Saturday, 16 April 2011

Thunderstone - Or "Where's My Hero's Bloody Sword when I need it?!!"

So Thursday night Ruarok and I headed up to Alan's house - a couple of games of Nightfall were first up. It was Ruarok's first time playing the game and he seemed to pick up the mechanics pretty well and after my epic play of last week, normal service was resumed this week, especially in the last game where I ended up with a massive 19 wounds compared to the 4 received by Alan's son, Joseph, which is the lowest total I've seen in the 6 games I have played so far, so well done to him (Alan won the first game but we'll not dwell on that....)

The main event of the evening though was another new (to me anyway) deckbuilding card game - Thunderstone, again by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEC).

The premise behind this game is that each player is trying to build up a party of adventurers, complete with various bits of kit which will help them defeat the denizens of the Grimhold Dungeon. Unlike Nightfall though, there is no player v player action, this is a game where it is pretty much the player against the game.

No board is involved, just the cards and these are made of good quality card stock and seem fairly durable although I would always look to sleeve them.

The game sets up by creating the "Dungeon" and the "Village", in this case "Barrowsdale". First the Dungeon is set up by randomly selecting 3 cards  from the "Monster Randomizer cards". There are 8 different types of Monster in the starting deck and each type has 10 Monsters available. The Monster types selected then form the creatures of the dungeon, which are shuffled and then 10 counted off. To these 10 is added the Thunderstone card, they are shuffled again and placed under the other 20 Monster cards. The top 3 cards are then revealed and these are the starting Monsters that the players will have to combat and are deemed to be in Ranks, 1, 2 and 3 (representing deeper levels of the dungeon, the deeper you get, the darker it gets, the more penalties in combat you may suffer). As a Monster is defeated or is moved up the levels of the Dungeon, another Monster card is revealed from the Top of the Dungeon Deck. If the Thunderstone card is revealed and is then in moved to Rank 1, the game ends and the winner is determined by the Number of Victory points the player has accumulated.

From a selection of 11 different Hero types, 4 are randomly selected, these are the Heroes that will be available for the players to hire and aid them in their quest and can be recruited from the Village. There are 3 Levels for each Hero, as experience is gained (by killing Monsters) the Hero can be levelled up, to a maximum of Level 3.

The 4 Heroes for our game

The rest of the Village is then created. The 4 basic Village cards, Militia, Dagger, Iron Rations and Torch, are always in play in each game. 8 cards are drawn from the "Village Randomizer deck" and those items, characters, spells, are placed in the Village, along with the basic cards and the Heroes, so that the Table will look something like this -

(c) Boardgamegeek

Each player then draws 6 Militia cards, 2 Dagger Cards, 2 Iron Rations and 2 Torches, which form the player's starting draw deck, 6 cards are then drawn to form your hand and then you randomly decide who starts. As cards are discarded into your discard pile, when your draw deck is empty the discard pile is then shuffled and becomes your new draw deck thus ensuring the recycling of cards into your hand

The use of the Randomizer cards is a nice mechanic ensuring, quite literally that no 2 games will be the same.

So we started.

Each player in his turn has the choice of visiting the Village, Entering the Dungeon or resting. In both the case of visiting the Village and Entering the Dungeon once you had performed the relevant actions in that area, any of your undestroyed cards in play or in hand are discarded to your discard pile and another 6 cards drawn, so this, in theory, helps you recycle cards and get them into your Hand.

We were slightly unlucky in that the 3 monsters guarding at the start of the game were all pretty tough, with a Tormentor (health of 8) occupying the Rank 1 slot. Combat is pretty straight forward, you add up all of the attack factors available from the cards in your hand. If this figure is equal to or greater than the monster's health then the monster is defeated. The defeated monster is then placed in your discard pile (it may have a gold value which can be cashed in once the card is in your hand). You also receive a number of XP's for defeating the monster and some of them also generate the all important Victory Points for winning the game. However, there is also a penalty applied for fighting underground in a dark, dank dungeon. A dark penalty of twice the Dungeon rank is applied to the combat so at Rank 1 the penalty is -2, at Rank 2, it is -4 and Rank 3, it is -6. The Dark penalty, can be modified by the use of items/ cards/ spells that generate a "Light" factor, for example, a Torch.

One feature that I found slightly odd was that there did not appear to be any penalty in taking on a Monster and being defeated by it. Some Monsters have effects which can lead to negative things happening to your party, but they would take place regardless of the success or failure of the Player's attack. However, the main reason for attacking a Monster is that if it is not killed, it doesn't stay in the Rank, instead it is returned to the bottom of the Monster deck and any Monster in the Rank below is moved up a rank to take the original Monster's space and a new Monster is revealed from the Monster deck and takes it's place in the Dungeon. It took us a wee while to realise this and thus the game could have perhaps proceeded a bit faster than it did.

My first hand of 6 cards was a pretty poor mix of Militia, rations and torches, no daggers so no combat bonus available to the Militia and therefore no way to take out any of the starting monsters, so my only option was to visit the Village to try and either recruit Village Folk, items/ weapons or spells or Heroes. To do this you "cash in" appropriate cards in your hand, that is, if the card in hand has a gold value it can be cashed in for that value (the cashed in cards are placed on your discard pile) and once you have generated enough gold for the card of your choice from the options available in the Village, you take the relevant card and place it in your discard pile. Normally you can only purchase 1 cards per turn although playing the Barkeep card will allow you to purchase and additional card.

Unfortunately, even as I added different cards to my deck, I still found it impossible to get the right mix of cards which would allow me to take on a dungeon monster. Cards can be destroyed which may generate extra gold or combat effects (for example, see the text on the Spear card above) and once destroyed they do not return to play, so careful decisions have to be made as to when to destroy a card, and which one. The others, in the meantime were making a flying start, Ruarok in particular and before long he was killing monsters and with the earned Experience Points he was levelling up his Heroes.

By the time the Thunderstone was revealed and had made it's way to Rank 1 of the Dungeon, I had earned a grand total of 4 Victory points and had not been able to Level up a single Hero. I just hadn't been buying enough weapons to give my Characters enough bonuses in Combat to win their fights and thus get the all important Victory Points. Other players are not allowed to help you with the play of their cards in hand, you are very much on your own.

Fortunately, we didn't meet these Bad boys but then again, I couldn't take out a lowly Goblin.

So the Thunderstone was moved to Rank 1 and the game ended, I was a resounding last place whereas Ruarok , was a pretty convincing winner.

So again an enjoyable game despite my abject failure with my deck build , we picked up the Game mechanics reasonably quickly and I think subsequent games will move along much quicker now that we know how it works although of course, there will still be the many choices to be made as to what cards to purchase for your deck and getting the balance right between the number of characters in your deck and the items/ spells and weapons available to them to use in combat.

A number of stand alone expansions have now been released for the game, which Alan is already making mutters about purchasing so I've no doubt we will be re-visiting this one again. I do feel the need to be playing with some miniatures again, starting to get some withdrawal symptoms now......

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