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Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements

[Game design is like magic: if you do it right, it looks easy. The reality is that a lot of hard work and dedication goes into making a game work. No one knows this better than Al Newman. Al started designing games back in 1973 and his credits include Super 3 by Milton Bradley, Babushka (Ravensburger), Match 3 (Nathan), Wacky Wizards (Western) as well as many early computer game designs including Domination (which won the first First prize ever awarded in the Atari Star competition), Tutti Fruitti (adventure Int’l) and Hotel Alien (Artworx). But Al hasn’t stopped there. Al continues to design successfully received games including Winds of Plunder (GMT Games), Dynasties (Jolly Roger Games) and Tin Soldiers (RnR Games) with more on the way. Al first appeared in these pages with his Fall 1998 review of Richard Garfield’s Filthy Rich. In kicking off our 25th year, Al has contributed this, his 25th review!]

(Alderac Entertainment Group, 2-5 players, ages 12 and up, 45 minutes; $29.99)

 

Reviewed by Al Newman

thunderwrathIn the Spring 2010 issue of Gamers Alliance Report, we covered the release of Thunderstone, a Dominion-like card game with a theme that truly scratched the itch of those who love Dungeons & Dragons. In less than an hour, players could take their heroes through the dungeons, battle with monsters and win victory. As we said a few months ago, after the success of Dominion, it was inevitable that card games with similar mechanics would appear. And now that Dominion has spawned so many expansion sets, it was inevitable that Thunderstone would do so as well.

Thus, Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements, designed by Mike Elliott, has arrived. The 580 original cards are now supplemented by another 380 cards, including a new Thunderstone card, 5 more reference cards, 12 Trap cards, 33 Randomizer cards, 42 Basic cards, 51 Monster cards, 84 Hero cards and 112 Village cards. The box has several foam pieces to separate the cards and is a great touch. As well, 76 wider than normal cards are included to use as dividers for both the expansion and the basic set, a very nice touch! Best of all, the expansion can be played with – or independent of – the basic game. This means countless possibilities if you intermix the sets, just like Dominion.

Wrath of the Elements includes a new mechanic, Traps, adds a Guardian, a second Thunderstone and a Monster that is scored differently than all the others.

An important note: the rules, like the original version, are not perfect and references are made to cards that are not included in this expansion, so a little interpretation and logic comes in handy. As well, the expansion requires a couple of seemingly redundant manipulations that could probably have been improved on.

thunder1When the randomizing process takes place to determine what will be in the Monster Hall, 3 special randomizer cards are added. If any are selected, one of five “Dungeon Feature” cards is chosen and depending upon the “feature,” the actual Death Trap, Dire Trap or Guardian is selected. Sound complicated? Yes, a bit. Moreover, although there are two Guardians in the five Dungeon Feature cards, there is only one actual Guardian in the game. The other card is likely there for a future expansion but it only complicates the process.

The effects of the Trap cards occur as soon as they are revealed from the Dungeon. The 6 Death Trap cards can kill Heroes while Dire Trap cards can inflict penalties on the players. For instance, if the Pit Trap is revealed, each player reveals a Hero from his hand (if he has one). If the Hero is not a Thief, it is destroyed. If a Delerium Poison Trap is revealed, the players hands are shown and all Spells are destroyed. After the effect of the Trap is taken care of, the Trap is destroyed and the Dungeon Hall is refilled.

If the Guardian is in play and reaches Rank 1, its special effect is to move away from the Dungeon Hall to create a new “rank 0” space. Only the Guardian may be in that space and if defeated, “rank 0” ceases to exist. Guardians are extremely strong and in the case of the expansion’s Dark Champion, the active player must destroy one card from his hand at the end of his turn. The only way to remove the Guardian is to defeat him.

The new Thunderstone is only worth 1 VP and has no other effects. The designers suggest that you might even want to play with both the original and new Thunderstones in the deck and end the game when both are won. That sounds like a pretty decent variation.

Before, I mentioned a Monster that is scored differently than all the others. That would be the Horde. There are two Horde decks of 10 cards each, again contributing a bit of complexity to the game play. One deck is just plain Horde monsters and the other have health numbered consecutively from 3 to 12. If they are randomly selected to begin with, the plain Hordes are placed in the Monster deck and the other deck is placed aside, weakest to strongest. A revealed Horde is immediately replaced by the top card of the other Horde deck that shows the health of the monster. Hordes have no VP value during the game but if defeated and placed in your deck are worth as many VPs as Hordes that you have defeated, up to a maximum of 5 VPs each.

There are a whole hose of other effects, like the Traits of some monsters, that can impact play. For instance, Ebon Fume has Magic Attack immunity and reduces all of a party’s Magic Attack bonus to zero. The new Village cards present a few very interesting possibilities like the Illusory Blade spell, which enables the player to equip a Hero with any weapon from the Village (provided the strength requirement is met) and the weapon is destroyed at the end of the battle. The Amulet of Power not only provides a light bonus of +2 but each Hero gains strength of +3. Cursed Mace introduces an extremely powerful “blunt” weapon that affords +6 to attack but the player gains one Disease card if the weapon is equipped. New Heroes include the powerful Runespawn Thief/Wizards, and Blind Fighter/Clerics that can use light to increase their attack and in the case of the Blind Grandmaster, ignore light penalties altogether. Quite a few variants are offered in the rules which should add to the fun.

Again, if you like Dungeons & Dragons but can’t stand the prospect of playing for hours on end, Thunderstone and the Wrath of the Elements expansion will do the trick in an hour or perhaps just a bit more. Definitely recommended.

 


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