Game Night Blog Carnival: Thunderstone Heart of Doom

This post is part of Game Night, a monthly feature where several RPG blogs talk about board and card games. This month, Game Night participants were provided review copies of the game Thunderstone by publisher AEG. As I have already covered the original Thunderstone before, I chose to review Heart of Doom, the most recent expansion.

Thunderstone remains one of my favorite games, and for well over a year, I have played it regularly. I bought each expansion, up to and including Dragonspire, the large eset that doubled as a standalone game. At this point, I had played Thunderstone voraciously many times, and owned a deep pool of cards to draw from. Replayability in my collection was high due to the large number of combinations of heroes, weapons, villagers, and monsters.

Expansion after Dragonspire looked interesting, but I was quite happy with what I already had. Besides, I was running out of space in even the roomy Dragonspire box to store all the cards! However, over time, the luster of the game faded somewhat without a steady influx of new cards. Heart of Doom, as the final expansion for the game (until the upcoming revision, Thunderstone Advance), explores some very interesting design space, with effects that have never been used before. It’s just what I needed to revitalize my love for Thunderstone.

Unlike the previous expansions, the rulebook is very thin, just a few pages long. There aren’t really any new rules, as such; instead, there are some card by card clarifications, scenarios, card lists, and that sort of thing. The rule set in Thunderstone is robust enough that it doesn’t really need to grow any to accommodate a huge variety of new spells, weapons, heroes, and monsters, which Heart of Doom obligingly provides.

Most memorable among the new monsters are the basilisks and dryads. The former are exceptionally tough, with large bonuses to health based on numbers of certain card types in your hand. These creatures can really clog up the board, and often destroy key cards when fought. Dryads have an intriguing ability to add dungeon ranks; when they are revealed, you scoot the dungeon deck over and draw a new monster. You might end up with a half dozen dungeon ranks! This is an excellent design, taking the previous expansions’ guardian concept to the next level.

Thankfully, there are some great new heroes to assist in your quest. Among my favorites are the Nyth archers, who get extra attack power for each rank of the monster they attack. When the Dryads are out, Nyth are the best heroes you can buy, making it much easier to offset the tremendous penalties for attacking monsters deeper in the dungeon.

Bluefire wizards are a nifty addition, too; they are relatively cheap, and provide experience just for visiting the dungeon. Getting experience early is always nice, as Trainer users well know, and these mages provide just that. Highland fighter/thieves allow you to buy new heroes when visiting the dungeon, a valuable ability indeed. Overall, the new heroes are a strong lot, with truly unique, enjoyable effects.

A lucky thirteen new Village cards are included in Heart of Doom. As you’d expect, they range from weapons and items to villagers and spells. The Short Spear is a great new weapon, giving nice bonuses when equipped to a Militia. This encourages players to abandon the normal strategy of removing Militia from the deck as soon as possible. The Chalice Mace is perfect for equipping on a cleric class hero, providing extra light and a lower weight. Favorite items include the Bag of Holding (love the D&D reference!) and the Dredging Net, a very effective means of thinning your deck out and manipulating your hand.

An interesting villager is the Grognard, who provides experience points when purchased, yet has little other effect than providing a minor defense to traps and also a single victory point. Having the Grognard in the village provides an interesting tension; is it worth a couple early experience to have a relatively useless card in your deck for the remainder of the game? The most exciting spell is Soulfire, which converts spare late-game experience into Magic Attack power. All told, the village cards provide a nice variety of effects to enhance your game.

In the final analysis, Heart of Doom provides exactly what a devotee of Thunderstone needs. It is hardly groundbreaking, and doesn’t significantly alter the game as a whole, but that’s not really what I want at this point. What I want is more of the Thunderstone I already love. Coming from this point of view, I would rank Heart of Doom as one of the best expansions. However, for those who aren’t exactly rabid for fantasy deckbuilding games, or casual fans who are satisfied with a smaller selection of cards in their game, you’re not really getting any “must have” new experiences in Heart of Doom. Whether Heart of Doom is worth a purchase for you will depend on where you fall on this spectrum.

Thanks again to AEG for providing a review copy of Thunderstone Heart of Doom.

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