The entrance to the cave opened two years ago. Once the storm shook the ground beneath feet of people and suddenly there was a black hole near their village. Animals refuse to go near it and anyone who went inside has neverer returned. Initially there was just a cave and people ignored it. But as time went on, passer-by began to hear scary sounds coming from there.
That was the moment, when villagers sent a message to the surrounding cities for help. At first it seemed nobody would come, but eventually groups of heroes started dropping by and local inn came alive with loud barbarian warriors roars. They came all: mages, clerics and rangers. But they came not to help villagers, their main goal is the Thunderstone. If anyone finds it, he should get supernatural powers. And that’s enough reason to risk their own lives.
You, our readers, will go with us into this dark cave today. That is where we will introduce a brand new card game based on the deckbuilding principle – Thunderstone: Advance. Its author is Mike Elliott and the game was released in 2012 in production of Alderac Entertainment Group, the AEG. But still, this game is not really a brand new one, but only to a certain extent.
That means, that Thunderstone as such exists already for three years and came out as one of the first followers of Dominion phenomenon. It lived to see many expansion and gaining fans, who often complained about the shortcomings in the rules. And so the AEG decided to create a new edition, which contains debugging and they named it Thunderstone: Advance. But none of the original players need not worry, almost no cards are identical and in fact it can serve as an extension to the owners of older version.
We are all new to this Thunderstone world. We enter it for the first time with this new edition. So we will not do a lot of comparison between the old game and this new. And because we are newcomers, we have been accompanied by enthusiasm, when unpacking a large box with a demon on the cover. Packaging itself has quite huge dimensions, but you can be sure, that it corresponds to the content. Indeed, when the first peeks inside, you will be overwhelmed by 566 cards plus filer (foamy stuff), which we know already from the vampire card game Nightfall (review).
In addition to cards in the box, there is also a massive double-sided game board and a pile of plastic chips, which represent fragments of the title thunderstone and serve to indicate the gained experience of your heroes. When you first unpack the game, there is quite a lot of work waiting for you, to make the game wrapped up to your own image. This once you have to make effort, so future games will be prepared fast. You have to categorize each type of card and place it in a box so, that the separator is always preceded by its kind. Because there is a lot of different cards, this first division takes a lot of time.
Before the first game, you have to create basic packages for each player. They consist of inexperienced fighters to start with (Regular), torches, thunderstone fragments and two longspears, which can be equipped to your crew. The torches will become handy, when you enter the darkness full of enemies. Thus players have prepared their packages, shuffle them and could start playing. Right? No, there is still some work to do.
The game board remains empty so far and needs to be filled. The dungeon monsters and village characters will use randomizer cards representing each stack. After the layout is done, you simply replace randomizer card with a real pile of cards. The first on the line is a task to fill the dark environment, in which bloodthirsty creatures live. You must draw one race of monsters for each of three levels – 1 to 3, also using radomizer cards for quicker preparation. After you do this, you must still determine the final boss, which means he is a Thunderstone bearer. When finished, you take all three monster decks and shuffle them properly. Then count ten cards and randomly insert boss card beneath them. All the other cards will cover it and form a creature drawing stack. This provides you with guaranteed length of the game. But you still do not know exactly, when the final battle will take place.
Now you must prepare four random heroes decks, who can join your service. In the left column on the game board, there is a place for a few basic cards, that you already have in your starter deck, but you can purchase more of them to expand your hand – regulars, torches and longspears. Thunderstone shards are not available for buy and you have to satisfy with those two in the basic deck.
Fill the village in a way, that you have eight cards on the menu (beyond heroes) of items and spells. Ready curses and familiars decks on their place and make a pile of chips representing experience. This is a point, where everything is set up for the match and you can go on your adventure.
Players have always six cards during their turn, which they draw from the deck at the end of the previous round. With them, you have a choice of four actions – rest and preparation are the easier, and we will deal with them at the beginning of our description. Rest allows you to destroy (= throw away from the game) one card you hold in your hand. This ends your turn and its opponents turn. It is often a necessary action, but much better to get rid of cards, is to use the similar ability of some characters.
Preparation is much more interesting action. You can actually take any number of cards from your hand and put them on your drawing pile. This makes your efforts for this round over, but puts you in a better position for the next round, where you have several good cards ready to make your plans come true. And maybe you are lucky enough and the cards, that you add to your prepared cards, will be just the ones, you need. Preparation is important, if you are going for example after a strong opponent in the dungeon or you need to do an expensive buy.
The third event available to players is to a visit the village. There you can follow the numbers on the coin symbols on cards in your hand to buy one card and can be a proud owner of brand new items, weapons or spells. It depends only on you and your intentions, what will you get. And also on available cash. You put the bought card on your discard pile. You can also upgrade your existing fighters for experience in the village. If you have enough experience tokens to increase the level (you can also upgrade Regulars to any hero on the first level), you throw away the weaker card and take improved card on the next higher level with a corresponding character. He or she is obviously stronger and also provides you with some special abilities.
All these three stages precedes the time, when you finally go down into the cave and stand face to face with monsters, which dwell there. There are four enemies on the easier side of the board called Wilderness, and only three in a row in the more difficult. They lay in a row sorted by the Rank from 1 to 3 (4). It means how far in the dungeon are they located. If you beat any of them, you draw new one from shuffled deck and collapse the old ones closer to the entrance.
Each of the positions on which the monsters are located has specified value below the card location, meaning the level of Darkness. The cave is dark, and if your fighters could not see well, they have a considerable disadvantage compared to creatures, who live there. You must therefore have enough torches or other light providing objects, otherwise your heroes get bad penalties.
When entering the dungeon, you must first choose a monster from the offer, which you are going to attack. Now you can also equip heroes with a weapon. The character must have sufficient strength to carry the weapon, and each of the battle participants may have only one currently equipped weapon. It it at this point, when you must evaluate the first event on the monster card. If there is some text beginning with the word Battle, now is the time when such event occurs.
After resolving the Battle event, it is up to you to add up the value of physical and magical attacks, which your heroes have. You should deduct any penalty for darkness around you, if you do not have enough torches or other items providing light. You compare the resulting number with the life of the monster listed in the corner on the shield symbol. If you have at least equal attack power (combining magical and physical attack), your trip to the cave was successful.
Now you must determine, what do you get as a reward for the victory. But first, some monsters have “Aftermath” effect, which will make you suffer after the fight. Revenge attacks are not pleasant, but fortunately you can prepare for a lot of them in advance, because you know the ability before the fight – the cards in dungeon are visible to all players. Then just pure joy awaits you – you can use the spoils properties on the cards you have in hand. But you also get some experience for your heroes (shown in the lower right corner) as a reward.
Each monster has also imprinted the value in victory points, which are relevant at the end of the game. At a time when the Thunderstone bearer is beaten, the game ends immediately. All the collected points are added together for monsters defeated and also for some heroes, and player with the highest count is the winner.
Thunderstone: Advance is an exceptional deckbuilding card game. It pimped out the first version containing a little glitches all the way to the max. Even the fans can not complain, that AEG only wanted to get money from players with publishing a reissue of their game. There are some additional components found in the box: new game board and revised rules. And you will have also completely new cards, which could not be found in previous Thunderstone games. In essence it can serve as a new expansion to the owners of older games.
The authors tried a lot to keep Thunderstone: Advance backwards compatible. Players start at the beginning with completely different hand than befor – regulars and thunderstone shards are new. The majority of principles is maintained and only cards, which use the old starting cards are influenced.
The great weapon of the game is an incredible variability. With the vast number of different packages and combinations of twelve heroes and especially with ten groups of monsters (game uses only three at once), it is simply impossible to play back the same composition. Moreover, the actual Thunderstone bearer is randomly choosed from three strong characters to add another variety. And we are still talking only about the basic game.
But Thunderstone: Advance is about more, than just collecting cards in the deck with effort to combine them best. It is about the adventures. Collecting cards serves here some greater purpose, because the game has next level in form of a dungeon, where you can go and test your deck. This is the main reason for deckbuilding becoming so popular.
For many people the vision of improving their heroes through experience is also tempting. Trying to get more powerful heroes, which are not yet possible to buy, devour each player. And it is all closely tied with addictive gameplay, that provide all adventures in this board game. You look forward to every game and you will surely enjoy the hour, which takes to finish it.
Of course, as always with similar games, also here you encounter a problem with waiting for the opponent turn. In two players, this problem is quite absent and you hardly notice the pause, but if you play in more adventurers, then during the battle turns, the game can really stretch. But you do not battle all the time. You can shorten your waiting by studying your own cards and planning your next steps.
Thunderstone: Advance otherwise plays well in any number of players, leaving aside the said stretching pauses between player turns. Otherwise, everything is perfectly balanced for all numbers. Interaction is not perhaps as much often as it could be, but it does not matter because everyone is just focusing mainly on building their deck and going into the dungeon.
Processing and illustrations are great. A lot of people worked on them, but it creates a relatively compact set. Its merit lies also in a visual color-coding of cards and decorated edges, which helps the drawings to stand out. At the beginning you have to learn a lot of icons, but they will pass into the blood after a while.
Thunderstone: Advance is a great card game. You will lead your heroes into battle against monsters and spend a lot of legendary battles with monsters, that have the world never seen before. And if you win, the heroes gain experience and you can improve their skills. This card game is simply an excellent choice not only for lovers of fantasy, but also for fans of any adventure. That is all, what this is about, isnt it?
+ pimped rules
+ huge variability
+ gaining experience, training heroes
+ battle preparation - you can lay cards on drawing deck for next round
+ equipping weapons
+ good length in all player numbers
+ tense and because of victory points, no one knows the winner
+ gives second breath to deckbuilding
- less interaction
- slow packaging on end of every match