Thunderstone Quest Review

ecargo     
 
5.0
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Thunderstone Quest

Your table isn't ready for this sprawl.

Thunderstone is back with its second facelift and thankfully it wasn't a botch job. This is the third iteration of the game and by far the best. The system got an overhaul, akin to the streamlining that occurred from vanilla Thunderstone to Thunderstone Advance. Though great games at the time, some of the warts started to show. It often took a while before you could venture into the dungeon. Pacing was often halted with unusable draws. You acquired mounds of useless XP. The speed bumps to fun ratio was off, but we dealt with it. Fortunately, Thunderstone Quest is here to remedy all those woes. And for those of you who are new to the game, this is the best time to start.

Thunderstone was very clearly built on the backbone of Dominion: put a bunch of cards out and choose which ones to go into your deck. Then, throw this into a dungeon crawl blender where you fight monsters, earn XP, and upgrade your heroes. There are weapons, spells, and items that all aid in your journey to fight bigger baddies as you hack and slash your way through the monster deck to defeat the guardian at the end. Thunderstone Quest keeps this same premise while adding a more physical element to the village and dungeon phases than its predecessors did and cutting out the unnecessary ramp up time.

Because every game needs minis, you take your chosen plastic fantasy trope of choice and place it either in the village or dungeon on your turn. Village turns always had an assortment of options, but now these are equally useful. You can always purchase new cards, but choosing where to place your figure matters. Deciding between leveling up two heroes instead of one, buying powerful treasures or useful gear, or healing two wounds and prepping cards is a good problem to have. Your selection of heroes and marketplace cards may be driven by side quests (i.e., personal goals) that award in-game loot and/or endgame points. However, all this Sunday shopping is in preparation for the party in the dungeon.

Instead of hanging out in town, you can fight various monsters of different ranks of the dungeon and the best part is you can do this as early as turn one. With your mini adventurer, you move through the dungeon, spending light as you venture into deeper rooms. Whereas the previous iterations added health to monsters when you lacked light, you can't just grope around in the dark until you hit something now. Hopefully you grabbed a few lanterns from town and maybe some potions. Depending on the room a monster is squatting in, you may get additional rewards and/or wounds after fighting. Unlike before, defeated monsters get discarded into their own decks, keeping the game progressing and your deck leaner. Gone are the days of wasted turns because you drew a handful of monster cards. Now, monsters get discarded into their own decks, keeping the game progressing and your deck leaner. Even those turns where you come up with one lame starter hero and a cache of useless accessories, you can visit the Wilderness, training that lowbie up to a level 1 hero. You're no longer stymied on a turn, waiting to draw the right combination of cards in order to do something. There's always a reward and my fragile ego needs that.

You can't hang out in the dungeon Ramboing goblins and cursed centaurs all day long though. Wounds decreases the number of cards you draw at the end of your turn, so you need to decide how long until those flesh wounds catch up with you. Coupled with your guild sponsorship that gives you additional points for certain mini goals during battle, it's hard to turn away from the rain of XP getting tossed at you.

At times, things can feel a bit sluggish when the guardian keys, shuffled into the three monster decks, aren't popping up to trigger the endgame. Four keys will turn the rat you're fighting in the Wilderness over to its Guardian form, granting every player one last mega turn. After drawing additional cards, each player gets to swing at the loot piñata and is given XP equal to half the attack. XP doubles as victory points - a welcome change from the previous versions where worthless piles of cute thunderstone shards sat in front of you at the end of the game. This means choosing to level up a hero or not really matters, especially when it's a net-loss in points. The tradeoff, of course, is a more powerful deck. When do you say "no, my dwarf warrior doesn't need to be level 3" and just let him ride it out at level 2? For me, the answer is never, but then again, maybe that's why I'm not my household's reigning champion. This is a far different kind of decision than the common deckbuilding strategy of creating an engine then letting it ride into the sunset.

Putting the bow on this improved package, Thunderstone Quest gives you plenty of cards and dungeon rooms, which are slowly revealed through the campaign. Each chapter in the campaign gives you a different setup and a hearty scooping of story for flavor. The coolest part is the pseudo legacy aspect in which you open up new packs of cards, revealing additional heroes, monsters, and marketplace items. I like the structure, but the game doesn't force you to abide by it. If you want to open everything up at once and roll around in a pile of cards, go to town. But while you're there, make sure you level up that dwarf warrior.

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Editor rating

(Updated: August 06, 2018)
ecargo
Rating 
 
5.0

Summary

Game Name
Thunderstone Quest

Grace P.Follow Grace P Follow Grace P Message Grace P

Game Reviewer

Grace grew up playing the classic family and children’s games. She always loved games, but didn’t know there was a whole world of modern board gaming until 2009. In general, she considers herself a Euro snob, but upon closer inspection of her collection, there are plenty of other types of games that have snuck in. She has to play as the color red (or as close to it as possible), otherwise the wrong pieces will be moved. Although board gaming is her primary hobby, she also enjoys cooking, seeing musicals, and bowling. She lives in California’s Central Valley with her husband, who happily plays games with her, and her two dogs, who are terrible gaming partners. You can follow her on Twitter (@iamgrace) where she is often mistagged.

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Posted: 07 Aug 2018 03:01 by WadeMonnig #279395
WadeMonnig's Avatar
Grace said Flesh Wound! Pretty sure she backdoored a Monty Python reference :-) Great review, my wish list is getting way, way too long.
Posted: 07 Aug 2018 07:09 by Sagrilarus #279401
Sagrilarus's Avatar
I've played all three version of Thunderstone and I've noticed the same odd effect from all three -- I enjoy them as I'm playing, but I don't have any interest in breaking them out again afterwards. I don't know if that means I like the game or not.

I like the building aspect and I like some of the additions to Quest that make it a little more challenging to go after the baddies, with need for light, etc. I think the thing that is missing is that there's no die roll. It's really cut and dried -- if you can beat the baddie you do it. If not, you go shopping. Not much of a decision to make especially later in the game. On occasion you get a crap draw where you can't fight or shop particularly well, and Quest offers a rat or something that you can step on for a consolation prize. That's an option to take at the risk to your personal self-respect.

I think the game could be improved by adding a single d6 or even a d4 to it, and some level of punishment when you are defeated, maybe trash the next card in your deck. Add the roll to your attack. That would give the game a little more emotion for me. It would put a little skin in the game and let you take your chances.

As it stands I'll probably play again but Alderac hasn't exactly knocked it out of the park for me, with the exception of the best game they ever published, The Adventurers: The Temple Of Chac.
Posted: 07 Aug 2018 08:19 by Not Sure #279412
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"Ramboing" is a verb that's seriously underused.
Posted: 07 Aug 2018 09:17 by Legomancer #279415
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I liked Thunderstone, liked Thunderstone Advance even more, but I'm not buying into it a third time. I'm done. I'd rather play Core Worlds.
Posted: 07 Aug 2018 10:35 by Shellhead #279418
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Thunderstone Quest does sound like an improvement, but I'm still not interested. I played Thunderstone once and won, and hated it. I played Thunderstone Advance once and lost, and hated it just as much. They were empty, stupid, tedious games. There were times when I wanted to fight monsters, but I had a handful of just gear. Or a handful of apparently naked dudes. It's stupid. Nobody shows up at a dungeon with just gear or just dudes. The early deckshuffling games appear to have theme and setting, but they were just procedural deckshuffling.
Posted: 07 Aug 2018 11:12 by jpat #279423
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I pretty much agree with the review on the merits of Quest. Having played original TS once (twice?) and Advance a great many times, I do agree that Quest is the best of the three, for the reasons given. Yet I do find my enthusiasm for the whole thing has gone down somewhat, and I think and hope it's not just because my wife consistently beats me at this game (one of her favorites, in either of the last two iterations).

You can't really argue with the package AEG has provided--at least to the Kicksterers (who knows about retail?). If anything, the higher, champion-level pledge is so sufficient that it's left me, someone not particularly interested in coop or solo, surprisingly indifferent to the currently campaigning expansion. If I haven't played four of the five "quests" yet (and, really, the difference is card mechanic, not really flavor), why should I get a sixth quest? Advance's board was a nice addition as an organization tool, so Quest had to go and make it bigger and add room tiles. The tiles are nice, adding some sense of physical movement, but they also contain one or more damn more things to keep track of that amount only to additional pluses and minuses. (Elder Sign remains my poster-child game for the one I always screw up some significant rule or application of a rule to, but TSQ is in the running if we're counting on missing an important modifier.) The minis are weirdly scaled relative to each other and are nearly entirely superfluous. The age of the underlying game system still shows through, and its "Dominion-but-with-a-theme" concept will pretty much be lost on any new players as a virtue. And the whole thing is just freakin' heavy--I mean, literally, with boards, minis, and approximately two thousand premium-sleeved cards (my choice on the last, of course), I barely want to drag it upstairs.

And yet it's still quite good. The card art is much improved and more consistent than in the past. The whole presentation is a lavish, perhaps to a fault. AEG has solved or at least reduced some of the aforementioned problems with dead turns ans slow buildups.

In the end, I still like it quite a bit, but I'd almost rather grab Dominion and one expansion and play that.