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Board Game Review – Thunderstone

2011 May 25
by Michael Schroeder

Review copy kindly provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.

“Gross – my feet really get chapped and crusty from walking around this village. I think I need one of those pedi-eggs or stones. No, you don’t want that, I know a better one, it works like magic, it’s called the Thunderstone – published by Alderac Entertainment Group!”

Designer: Mike Elliot

Number of players: 2-5

Age: 12+

Time: 60 minutes


Thunderstone by Alderac Entertainment Group

Thunderstone by Alderac Entertainment Group

No, please don’t attempt to rub out sore and crusty feet with your Thunderstone card – you’ll be playing alone – which is actually really fun (more on that later)!

What’s the game about?

A description from the publisher…

For ages the vile Doom Knights have sought to gather the remaining Thunderstones to fulfill a prophecy of corruption over the lands. Now the first Thunderstone has been discovered in the Dungeons of Grimhold and the Doom Knights have sent their minions to claim the relic. The Villagers of Barrowsdale gather brave souls to face the dungeon and keep the Thunderstone out of the hands of the Doom Knights.

Thunderstone is a new and exciting fantasy deck-building game from Alderac Entertainment Group. Fight the evils of the dungeon to prove your worth. Gain powerful weaponry and level into new and mighty hero classes. Claim the best cards and survive to take the Thunderstone. Featuring beautiful art from Jason Engle, Thunderstone is a welcome addition to any fantasy gamer’s collection.

Basic idea in my own words:

Thunderstone is a deck building game (similar to Dominion) that is in a fantasy setting. Throughout a game of Thunderstone, you are visiting a village to acquire the help of hero’s, weapons, magical spells and other items, to help you along your journey into the dungeon to ward off evil monster and minions in the hopes of getting the Thunderstone and preventing those monsters from acquiring the magical Thunderstone!

Well, how is that done in a card game? Don’t most fantasy games like this involve detailed miniatures and a board? Not in this game, and it’s facilitated elegantly. The art in Thunderstone gives you a real sense of being in a fantasy world with a village and dungeon. When I play this game, I’m reminded of the first Diablo PC game, by Blizzard Entertainment. I don’t know if it was the intention of the designer of this game, but I somewhat feel that I’m in a fantasy video game when playing Thunderstone and that’s not a bad thing at all, I thouroughly enjoy it!

How is a game of Thunderstone played?

In Thunderstone, you are competing to get the most victory points by defeating monsters in the dungeon hall. Unike another popular deckbuilding game, Dominion, instead of using action cards to be able to afford purchasing cards that give you victory points, you need to defeat monsters through the use of spells, hero’s and weapons. Each monster has a victory point total on the lower right…below is an example of a monster card.

Thunderstone Monster card

Thunderstone Monster card

The monster card breakdown is as follows…

  • The name of the monster is at the top center, Deadbone Troll. This is just for thematic effect.
  • The number in the gold circle to the left, is the gold value. After monsters are defeated, they are put into your party deck and later when revealed by you, they can product X gold, in the village.
  • The number in the blue circle on the upper right is a primary concern, that is the monsters health. You need to match or beat this number with your total attack value of your party.
  • The small, gray, monster illustration on the left, tells you what the type of card it is, in this case, monster.
  • There’s the obvious illustration of the ugly monster in the center.
  • The class of monster is directly below the illustration, in this case, Humanoid. This class is important during the setup of the game.
  • Below that, in the main large box, is text and battle effects, etc. In this example, during BATTLE: you gain one disease.
  • The number on the reddish orange circle on the bottom left is the XP (experience points) you are awarded for defeating the monster.
  • Finally, the most important number, in the bottom right corner is, the victory points you’ll receive at the end of the game.

I will go into the details of all these things later.

So, again, to recap, you want the most VP at the end of the game to beat your opponents, and this is done by defeating these monsters and the value that’s important here, is in the lower right. So, now you know what you need to win…but how is that done?

What a turn is like…

At the begining of the game, you will be drawing 12 cards – everyone draws the same. This consists of, 6 Militia…



Two daggers…



Two Iron Rations and two torches (illustrations missing).

These items start you off in the game. They are basic items which have low values. The point of the game is to build up your deck with more powerful cards and to thin down your deck of the low value cards, such as those above.

On your first turn, shuffle all your 12 cards, and place them in a single deck somewhere in front of you (I prefer my far left), face down. Then take the top 6 cards and place them into your hand, this represents your hand. Now, when it’s your turn, you lay all the cards down in front of you and decide which primary path you wish to take.

1. Enter the village – entering the village is a sequence of actions which will allow you to end up with more and/or better cards, and possibly level up your hero’s. If you decide to enter the village (typically when you can’t defeat any monsters), you lay down all your cards in front of you, if it’s a village card, and or says, VILLAGE: in the text, you may use it’s effects for each card (granted there are no obvious restrictions). For instance…



Our friendly barkeep here, lets us purchase one additional card this turn. Which is a good thing, because typically on a turn, you may only purchase one card. So if you wish to use this ability a lot, purchase many of these to put into your deck. Separately, you may trash this card (meaning take out of the game permanently), yo get two gold. But you don’t get two in addition to the one, he provides inherently.


So, say on your turn, you entered the village and you want this card. You lay down all your cards, resolve any card effects, and then calculate gold. Gold is calculated by adding up the numbers in the gold circle, of all your cards face up, and adding any modifiers through special text effects, etc.

To buy this barkeep, it will cost you, 2 gold. The cost of cards is in the middle, right below the illustrations. Then once you purchase it, add it to your discard deck (face up). I typically will put my discard deck to my right.

Level Up: Now, you may level up a hero, if you have a hero in your play area, and you have enough XP cards. XP Cards are all the same and say XP on them, in the middle of the card. What leveling up does, is allows you to get a better hero in your deck. For instance, you want to get rid of that militia card? Well, notice on the lower left, it says 3? That is the XP needed to trash that card, and upgrade.

Upgrading militia’s, cost 3 XP, and you put the 3 XP cards back in the XP deck, trash the militia card, and take any level 1 hero available.

Or, if you wish to upgrade a hero that’s not a militia, you do so the same way, just pay the XP on the card that you want to trash, then trash the card, then take the next level up hero of that same type…That means shuffling through the deck of that hero, and if there’s a level 2, great, take it and put it in your discard deck, if there are none, too bad, you can’t level up that hero. If you were at a level 2 hero and wish to upgrade to a 3, and that 3 is available, you may do so. You may never skip levels.

Finally, discard your hand into the discard deck, and draw a new 6 cards from your draw deck. If you don’t have 6, you must shuffle your discard deck, and place the newly shuffled discard deck, right below the existing set of draw cards, so that the cards in the draw deck will get drawn first.

Your other sequence of options on a turn is to…

2. Enter the dungeon

This set of actions is what you’ll do when you are ready to fight monsters and get VP.

At the beginning of the game, 30 monsters are drawn randomly with randomizer cards. The Thunderstone card is shuffled into the bottom 10 monster cards.

At the beginning of the game, 3 monsters are drawn one at a time, and placed next to the monster draw deck. Typically, you would have the monster draw deck (face down) on the very left, then to the immediate right, is a monster card, then to the right of that is another monster card, and finally to the right of that is another monster card. So you will have 3 monster cards next to the draw deck, which represent the dungeon hall. The monster closest to the deck is rank 3, then rank 2 in the middle, and rank 1 farthest from the draw deck.


Light in this game is important. The idea is, that you need more light as you get deeper in the dungeon to see the monsters you are fighting. You started the game with two torches. Each torch card has 1 light. Any cards in the game that have a small yellow symbol with a number on it, which is to the left of the text box, has light. These light values are important to offset light penalties in the game.

Rank 1 monsters have a light penalty of 1, rank 2 = light penalty of 2, and rank 3 = light penalty of 3.

Say, you want to fight a rank 1 monster, and that monster has 3 health. If you have at least 1 light, when you lay out your hand and decide to go into the dungeon, that is OK, then your 1 light, offset the 1 light penalty. BUT, if you don’t have a light, there is a light penalty of 2. Which basically means, the monster is not a 3 health, but now you must match 5 health to beat it. Any light penalty left over, after offsetting your provided light, results in leftover-light X 2. So say you have 0 light, and you are going after a rank 3 monster, that monster has (3X2=6) light penalty, which means you must add 6 to his health, or just deduct 6 from your total attack, either way you do it doesn’t matter.

Also keep in mind that some monsters have text effects that say light-1 or light-x. That means that light value is also subtracted from their rank, so a level 3 rank monster would be a -4 light…X2, which is 8 attack that you’re already down on that monster!

There are some cards in the deck that provide light besides the torch, such as some hero’s and a lantern and a lightstone gem.

Resolving Battles:

So, say you decided to enter the dungeon and you have 2 militia (+1 attack each), 2 daggers (+1 attack as long as it’s equipped) and a spell that gives all your hero’s +1 attack, your total attack is 6. You also have 1 torch (+1 light).

The monster in rank 1 is health 5. You may attack him with no light penalty, and your 6 beats his 5, so you win! The monster card goes into your discard deck and a new monster is drawn into rank 3, pushing any other monsters down a rank.

This was a simplified example, the battle resolutions are often more thought intensive and you must figure out through spells, text effects and weapons, the best way yo defeat monsters.

The final sequence of actions you may take is to rest.

3. Resting:

Resting allows you to simply trash a card from your hand. You then discard your entire hand and draw a new set of 6 cards and play proceeds clockwise. This option is useful for getting rid of low value cards, such as militia or iron rations, etc. Remember, you’ll have a lot of fluff in your deck that you’ll want to get rid of. Just be sure to take these actions at the right moment because it does cost a turn, and your opponent might kill that high VP monster, instead of you!

There you have it, those are the 3 different types of paths you may take. Rest, enter village or enter dungeon.

In this game, you need to spend time building your deck to have better things. So you’ll be entering the village quite a bit to beef up your stats, then at the right moments, go into the dungeon, killing monsters. But just like Dominion, you don’t want to acquire VP cards too soon, or they’ll just sit in your deck, wasting your opportunities for better cards and it will hurt you.

You get to choose one of the above paths (sets of actions) on a turn, then play proceeds clockwise around the table. The game ends as soon as the Thunderstone reaches level 0 or 1 through monster defeat. What this means is, that when the Thunderstone card turns up, when it is in rank 2, and a player defeats a monster in rank 1, causing the Thunderstone to move to rank 1, the player that defeated that monster, gets the Thunderstone. Or if it proceeds far enough in the dungeon hall, and a monster wasn’t defeated, nobody gets it, and the game is done.

Everyone now calculates up the victory points on the monster cards they have, and the highest number is the winner! If there’s a tie, the player with the Thunderstone wins.

Hero Card

Hero Card

Components: 3/5

The cards in this game are good stock, with the linen finish. Oddly though, as my cards aren’t sleeved yet, I notice the cards are getting smoother and the linen finish is rubbing down…I’ve never seen that before. But it doesn’t matter as I have sleeves coming in. The manual is easy to read and understand, contains a dictionary of all cards and is well illustrated. The box is good quality as well, but my only complaint is the box insert. The box insert for the cards is functional, but I really wish it was like Dominions card insert. The maintenance of setup and tear down of this game is longer than it should be. I hear the Dragonspire expansion addresses that, we’ll see! Also, there are extra wide card separators, which are cards themselves, while this works, it’s not the best and not the easiest to work with. All in all though, I’m happy with the components.

Theme: 4/5

The theme is something that really sets this game above Dominion. I really enjoy the fantasy setting and the illustrations presented here. It’s much more interesting fighting monsters than just buying victory point cards. Mike Elliot did a great job here (unless it was the publisher’s idea for the theme, I don’t know). I am just not crazy about the idea of a magical stone…but again, the SETTING of the game makes it great…not the central idea.

Luck factor: 3/5

Shuffling is a huger part of this game, from the monsters chosen, to when the Thunderstone comes up, to your own deck. The luck is mitigated through deck building though, that’s what deck building is, but of course, there’s always luck in that mechanic.

Strategy: 3/5

There’s the strategy of deck building in this game. You must work best with what your hand is. If you have a lot of money, it’s probably inefficient to buy a low cost card. Working with what cards are presented in the game is important too. If you notice there’s a lot of weapons that require high strength hero’s to hold them, you better have a spell, or enough iron rations in your deck to be able to use them! Also, there’s the strategy of timing. Knowing when to attack and when to go into the village is a part of the strategy of this game.

Overall feelings: 5/5

I really love this game! This is one of my newer (to me) favorite games! I love the theme and the mechanic is easy and simple to work with. The idea of light and battling monsters in a deck building game is unique to a game like Dominion (which I’m comparing it to). I don’t know if it’ll be a wife friendly game as much as Dominion is, because of the theme and it’s a bit longer but regardless, I love this game! There’s even an official solo variant and I’ve played it 3 times now! It’s just about as fun as a multi player game! The idea here is, after the end of each turn, a monster moves into the village and goes into a village monster score pile. Any monsters you defeat before they reach into the village score pile, will go into your own score pile. At the end of the game, you compare both scores, if yours is higher, the village is safe and you win!

A few gripes about the selection of cards in this game though, are a lack of buying power. There is one card that allows you to buy more than one card, and that’s the barkeep. Also, like Dominion, I wish there was a card that allowed you to block opponents cards from effecting you, like the moat. Maybe these cards are in the expansions? But for the purpose of this review, I must review what’s presented on the base set. Also, there doesn’t seem to be enough player interaction. This game is mostly multi player solitaire – where everyone is doing their own thing, just like Dominion. There are some cards that make other players lose a card or so, but I just wish there were more.

All in all, I really love this game and I hope it comes out more and more! If your into a fantasy theme where deck building is the mechanic, this game is for you! I highly recommend picking it up.



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