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.