Thunderstone Advance Improves on a Richly Themed Deckbuilding Dungeon Delve

Have I mentioned that deckbuilding games are a big thing these days? One of the earliest entries in the genre, AEG’s Thunderstone, received a major overhaul and was rereleased as Thunderstone Advance earlier this year. Despite the awkward syntax of the name, it’s a great game that lets you visit a town to recruit an adventuring party and buy gear, then delve into a dungeon to battle a shifting array of monsters.

I never played Thunderstone, so I can’t speak with direct experience to how Thunderstone Advance is different. The rule book explains the biggest changes, and as far as I can see, they all look like good ideas. In terms of game design, component production, and art, Advance seems to be a major improvement. (You can read the full rule book here).

The Basics

When you play Thunderstone, you lay out a bunch of piles of cards on the board. Most of them are in the Village, where you can recruit heroes and villagers, buy weapons, learn magic spells and acquire other useful items. There’s also a pile of monsters – they hang out in the Dungeon.

On your turn, you’ll play cards (you start with just some basic fighter types and crappy items), then either visit the Village and purchase new cards with the gold value of the cards in your hand, or visit the Dungeon and use the attack value of the cards in your hand to defeat monsters. That’s in line with your basic deckbuilding modus operandi.

Level Up

The most interesting thing about Thunderstone is the heroes. As you work through the piles of heroes, you’ll eventually get to higher level versions, which can be purchased at the Village like other cards (for a higher price). But you can also level up the heroes in your hand, automatically trading them out for the higher level version. It gives each game a real progression as you improve your team of heroes, allowing them to tackle greater and greater challenges in the Dungeon. There’s a lot of strategic thinking going on, too, because there are a bunch of heroes to choose from initially, and you need to focus on one or two at first to enable the leveling process.

There are a lot of wrinkles that spice up the game as it goes on. Cards can be used for different things, depending on whether you’re at the Dungeon or the Village. Monsters can trigger harmful effects when attacks start or end. You can gain curses, cards that really hurt you when you draw them. Monsters added to your deck can have Trophy effects that trigger when you draw them later.

Variability, Durability

There’s a ton of replayability because there are far more cards than you need for a single game. That means you’ll always have a different outlay of heroes, villagers, weapons and spells, and different monster groups in the dungeon. There are preset scenarios in the rule book that tell you which cards to use, but they also included “randomizer” cards that allow to easily set up a random game.

The components are well-made, and the box has enough storage space for lots of expansions (there’s already one available). They even included larger index cards that let you separate all the various card types, making it very fast and easy to find the specific hero deck, monster group or weapon type you need to play.

Table for One (or More)

So far, I’ve only played Thunderstone Advance solitaire. I love it as a solitaire game – my first play, I got crushed by the monsters, but on my second go, I trounced Stramst and his undead minions. But then, I was playing on the Wilderness side of the board, which is easy mode. Next time, I’m going right to the Dungeon side. I can also see how playing with two or three players will create a very different dynamic. The number of cards in the Village is fixed, so there will be serious competition to acquire the better items and heroes first, before they run out.

The other cool thing about Thunderstone involves Monte Cook’s Numenera RPG, whose Kickstarter has gone so bonkers that they’re basically making up crazy stretch goals. One of the latest is a Numenera-themed Thunderstone game. Not just a reskin, but an alternate version of Thunderstone influenced by the world design of Numenera.

After hearing about Thunderstone for years, I’m really happy I got to check out a revised and improved version of the game. I’m already looking forward to adding some expansions.