Even more adventure – Thunderstone Advance
If you’ve taken a look at our board game and card game reviews list, you’ll notice that Thunderstone is one of our boys’ favorite games. In fact, since Caleb first played Thunderstone 2 years ago, he still claims Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements as his favorite game.
While we didn’t post a specific card game review of Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements, rest assured that it took what we loved in the original Thunderstone and amped it up. The new heroes, monsters, and weapons as well as the additional elements of guardians and traps brought Thunderstone to life even more.
Our original ratings for Thunderstone: Caleb 4.5, Jaden 5.0, Trevor 4.0, Dad 4.5 got a boost with that first Thunderstone expansion (even though it’s hard to get a boost over Jaden’s perfect 5.0).
Since then, AEG has released a gazillion expansions and promo packs. Ok, so maybe not a gazillion, but pretty close.
- Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements
- Thunderstone: Doomgate Legion
- Thunderstone: Dragonspire
- Thunderstone: Thornwood Seige
- Thunderstone: Heart of Doom
Then earlier this year (2012) AEG did a reset of sorts and released a new iteration of Thunderstone called Thunderstone Advance. With the first set being Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin. (I say first because you know immediately they’ll be more to come.)
Don’t let the name fool you though. This isn’t an elevated or more difficult version of the game. Instead what AEG did was take all the fantastic things that they’d learned from the previous versions and made a streamlined game that incorporates many great refinements into one system.
While it has some differences, it doesn’t mean any previous versions are dead. Instead, you can still use any of the cards and elements from the first gazillion games into the new system.
How to play Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin
The basic play of Thunderstone remains very much in place. It’s a deck-building card game where you recruit and level-up heroes, buy and equip weapons and spells, and head to the dungeons to defeat monsters for experience and victory points.
This basic play of Thunderstone is described in Jaden’s original Thunderstone video review. For your convenience, we’re including it here so you can see the basic flow of play in Thunderstone. If you’re already familiar with Thunderstone, then skip the video and read on about our thoughts about the new elements.
So what’s changed?
The first noticeable change in Thunderstone Advance is the inclusion of a game board. This is part of the refinement or streamlining from prior versions because it makes the set up so easy to follow. It’s also a double-sided board so you can partially change the difficulty depending on which side you play on (Dungeon side or Wilderness side). The layout of the board makes it easy to balance the types of cards you can buy throughout the game (weapons, spells, items, and villagers). Although you’re still perfectly free to throw off that balance if you’d like and overload up on weapons or spells for example. The board also makes it easy to remember the darkness penalties for the different levels of the dungeon hall where the monsters appear.
EXPERIENCE POINT TOKENS
The next noticeable difference are the Experience Point tokens. Experience points are gained when you defeat a monster in the dungeon. In the original game, cards were used to track experience points (XP). But you needed to keep your XP cards separate from your deck since they’d be spent differently to level up your heroes. In Thunderstone Advance XP plastic tokens are used instead. We like the use of tokens over cards since XP are tracked separately anyway and now they won’t be accidently mixed into your deck.
Speaking of your deck…In Thunderstone Advance the starting deck is also improved. Now each player starts with 6 Regulars, 2 Longspears, 2 Torches , and 2 Thunderstone Shards. These starting cards are a step up from the original because they allow better abilities right from the start of the game. A lot of times in the original it would feel like it would take a while to get rolling. Now with the help of Thunderstone Shards and better abilities with a Regular and Longspear you’re able to jump into the game a little stronger so you can get fighting monsters and gaining more experience and thus leveling-up quicker. Get to the battling action sooner – count us in!
HOLDING CARDS FOR NEXT TURN
A super cool change to the game is the option to “Prepare”. Now on your turn you can choose to go to the village (buy cards), enter the dungeon (fight monsters), rest (get cards out of your deck), or Prepare. The Prepare action lets you hang on to cards from your hand to keep for your next turn. So if there are cards in your hand you’d like to use next turn, simply put them back on the top of your deck when you discard your used cards. When you draw your next hand, you’ll first pull those cards back into your hand so hopefully you’ve got a more powerful combination to do battle.
A new type of cards added to the game in Thunderstone Advance are Familiars. Each player can have only one Familiar which they can gain after they beat a monster. Familiars grant abilities based on the amount of unspent XP at the time they’re used. When it comes up in your hand you simply set it out in front of you where it will stay until you use one of its abilities. The combination of Familiars plus the Prepare action are another nice addition to the game for helping plan out and set up powers for just the right time.
Another great refinement to the game is that monsters now have levels too. Sometimes in the original Thunderstone because the monster/dungeon deck is completely random you’d have to battle super tough monsters the whole game. Now the different monster types are assigned levels depending on how tough they are. So rather than just all random monsters, you randomly select one level 1, one level 2, and one level 3 set of monsters to fill the dungeon. Of course, once again you’re still free to grab whichever monster type you’d like, but with the levels labeled on the cards, you’ll know what you’re in for if you do.
The end of the game in Thunderstone Advance is also more climatic than the original. In the original, the game ends when the Thunderstone card would reach the first level of the dungeon. So whoever defeats the monster that allows the Thunderstone to move up, will claim it and end the game. With Thunderstone Advance there are now Thunderstone Bearers that must be defeated to end the game. Think of them like the Bosses in the game that you’re building up for. It’s a much more rewarding end to the game. Of course, that still doesn’t mean the person that beats that monster wins the game. The game is still won by the person with the most victory points (gained when beating monsters all along the way).
CURSES REPLACE DISEASES
In the original Thunderstone there are special Disease cards that get added to your deck and drag it down by decreasing your attack value by 1. In Thunderstone Advance there are Curse cards that are treated like diseases but with a twist. The curse cards come in 7 different varieties (Curse of Shame, Curse of Discord, Curse of Decay, etc.) and have different effects as they interact with different cards. And we think it’s nice to have a little variety in the bad things that can affect your deck as well.
LAYOUT OF CARD INFO
The new layout of the information on the cards in Thunderstone Advance is great. While first time Thunderstone players will always take a little while to get familiar with all the different information presented on a card. Once they get the basics down, they’re all set. What’s great about the new cards are the small touches that help remember which numbers on the card are for which part of the game.
The information on each card is still located in the same place as the original game so it’s easy to still combine cards from previous Thunderstone games. But rather than just a colored circle behind each number, there are now symbols that are more telling.
For example, on the monster cards their health number has a shield symbol behind it so you know that’s essentially their defense that your heroes will have to beat. The XP amount you get for beating a monster has a XP token symbol behind it – helping not get mixed up with final game victory points.
The hero and other cards have better identifying marks as well. For example, the card cost now shows a bag of coins behind it. And the XP needed to level up a hero also shows an XP token symbol behind it. The strength of a hero and weight of weapons also have a more identifiable symbol behind those numbers.
All-in-all the layout of the information on the cards is nice and streamlined and makes it easier to get started in the Thunderstone universe.
GAME BOX AND DIVIDERS
And the last thing we’ll talk about is the game box and dividers. The expansions to the original Thunderstone were quick to add card dividers and foam inserts that help adjust how many cards you can keep secure and protected in the box. Keeping all the different card sets separate is step #1 in a deck-building game and the new Thunderstone Advance is no different. The divider cards are fabulous to have and there is plenty of space in the box to add cards from other Thunderstone expansions. The only downside to this is that the weight of the box is just going to increase as it fills with expansions.
Speaking of expansions…
Of course because of the great success of Thunderstone (and its expansions) AEG has already released an expansion for the Advance version called Thunderstone Advance: Caverns of Bane. With so many existing potential combinations of card sets in the Thunderstone universe we don’t know how long they’ll keep pumping out expansions. But we’re betting that the end isn’t yet near.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
Our guess is that if you’ve read this far, then you’re either a fan of Thunderstone already or destined to be one. Thunderstone is loved by the boys (including dad) in our family and Thunderstone Advance takes what we love and refines it.
The funny thing though in all this is that when we first played Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin, the boys just kept saying they’d rather play the original. They felt the board formalized things too much and forced their hand in what cards to choose. They also weren’t as impressed with the hero selection. I think that’s because they had come to have their favorites in Thunderstone and Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements.
But those issues were easy to overcome as we simply mixed in some of their loved heroes from previous games with those from Towers of Ruin. And once they got a Familiar in their deck and started using the Prepare action, they could tell there was more to Thunderstone than before – bringing in more decisions and strategy – which they enjoy.
While it won’t make previous versions of Thunderstone obsolete (there are just too many cool cards in those games to leave behind), if you’re new to Thunderstone, we’d recommend jumping right into Thunderstone Advance.
Thanks AEG for another fantastic Thunderstone game and for incorporating elements you’ve learned along the way that have refined the adventure even more!
Interested in what others think of Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin?
Check out these other opinions:
* Board Game Reviews by Josh Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin review
* iSlaytheDragon reviews Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin