Playing a little catch-up this week, as I'll give some quick reviews of two games I've played recently-- the entry level pick-up-and deliver Days of Steam from Valley Games, and deckbuilding dungeoneering Thunderstone from AEG.
Days of Steam (Valley Games, 2-4 players, 45 min-1hr), designed by Aaron Lauster, is a republishing of the game of the same title, originally from JKLM Games. It's a tile-laying pick up and deliver train game...think Age of Steam mixed with Carcassonne. It truly is an entry-level game into the pick-up-and-deliver family, though without the intimidating but rich depth of its big brethren.
Each player has a single train, a small card indicating current steam level, and three random track tiles. The board begins with a single town tile of a random color, with two goods cubes drawn from the bag and placed on the initial tile. A town deck is to the side, with two towns drawn and revealed, and each of those getting two random goods cubes as well.
On a player's turn, you can either play a tile and draw one, move your train, or place a town tile. In terms of tile placement, there are limitations--track must connect to an existing towns, it is difficult to create pointless dead ends, and track length can only get so far before a town must be placed. When placing a town, the player can either choose one of the face-up towns, or draw one from the top and place it (the drawn town will also get two random goods cubes.)
When you place track, you get steam points to use on future turns to move your train. You can only store six at a time, and you expend steam one at a time to move from tile to tile. The idea is to pick up a cube from a town and deliver that cube to a town of the same color as that cube--pretty much the elemental gameplay notion of almost all of the train pick up and deliver games.
When moving goods, watch out though, as moving too fast around curves can cause you to derail. If you move using more than two steam and you cross a curve, you have to roll a die. Subtract two from that die and if you roll less than the steam you've spent this turn, you derail, sending you back where you came from and forcing you to waste the steam you spent. It adds a nice touch of randomness and risk management that can really screw you over at the wrong time should you get too greedy with your movement. It also leads to players tossing curves in each others way to slow down their deliveries.
Should you deliver a good, you get to keep it. Each is worth one victory point. There is also a diversity scoring rule where you get a bonus for delivering different types of goods. There's also a "circuit" rule where if you create a loop between towns when laying a track, you get a bonus VP.
1st player to 13 wins...and that's the game. The other way for the game to end is for the track tiles to be depleted...but we didn't come anywhere close to that in any of our games.
The components are nice, typical of Valley Games. The track and town tiles are thick, and the wooden components are of good quality. It all comes in their "big box" (think Hannibal, or Titan), and to be honest this box is oversized for what's inside. Since they're numbered by release though, this keeps it similar to other games in this line, which should please collectors.
What do I think of it? I was looking for an entry point in the train game genre, and this fits the bill. I think that perhaps its a bit too basic for what I was looking for, but it is essentially a filler version of those longer epic train games.
With two players, it tends to be on the dry side, as each player only has to worry about one move in response. It's probably more strategic this way, but I don't think it's as interesting. If you add in just one more player, things get infinitely more interesting, as you have to worry about two players messing with your tracks, stealing your goods, placing a town where you didn't want to, and so on. It plays up to four, and in this case, the more the merrier.
It's a better game when you have more players as points are tougher to come by, and it's more difficult for the game to devolve into "you go this way, I go that way" that the two-player game can tend towards.
To be honest, it's much more suited as a family game. If you're looking for a beginner's version of this style of game, I think it's only going to leave you hungry for a deeper game.
The Verdict: 3.0 (out of 5.0)
Thunderstone is AEG's entry into the burgeoning deckbuilding genre. Instead of...whatever Dominion's theme is ultimately about, Thunderstone has you building a deck of adventurers, equipment, and spells in order to take down a dungeon's worth of evil beasties.
You've got the same random setup deal with Thunderstone as with most deckbuilding games. You choose from four types of adventurers, 8 "Village" cards, and 4 stacks of basic cards that are in every game. Cards have multiple purposes, including the fact that most cards also double as gold when you go to the Village.
Then, you seed the dungeon deck by taking three classes or families of monsters (each of which is also chosen randomly from a larger pool.) You shuffle these monsters together, and then randomly place the titular Thunderstone somewhere in the last ten cards of the deck. Three monsters are revealed from the top of this deck, and the game begins.
When you start, your deck is made up of the basic cards--Militia (+1 Attack), Dagger (+1 Attack, requires a wielder), Food (which grants additional strength to your warriors), and Torches (which provide light...more on that in a minute.) Remember, each of these cards also has a Gold value, so you don't actually have any cards that focus solely as money. These cards aren't enough to get you very far though as even a host of militia are no math for the most powerful dragons and demons, so you'll want to get started improving your deck right away.
On a player's turn, they have three options. Then can visit the Village, allowing them to buy a card from the Village supply. This is the way that you acquire new cards for your deck. The heroes that can be hired there are the usual classes--rogue, wizard, warrior--though remember you're only using four of the available classes in each game. These heroes are stacked by level, so as the lower level heroes are purchased, it frees up the more powerful ones later on.
The Village also has weapons, spells, food, and other allies, all of which will help you fight monsters, tweak your deck, or bestow other benefits.
The second option is to send your adventurers into the Dungeon. Each of the three revealed monsters represent a different level in the dungeon. They have a defined amount of strength and a list of their special abilities. Each level requires more and more light--1 light for level 1, 2 light for level 2, and so on--and for each light you're missing, you'll suffer a -2 penalty to your attack. Torches, some spells and even certain characters can provide light, but it's something else you'll need to take into account when you go questing into the depths.
To see if you can defeat a monster, you add up all of your attack values from your characters in hand. Weapons require an amount of strength, and if you have characters that can use them, this too will add you to your attack value. Lastly, attacks are divided up into magic and non-magic. You add them together at the conclusion of the attack, but some monsters can't be killed without magic, some are immune to the physical attack portion, and so on, so you have to take that into account too.
If you have enough strength to defeat the monster, you get to add it to your deck. Each monster is worth a certain amount of victory points, and also grant Experience Points. Experience points are important because they allow you to go to the village and level up your characters, bypassing the need to purchase further into a character stack. For example, if you level up a level 1 Fighter, you trash the Fighter card, dig into the Fighter stack for the level 2 version, and put him in your discard pile. Experience is important because it makes your deck stronger and also, level 3 heroes actually add VP at game's end.
Some monsters have the "trophy" ability, which means you will get a benefit from having them in your deck. These range from minor to powerful, and help offset the "dead spot" nature of victory point cards in most deckbuilding games.
Once the Thunderstone card is revealed and reaches the first rank of the dungeon, the game ends, scores are tallied, and the player with the most number of victory points is the winner.
I like Thunderstone, even though compared to Dominion it's generally a hot mess. The graphic design on the cards borders on completely counterintuitive, which is really, really strange considering AEG's experience in the CCG field. You'd be hard pressed to look at a card and tell instantly what the different stats are; and even after a few plays you will still confuse the icons from time to time--the most egregious being the VP and Exp. point values on the monster cards.
The rules are not as solid as they could be, though they get the job done.
Because the cards are themed to fighters, spells, and their weapons, it feels as though there are fewer types of cards to choose from. It's illusory as different weapons can grant all sorts of different powers and abilities, but when you look at the village and see three different types of swords and a spear, it doesn't feel as though you're seeing much variety.
There are definitely some gamey elements at work as well. If you don't kill a monster, it goes to the bottom of the deck, so players will sometimes find themselves attacking a monster they have no intention of defeating just so that they can deny their opponent the victory points.
The whole thing just feels "rougher" than something as polished as Dominion. But you know what? I'm okay with that. For one, I dig the theme of adventurers and killing monsters far, far more than the generic midieval theme of Dominion. And even though at its mechanical core what you're looking at is a breakdown of the game into different "currencies" for grinding through to achieve victory points, it's done in such a way that makes thematic sense. The big, powerful swords need strong, powerful warriors to wield them. Dragons and demons are tougher to kill and usually leave a lot of broken bodies in their wake.
The different monster "families" are what gives the game the most variety. In some games, you can build up your warriors with impunity and mow down monsters in a fast-paced killfest. In others, the mixture of enemies will see you sweating as you manage resources that keep getting destroyed. Nothing hurts worse than having a Level 3 badass who you need to take down a big dragon, but knowing that you'll have to sacrifice that warrior when the fight is done.
Between Puzzle Strike for the interactive gameplay and Thunderstone for the fantasy theme, I probably won't have a need to reach for Dominion for some time to come, unless someone asks for it. Thunderstone is indeed rough around the edges, but it carries the visceral thrill of slicing through a black-hearted Doomknight with a Flaming Sword, and I'll take that over an action chain of Villages followed by purchasing a Silver.
Though there's room for improvement in terms of interaction, a thumbs up from me.
Verdict: 4.0 (out of 5.0)