Thornwood Siege

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and it’s time to look at another expansion to that deck-building classic Thunderstone – we’re heading to the Thornwood Forest in search of the Stone of Blight!

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

Thornwood Siege was released in 2011, and is the fourth expansion to the game, coming out after the big-box expansion Dragonspire. While there is a level of thematic expansion here, as we get some hero types who have more of a woodlands-theme to them, in the main this is very much a “more of the same” type of expansion for the game, with a lot of the sort of generic items and spells that would be playable in any game of Thunderstone.

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

The heroes include the Krell that features one of the rare – if not the only – hero type that can be levelled up four times rather than the usual three. The others, as I say, are fairly standard fare for the game at this point. It’s a similar story with the village items, though with some twists such as the Guiding Light magical item that gives all players a universal +1 light for the rest of the round if you defeat a monster while it is in play. However, while this feels like a very co-op orientated idea, there is also the Stalking Spell spell that forces other players to enter the dungeon on their turn, which can be used in a very player-vs-player way.

It’s also worth mentioning the Time Bend spell, which lets you keep an unused card from your hand to add it to your next hand. This tempo-shift comes into play more strongly with the new monster mechanics (more shortly), but it’s something that’s always useful to have in deck-building games!

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

The new mechanics, however, are featured on the new monster cards we get in the expansion: Raid and Stalk.

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

Raid is a new mechanic that represents the raiders coming out of Thornwood Forest to, well, raid the village. The mechanic forces you to destroy cards from the village stacks, meaning that over time there will be fewer items to choose from. They tend to destroy the most expensive cards as well, adding some pressure if you want to save your gold to get the good stuff! There are also Siege cards that function in a similar manner if they breach the dungeon hall, for instance, further adding pressure to the game.

Stalk is a keyword that will take effect on your next turn, adding to the tempo-shift mechanics mentioned earlier on the Time Bend spell card. When you reveal a monster with the Stalk mechanic, you take a token that matches the card’s effect, and then proceed with your turn as normal. Then, on your next turn, you suffer the effects of that token (or tokens) at the beginning of your turn. It’s an interesting sort of mechanic that plays around with the established turn structure, at any rate.

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

Thornwood Siege, while offering much of the same in terms of game content, is still a fairly decent expansion to the game. Of all of the original line of Thunderstone expansions, this one is weirdly the one still most readily available (at the time of writing this blog, at least), which perhaps leads me to think it didn’t sell so well?

Thunderstone still has one expansion left for me to feature here, at any rate, so hopefully soon I’ll get round to the final battle at the Heart of Doom! Stay tuned for that!

Join the Legion!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and today I’m returning to an old favourite, Thunderstone! Having already looked at Wrath of the Elements and Dragonspire, it’s time for Doomgate Legion!

Thunderstone Doomgate Legion

This expansion was released in 2010, as the second expansion to the deck-building game (preceding Dragonspire, which actually came out the following year). Much like the earlier expansion, it very much offers more of the same in terms of heroes and village cards, as well as enemies to fight in the dungeon. However, there are a couple of things that are worth pointing out, so let’s take a look!

Thunderstone Doomgate Legion

First of all, we have the Swarm enemy. This is a deck of cards that is placed off to the side, with another deck of placeholder cards that is shuffled into the dungeon deck when the game begins. The deck off to the side is made up of an increasingly-difficult enemy type, which is revealed whenever a placeholder card is turned over from the dungeon deck. It’s the same as the Horde enemy from Wrath of the Elements, though I really like this idea, as it can often be hit and miss whether you can actually defeat an enemy in the dungeon. Now, there’s usually more of a chance you could actually prevail! Great mechanic, I have to say, so it’s nice to see it back!

Thunderstone Doomgate Legion

The disease deck also gets something of an overhaul here, with some “special” diseases mixed into ten of the more regular diseases we know and hate from Thunderstone. The remaining fifteen comprise three copies of five new diseases, which is an interesting way to make the game more difficult for the more seasoned dungeon-delver.

Accordingly, there are also more cards in the enemy deck that interact with diseases, notably the Evil Druids:

Thunderstone Doomgate Legion

Thunderstone comes across as something of a generic fantasy deck-building game, but while you can enjoy the heck out of it in that way, there is also a story attached to the game. In the first expansion, you fight your way through Dreadwatch Keep as you try to find the Stone of Agony. Here, you’re battling against the Doomgate Legion as you search for the Stone of Avarice, and the enemies are the secretive members of this cult-like order.

In addition to enemies, we also have Treasure cards that later turned up in Dragonspire, though I didn’t really delve into what they do in that blog. Mainly because it’s fairly straightforward – the cards get shuffled into the dungeon deck as normal and, when revealed, you immediately gain that item and place it face up in your play area. It doesn’t get shuffled into your deck, however, and you can use it later for a specific benefit, such as bolstering your attack. Pretty decent, though the card is destroyed to use it, and for one-time effects, they aren’t exactly world-beating. But still, the variety is always good! We also have Guardians, who were first seen in Wrath of the Elements.

Overall, it’s a nice little expansion. I really like the theme from this one, which feels more apparent to me than previous expansions. As with all my Thunderstone blogs, this is more of a retrospective than a recommendation to buy the game, as it’s been out of print for a number of years already, but Doomgate Legion is actually still available at the time of writing for less than £30 on amazon! It’s definitely worth snapping up if you haven’t got the game already!

Here be dragons!

Hey everybody!
Welcome to game day here at spalanz.com, where Tuesdays are brightened by the exploration of games from across my collection! Today is the turn of what I think is the most expensive game I have ever bought, simply because I came to this on the aftermarket: it’s time to take a look at Thunderstone: Dragonspire!

Thunderstone Dragonspire

This is an expansion to the Thunderstone line from AEG, released back in 2011, but like many deck-building games, it functions as a second core set rather than simply an expansion. Despite the name Dragonspire, there aren’t all that many dragon cards in the game, which is a little odd – however, the second Promo Pack released for the game line features ‘dragon – humanoid’ monsters for the dungeon deck. Combined, these two games cost me nearly £200 to pick up back in 2012, which seems a bit ridiculous now, but being a completist I couldn’t really not have them in my collection!

Thunderstone Dragonspire

But were they worth it? There certainly are some interesting cards in this set, but I’m not so sure. Much like a lot of deck-building games of its type, it features just more of the same style cards. Unlike, for instance, Marvel Legendary, there isn’t really much of an over-arching theme for the set. The promo pack has some interesting cards, such as those shown above, but overall, I find some of the smaller expansions like Wrath of the Elements more enjoyable.

Thunderstone Dragonspire

I’m going to guess this is precisely because this is a second core set, and so feels like it needs to provide the general experience rather than going off on its own. Of course, there are new things here – not just the plastic XP tokens that replace the XP cards from the base game, but also certain “dungeon feature” cards such as the traps and the treasures that make the game a little more interesting when you delve into the dungeon:

Thunderstone Dragonspire

I must admit, I’m kinda surprised at how dismissive I’m being of this expansion! Of course, it’s not to write it off as no good, or not worth the time or money. But it’s a curious beast, and perhaps not worth the £185 it’s currently available for through amazon

How about you?

Why I like deck-building games so much

It’s time for something a little different for game day here at spalanz.com today! While I normally showcase something awesome from my game collection, today I thought I’d just talk more about what seems to be the largest-represented subtheme of games that I have, the deck-building game, and why I like them so much.

Dominion, of course, is the grandfather of the deck-builders, and has a whole slew of expansions. First released in 2008, it ignited the spark that brought us so many more since. However, precisely because of the developments that have taken place in board games over these past seven years, I find Dominion to be quite a dry experience today, with its generic medieval-themed cards and its basic mechanics of buying as many cards as you can to win. There’s more to it than that, of course, and I won’t deny, managing to set up those killer-combos can be a lot of fun, but I eventually sold my Dominion collection earlier in the summer, as it had become a game that merely took up too much shelf-space.

Thunderstone (2009) immediately began to shake things up. Following the basic idea of having a set of cards that you can buy from, the game included a separate action that felt so much more like an actual game, where you went into a dungeon to fight some monsters. This is where the deck-building game really takes flight for me. While Dominion’s premise was to build a deck as the end result of your game, Thunderstone combined deck-building with an actual game to simple yet highly effective ends. Fans of Dominion will recognise the village as the usual card pool, but while in the older game, you bought cards which would allow you to buy more cards, and the goal was all about trying to refine your turn and maximise your resources, here you buy cards to actually do something with them. You hire warriors and buy equipment to outfit them better to fight the monsters.

There’s something about Thunderstone that remains highly appealing to me, and it’s a game that I continue to enjoy the more I play it. It’s the idea of deck-building for a reason that is so enjoyable for me.

Ascension (2010) is a curious blend of the two, I find. The biggest departure from both is that the “village” idea of a collection of cards you always get to choose from has now been replaced by a centre row of just six cards. This combines the idea of buying cards to refine your deck, as well as elements of the dungeon from Thunderstone, so that heroes and monsters can both emerge from the main deck. I think Ascension is my favourite type of deck-building game, and it’s also one of my favourites for the theme, also. It’s a fairly generic fantasy-style world, but the theme of each faction you can recruit really comes through very strongly. The best thing about this, however, is the variety that comes from having an ever-changing line-up of six cards. No two games will necessarily be the same, while Thunderstone has the potential if you use the same set-up (though the monsters will change as you go through, of course). Of the three games mentioned so far, Ascension wins hands-down for its variety!

I play most of my Ascension through the app, which is actually pretty awesome as well, and definitely worth downloading.

Rune Age (2011) is a curious mix from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a little bit like a pared-down Thunderstone, with just a few cards on offer to buy rather than the whole village. It also uses an event deck, which can be both beneficial and harmful. The greatest departure here, of course, is that you start out in a specific faction, and build up your deck from there. The object of the game varies with each event deck in play, and the result is almost like a third way for deck-building games. I love this game for so many reasons, chiefly among them of course is the setting of Terrinoth. However, while there is so much to enjoy right out of the box, it’s unfortunately starting to get a little stale for me now, as so much of any deck-builder is dependent on the different ways you can build your deck. For Rune Age, that depends on the faction you play, and also the event deck you use, and with only six of each to choose from, it has become clear that more variety is needed! But when it’s been a while between plays, it’s always a real pleasure to come back to this one.

DC Deck Building Game (2012) is almost a straight copy of Ascension, featuring a main deck and centre line-up of six cards, where you recruit heroes and fight villains. However, there’s an added element that makes it a little more exciting, but the theme is perhaps the greatest draw here. You get to play as classic DC superheroes, and fight the arch-nemeses such as the Joker and Lex Luthor. The design isn’t particularly ground-breaking, but the execution is really great, leading to a fairly straightforward, yet super-fun game. While the base game may be a pared-down Ascension with a superhero theme, subsequent expansions have introduced several different keywords that alter play a lot, while the Crisis expansions have really served to deliver a really interesting game experience. Importantly, Cryptozoic have used the game engine for several other deck-building games, that are all compatible with each other – Street Fighter, Naruto Shippuden, and Lord of the Rings to date!

Marvel Legendary (2012) continues the superhero theme, and has been one of the break-out games from the deck-building genre of recent years. Of course, the runaway success of Marvel movies no doubt has a part to play here, but the game is actually really, really great, more than justifying its success. It plays very much like two games of Ascension happening at the same time – or more accurately, a game of Ascension where the heroes and the villains have been separated out, so you have two decks that are spewing cards each turn. However, we’re very much back to deck-building with a purpose here, as the villains are being led by a Mastermind, who is trying to get his scheme to go off. The object of the game is always roughly the same – defeat the villains and the mastermind – but the addition of schemes means they always play a little differently. Subsequent expansions have succeeded in both appeasing the fanboy need for more superheroes and also enriching the game experience.

Marvel Legendary is definitely the deck-building genre grown up.

So what is it about these games? Why do I have so many, and why do I keep coming back to them?

Well, first of all, I love variety. I could have the same game in several different themes, and love them all equally. I love card games such as the LCGs from Fantasy Flight and the recently-discovered Magic, and deck-building is obviously a highly intrinsic part of such games. I’ve said it before that, for me, the best part of Android: Netrunner is the deck-building, as you try to put together the perfect deck that should, in theory, run like clockwork. Getting to make a game out of building a deck just sounds so cool, and the fact that it actually is cool is just the icing on the cake, really. In a game like Ascension or DC, you get to choose the cards you want to buy not because they’ll be worth a lot in the end (though that is certainly a strategy you could go with), but because they’ll allow you to do much more. It’s always fun to see people around the table start with the same basic cards, but end up building entirely different decks as they attempt to go about their strategies.

I said at the beginning that I’m not the biggest fan of Dominion any more, but I’m certainly more than grateful to it for having provided the basis for so many of my favourite games!

Feel the Wrath!

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another game day here at spalanz.com! Today it’s the turn of the first expansion for Thunderstone, which came under the spotlight of awesome back in February: today, it’s time for Wrath of the Elements!

Wrath of the Elements

At the most basic level, every Thunderstone expansion is along the lines “more of the same”, as we see more monsters for the dungeon, more items, weapons and spells for the village, and more heroes to level up. However, there are a number of synergies and new areas of focus that are explored…

Wrath of the Elements

A lot of the traits from the core set are explored further here, so we get monsters who can only be affected by Magic, etc – luckily, we have items and heroes who have some real buffs to this.

Wrath of the Elements

Some of the heroes are really pretty interesting, too – the Gohlen, for instance, gains +2 attack if you reveal a monster from your hand, which can be really useful in the late game when you’ve defeated a fair number of monsters. A great little sub-theme is the exploration of Strength, with monsters that can only be attacked by heroes of specific strength values, and assorted cards that give all heroes Strength buffs. With something like the solo rules, things like this add an extra level to the proceedings.

Wrath of the Elements

There is a lot of new here, however, starting with the dungeon deck – or, should I say, Dreadwatch Keep! Two interesting ideas come here: traps and guardians. Both are shuffled into the deck – the guardian into its own stack that will appear in the mid-third of the game, in something of an effort to mitigate the fact that he is a very powerful enemy. The guardian can move into its own rank – rank 0 – which triggers a special breach effect that targets the village! That breach effect continues for as long as the guardian is in rank 0. It’s a nice little addition that is fairly simple yet adds another layer to your strategy. Wonderful stuff!

Traps act as soon as they are revealed from the dungeon deck, acting almost as event cards that trigger an effect and are then destroyed. Another interesting addition to the game!

Wrath of the Elements

There is also a completely new kind of enemy called the Horde. A deck of “placeholder” cards is shuffled into the dungeon deck, while a separate deck is placed off to the side: each time one of these placeholder cards is fought, you actually fight the top card of this Horde deck, which increases in strength the more you fight. It’s another interesting idea, though it can make the game somewhat easier, as in the early game you can be reasonably assured you’ll have an easier enemy to defeat, rather than revealing something like a Knightmare in the first position.

Wrath of the Elements

It’s a really good expansion for giving you more options to play with. There are interesting hero options, new dungeon options along with more interesting monsters, but the manual has what is possibly the most exciting option, with half a dozen or so pages of campaign variants!

All in all, it’s pretty great, though in terms of more modern games (a ridiculous idea, given this came out in 2010, but you know what I mean), it’s definitely in the “more of the same” category. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it doesn’t feel like a really innovative experience. There are a couple of tweaks, but the basic concept remains the same – if you’re expecting something more, then you’re better off with one of the later expansions. However, if you’re just looking for more options, then it’s pretty much an insta-buy.