attack +6, with an additional whopping 10 points if all of the Heroes in your hand are Level 3 or higher.
Wrath of the Elements introduced several gameplay variants including a solitaire mode and a couple changes to make the game even more challenging. Dragonspire adds two more: “Alone in the Dark” takes the solitaire mode and reduces the number of cards available (though destroyed cards are returned to the Village); “United We Stand” is a cooperative variant which pits you as a team against the monsters trying to escape the dungeon. I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds interesting — when players do not go to the Dungeon, the monsters can become angry and then advance out of the dungeon. If a monster comes out, it goes into a village stack which counts against the players. The goal is to have the total victory points of defeated monsters exceed the victory points in the village stack. (There are some other conditions as well allowing you to share victory points and trade cards with each other.)
The nice thing about Thunderstone Dragonspire is that you can experience a lot of the new things that have been added to Thunderstone in the past couple of expansions, all in one standalone set. There are Guardians, Traps, Treasures and Special Diseases — none of which were in the basic set. Plus you get the better divider cards and XP tokens, the differently-colored Randomizer cards and pretty much the same number of Monsters, Heroes and Villagers as the base set, all for only $5 more (retail). I like Thunderstone enough that it’s fun having the whole gamut, but if you’re just getting started and aren’t sure about investing that much at once, Dragonspire will let you sample the Thunderstone universe at a reasonable cost.
The more I play deck-building games, the more I’ve really enjoyed Thunderstone especially. Because of the theme and complexity it’s not one I’ll generally break out for new gamers (or non-gamers), but for my more experienced friends it’s a real blast. I think AEG has done an excellent job with the whole series, but Dragonspire makes it easy to get all the benefits of the expansions in one box.
Wired: XP tokens replace cards; stand-alone set with lots of goodies.
Tired: It’s too late to change the poor layout, though you’ll get used to it after a few plays.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.