Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Thunderstone Quest’ Reboots a Deck-Building Favorite
Posted on July 17, 2018 by Jonathan H. Liu
Thunderstone, one of the earlier deck-building games (and a personal favorite of mine), got a significant overhaul in Thunderstone Quest, which was Kickstarted last year and was delivered to backers earlier this year — but it was a Kickstarter-only game that did not have a wider retail distribution. Well, in case you missed it the first time around, it’s back on Kickstarter later today for a second print run, plus an additional quest and solo/cooperative mode. Come on in: I’ll show you around!
What Is Thunderstone Quest?
Thunderstone Quest is a game for 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes 60–90 minutes to play. Although the box says 14+, I’ve played with my 11-year-old as well and she was able to handle it. It’s more complex than some deck-building games like Dominion, but players who are experienced with the genre shouldn’t have too much trouble. The game has a fantasy dungeon crawl theme, so there are monsters of various sorts, but nothing that really bothered my kids. The Kickstarter launches today at noon (Eastern): visit the AEG website for the link.
Thunderstone Quest is GeekDad Approved!
Thunderstone Quest Components
The Champion reward level included 5 quests (including the Kickstarter-exclusive “Total Eclipse of the Sun”); the base game included 2 quests (“A Mirror in the Dark” and “Risen from the Mire”), with the last two quests to be released separately in 2019.
The base game components include:
- Village board
- 4 Player boards
- 5 dice
- 32 Wound tokens
- 16 Iron Ration tokens
- 16 Lantern tokens
- 16 Potion tokens
- 60 Experience Point (XP) tokens:
- 45 1-point tokens
- 15 10-point tokens
- 6 Champion miniatures
- 4 Starting Decks, each containing:
- 6 Adventurers
- 2 Thunderstone Shards
- 2 Lanterns
- 2 Daggers
- 21 Treasure cards
- 16 Side Quest cards
- 16 Guild Sponsorship cards
- 25 Legendary cards
- 24 Festering Wound cards
- 6 Guardian Key cards
- 1 Wilderness Dungeon Room
- Divider cards
In addition, each quest includes 6 additional Dungeon Room tiles, and approximately 245 cards. The cards include heroes, enemies, weapons, spells, and items, as well as some additional treasure cards. They also include divider cards for all of the card types included in the quest.
Each quest’s cards are wrapped as three decks, with some extra blanks on the front and back that just have the quest title, so that you don’t see too much ahead of time.
You may also notice a lone yellow meeple in my photo (near the dice): it was something of a joke from the Kickstarter campaign, and was thrown in as a bonus, but it’s not actually needed for the game. You can use it in place of one of the plastic miniatures if you like.
Overall, the component quality is pretty nice, though I had a few nitpicks here and there.
The box for the Champion edition is huge — the base game comes in a smaller box. There’s a top tray with ribbon handles that has room for all of the dungeon tiles, wooden tokens and dice, and a molded plastic tray for the miniatures. Underneath that tray are four long card boxes — you can tell from the photos above that everything in the Champion edition (all five quests) fits into just two of the boxes, so there’s still room for double the content — we’ll see if that eventually gets filled up! It reminds me a bit of the box for Mystic Vale: Conclave, but I like the top tray a little better here.
The wooden tokens have unique shapes so you can tell them apart easily; the XP tokens look like the Thunderstone shards and are light grey and black for the two different denominations. The only issue I had was that the XP tokens can be hard to pick up several at a time, just because of the shape, but it’s not too bad.
I did notice that there is some irregularity in the colors of the card backs — the bane of any game with hundreds of cards. It’s noticeable under some lighting conditions and it’s not a huge issue for me, but it does seem like this is an issue that the manufacturer should have been able to address.
The plastic miniatures represent a range of character types, and although it’s only a 4-player game, there are 6 miniatures to choose from to give you a little more variety. Since I haven’t painted mine, though, I have found that some of the smaller figurines can be easily mixed up, and players often move the wrong one if more than one of those is in use.
The dungeon room tiles are large, sturdy cardboard, and they fit together so that the “doors” shown on the edges line up with each other and line up with the right side of the village board. Each room has different sorts of effects — it might make a monster harder to kill, or give extra rewards for killing it, or have immediate effects that trigger when you enter the room.
The cards are a big improvement over the original Thunderstone in terms of legibility, and I like the vibrant artwork throughout the game. It’s easier to tell which numbers mean what things, which had been problematic in the first edition. However, there are still some things that could have been better — the point values, for instance, are shown in the bottom center of the card as a white number against a lightning-covered Thunderstone shard, which makes them hard to read from across the table.
Even the divider cards are nicer. Each one features the artwork from one of the cards in its set, and the top border is also color coded so you can easily tell which card type it is. The icon at the top left indicates which quest it’s from, and the backs of the monster dividers also have a list of the specific monsters in that set.
The player boards are nicely laid out, with room for your deck and discard pile, your gear tokens, XP tokens, and a hit point tracker where wound tokens are placed. Next to the board there’s room for your side quest and guild sponsorship cards. The player aid is also printed right on the player board so you have an easy reference sheet for your turns; that’s a plus-minus for me, because although it’s great for learning the game and making sure people can reference it if they need help, it does mean the player board takes up almost twice as much space as it would otherwise. Strangely, the player boards fold in half, even though there’s plenty of room in the box to store them unfolded.
How to Play Thunderstone Quest
You can download a copy of the rulebook here. Note that there have been several changes from original Thunderstone, so if you’re familiar with that you’ll have a head-start but you should check out what’s changed. (I’ll have a shorter list of the new changes below.)
The goal of the game is to have the most points after the final battle with the Thunderstone Guardian.
Each player gets a player board and a starting deck, which includes 6 adventurers, 2 daggers, 2 Thunderstone shards, and 2 lanterns. You shuffle your own deck of cards and place it on your player board. In addition, the second player gets 1 iron ration token, the third player gets 2, and so on. Everyone chooses a champion miniature.
Each player also gets a side quest (deal three, pick one) and a guild sponsorship (choose one), though you can omit these when you’re first learning the game.
The village and dungeon are set up based on the scenario, as explained in the Quest Book. Each quest has three scenarios to be played using its set of cards and dungeon tiles, with a slightly different mix of cards for each scenario.
The marketplace section of the village board (on the left) will include 8 stacks of cards, a mixture of weapons, spells, and items, according to the scenario rules. (Each stack is several copies of the same card.) The Bazaar is where the gear tokens are placed: iron rations, lanterns, and potions. The Guilds’ Quarter has four stacks of hero cards. Each stack consists of one hero, arranged so that the Level 1 heroes are at the top, then Level 2, then Level 3. Finally, the treasure cards are shuffled and placed in the Shop of Arcane Wonders section.
The scenario will indicate which dungeon tiles to lay out along the right side of the village board, including the wilderness at the very top, and then two rooms in each of the three tiers. Each tier has a monster type associated with it for the scenario — those monster cards are shuffled and placed on the village board next to each tier. The six guardian key cards are shuffled into the monster decks: 1 in Tier 1, 2 in Tier 2, and 3 in Tier 3. Finally, the Thunderstone Guardian is placed in the wilderness, Guardian-side down, so that it shows the Level 0 monster instead.
Wound tokens are placed as a supply in the wilderness. There aren’t dedicated spaces for the XP tokens, so I usually keep them at the top corners of the village board.
Everyone draws a hand of 6 cards. Now you’re ready to begin!
Each turn, you will decide whether to go to the village or the dungeon, and then you’ll use your cards to take actions at the chosen location.
Place your miniature in one of the spaces on the village board, and then reveal your whole hand of cards.
In any order, you may use “Village” abilities on your cards and gear tokens. You also produce gold according to the gold coin icons at the top right of your cards. Iron rations may be discarded for an extra 1 gold, and potions may be spent to remove 1 wound from your player board. (Lanterns do not typically do anything in the village.)
You may buy 1 card from the village, either from the marketplace area or the Guilds’ Quarter, by spending the gold you have produced this turn. The price of a card is shown at the bottom right in a grey square. (When buying hero cards, you must buy from the top of the deck — the lowest level available. Once the Level 1 cards run out, you may buy a Level 2 hero.) Purchased cards are placed into your discard pile, and any gold you don’t spent is forfeited.
You may heal 1 wound for free, removing it from your player board.
You may level up 1 hero in your hand: the cost is 2 plus the hero’s level, and is paid for using XP tokens. You remove the old hero from the game, and take the next level hero from the deck. Your starting adventurers are Level 0 heroes so they may be leveled up into any Level 1 hero by spending 2 XP. Note that if there aren’t any available cards of the appropriate level, you may not level up that hero.
Depending on which location you chose, there are additional actions or restrictions:
- The Bazaar: You may also buy one gear token during your turn.
- The Guilds’ Quarter: You may level up 2 heroes instead of 1.
- Shop of Arcane Wonders: You may buy a treasure card from the deck for 10 gold.
- The Temple: Before you use village powers, you place 1 or more cards from your hand back on top of your deck. You may heal an extra wound this turn, but you are not allowed to level up any heroes, and you are also not allowed to play any cards that would let you enter the dungeon.
If you were already in the dungeon on your last turn, your miniature stays where it was. Otherwise, place your miniature in the wilderness. Reveal your hand.
In any order, you may use “Dungeon” abilities on your cards, wield weapons, and use gear tokens. To wield a weapon, you must place it with one of your heroes. Each hero has a skill level (shown in a grey banner at the top left); they may wield any number of weapons as long as the total skill requirements (shown in the red banner on the weapons) do not exceed their skill level. Iron rations may be discarded to add 2 skill to any hero, lanterns may be discarded to produce 1 light, and potions may be discarded to heal 1 wound.
Count up the amount of light on your cards and produced by lanterns. You may now move your miniature around in the dungeon using this light. Each room has a torch in the top corner with a light value — you must spend that much light to enter the room, and you may move any number of spaces in the dungeon as long as you have enough light. Some rooms or monsters also have a yellow alert symbol at the top — those indicate that something happens as soon as you enter that room.
Note that many of the rooms have effects printed on them, so take note of those as you move through the dungeon. For instance, the Sunken Well gives monsters an additional health, but also provides an additional lantern as a reward.
Once you finish moving, you’ll have to fight the monster in your current room. First, you trigger any “Before Battle” effects; then, you resolve the battle; then, you trigger any “After Battle” effects.
To resolve the battle, you compare your attack value to the monster’s health. Your attack value is the total of all the attack values shown on your heroes, wielded weapons, items, and spells, and it is divided into physical attack (sword and shield icon) and magic attack (pink glyph and wand icon). The monster’s health is the large circle at the top left of the card. In addition, it may have armor and/or magical resistance, which cancels out that much physical or magical attack, respectively. If you meet or exceed the monster’s health, you win — otherwise, you lose and the monster stays in place.
After the battle, you may gain wounds, XP, and rewards, as indicated at the bottom of the monster card. The current room may also add wounds, XP, or rewards. You gain wounds whether you won or lost, but you only get XP and rewards if you win. A treasure chest symbol means that you gain a card from the treasure deck. A red blood spatter is a regular wound (take a wound token and put it on your board), but the blood spatter with the green microbes is a festering wound, which is a card that goes into your discard pile and has nasty effects later.
Some cards and rooms have “Spoils” abilities — these may only be used after you defeat a monster.
If you defeated the monster, remove its card from the game, and draw a new monster from the same tier to replace it. (If that deck is empty, draw a monster from the next higher tier instead.)
End of turn
At the end of your turn, you place all of your cards into your discard pile. Check your hit points (HP) by looking at your player board: your HP is the highest number that isn’t covered by a wound token, and as you collect more wounds, your HP decreases. You draw cards equal to your current HP. If your deck runs out, you shuffle your own discard pile to form a new deck.
If you play with side quests, each player will get three to choose from during setup. These are kept secret from other players, and give you special conditions to meet. Some side quests will grant you access to specific legendary cards if completed — you reveal them, and then take that card from the box. Legendary cards can be quite powerful, but also unpredictable. I won’t show many of them here because I think it’s fun having them be a surprise when they turn up.
Other side quests award points (printed at the bottom center of the card) if you fulfill certain requirements. These are revealed as explained on the card.
There are four classes of heroes in Thunderstone Quest: fighters, clerics, wizards, and rogues. Each of these classes is associated with a particular guild, and during setup each player may choose one guild sponsorship card, which is displayed next to their player board. (There are multiple copies of each card, so all players may choose the same guild if they wish.) Each guild will award extra XP for defeating monsters under specific conditions. For instance, the Healers’ Order will give you extra XP every time you defeat a Level 1 or higher monster if it deals a wound and you have a cleric present.
Shuffled within the decks of monsters are the six guardian keys — when one of these is revealed (while refilling a dungeon room), it is set aside and you draw again until you get a monster. (Since only one key may be found per turn, any additional keys that turn up while refilling a room are shuffled back into the monster deck after all dungeon rooms are refilled.)
When the fourth key has been found, the final round is triggered. The monster in the wilderness is flipped over to reveal the Thunderstone Guardian. Every player immediately draws 6 cards and then discards 4, and then every player will have one more turn, including the player who found the last key. On this last turn, you may battle the Guardian in the wilderness, or you may take a regular turn; the Guardian remains in the wilderness for all players to fight even if it is defeated. When you defeat a Thunderstone Guardian, its XP value is equal to half your total attack, rounded up.
At the end of the game, you add up your score:
- Unspent XP tokens are worth 1 point each
- Cards in your deck/discard are worth the point value at the bottom center
- Some side quests are worth points if completed
The highest score wins; ties go to the player with the most total wounds, then to the player with the most treasure and legendary cards in their deck/discard.
There are a couple of other play modes available.
Rather than the scenarios, you can choose or randomly select the cards and dungeon tiles used for the game. Want to run a scenario that’s all dwarves and hammers? Go for it. Want to make the dungeon tougher? That’s possible, too.
Epic Thunderstone Quest was a variant by Richard Launius and Tom Vasel that used all of your cards at once rather than just a select few. Instead of having stacks of the same things in the marketplace, you shuffled one copy of every item together into a massive item deck, and revealed two. The same process was used for weapons, spells, monsters, and even heroes. You use one copy of each Level 1 hero, and when you level up, you find the next level in the box. Of course, playing in this mode would be a nightmare to sort and put away all the cards afterward (in case you wanted to switch back to traditional mode or a scenario), so the original Kickstarter had an “epic” add-on that came with an extra set of cards just for this purpose.
There’s also a campaign mode: after each game, each person (starting with the winner) may take one card from the marketplace (item, spell, or weapon) and place it in their starting deck. You may not take something that another player has chosen. For the next game of the campaign, you begin with 1 copy of that card in your deck. Keep track of your final score throughout each play in the campaign, and the campaign winner is the player with the highest cumulative score after the agreed-upon number of games.
This second Kickstarter campaign also includes a few new things: first, the sixth quest, “What Lies Beneath,” a new expansion with 240+ cards and 6 more dungeon tiles.
It also adds Barricades mode, which is a solo/coop system. You can read a little more about it on AEG’s website here, but it adds a few new starter cards that have more use in a cooperative setting. You may also build barricades, or trade cards with other players. Meanwhile, monsters will attack the village, which can destroy cards in the marketplace unless you protect them. Thunderstone Advance had a cooperative mode, and I imagine Barricades mode may be somewhat similar, though tweaked for Thunderstone Quest.
What’s New in Thunderstone Quest
If you’re already familiar with Thunderstone or Thunderstone Advance, much of the game will be familiar, but there are a few significant changes throughout. Here’s a brief list of what’s been changed:
- Gear tokens provide one-time effects, and are kept in your supply instead of having to draw them from your deck.
- The dungeon is now a map with several locations, and your position in the dungeon is persistent until you return to the village.
- Light is used to move around in the dungeon, rather than used for the light penalty.
- Each dungeon room has its own effect and light requirement.
- Monsters do not leave if undefeated.
- Dungeon rooms have three tiers, and corresponding monsters are placed in each tier.
- The Giant Rat (in the wilderness) provides an opportunity to level up starting adventurers quickly.
- The village has several locations that have different effects.
- There is no “Prepare” action, though the Temple in the village is similar. There is also no “Rest” action to destroy cards from your deck.
- Monsters aren’t added to your deck when defeated — they have one-time effects and rewards.
- Wounds are typically tokens that reduce your HP, decreasing your hand size, rather than cards added to your deck.
- “Strength” is now “Skill,” and heroes may wield any number of weapons up to their skill capacity.
- Many cards in the village are worth points.
- Side quests, legendary cards, guild sponsorships, and treasure cards are all new card types.
- Monster abilities have been simplified to “Before Battle” and “After Battle.”
- XP is worth 1 point each at the end of the game.
Why You Should Play Thunderstone Quest
The original Thunderstone was actually the first deck-building game I’d ever played — somehow I missed Dominion and didn’t get to it until later — and it’s really the reason I fell in love with the genre. For a long time, it remained my favorite deck-building game, and I still have the original and most of the expansions prior to the Thunderstone Advance reboot. I loved the feel of building up a party of heroes, equipping them with weapons and gear, and sending them off into the dungeon to defeat monsters. I liked the way that heroes leveled up with experience and became more powerful, and the way that the game took the RPG theme and translated it into a card game.
That said, there were certainly some issues with it. I feel like AEG hasn’t always been great with user interface design — even their more recent series Mystic Vale, which I really love, has hard-to-read icons and tiny text that could have been improved. Thunderstone Questis a bit better, though I’ve noted there are still some places where numbers could be more legible. Certainly the card powers are now, for the most part, easier to understand. Instead of the complicated “Battle, Aftermath, Global, Trophy, Raid, Stalk, Breach, React” abilities on monsters, there are now just “Before Battle” and “After Battle,” which is much easier to track.
The first version kind of assumed you had played Dominion. I struggled with the rulebook and it took me several attempts before I finally figured out what was going on. (After playing Dominion, I could see how everything would have been a lot easier if I’d started there.) Thunderstone Quest has an improved rulebook that will make things easier to learn, with a lexicon at the back that explains things in more detail, and a handy icon legend on the back of the rulebook.
The other big issue with the original Thunderstone was that you could get stuck grinding at the beginning of the game. Because of the way the dungeons used to work, you could wind up with high level monsters populating the dungeon, and nobody was able to fight them. It used to be that if you fought a monster, it would go to the bottom of the deck if you lost, but you would still suffer the consequences, and nobody wanted to be the one to pay the price for others to get to the more manageable monsters. It could result in players taking turn after turn in the village, just trying to build up enough attack power and light so that somebody could finally enter the dungeon, and that experience could suck the fun out of the experience.
But I loved it anyway, warts and all.
So I was particularly excited last year when AEG launched a Kickstarter for a new, rebooted version that claimed to fix a lot of these issues, but I didn’t get a chance to play it myself until my backer reward was delivered earlier this year. I hadn’t realized at first that they weren’t releasing a retail version, though, so I’m also glad that there’s another opportunity for those who missed it the first time around.
I haven’t played through all of the quests yet — I’ve mostly played the first two, since I’ve also taught the game to several new players — but I’ve gotten at least enough of a taste to know that I really like the changes made for Thunderstone Quest. The new gear tokens are a nice way of making sure that you have some of those particular things when you need them. Iron rations and torches used to be cards that went into your deck, but inevitably you wouldn’t have them at the right time: I’ve got my hero and this weapon and a torch, but not enough skill to wield the weapon! Although the gear tokens are one-time-use, it’s very hand to be able to stock up on a few lanterns, and then spend them if you don’t generate enough light to get to the room you’re aiming for.
Speaking of light, I also like the new dungeon a lot. The old dungeon was just a row of cards next to the monster deck, and the closer you got to the deck, the more light you needed to bring — but you could make up for it by spending more attack power. Now, the dungeon is an actual map with different rooms, usually (but not always) requiring more light as you go deeper into the dungeon. I like the way that each room has its own effects, so that you get more potential combinations of monster + room. The same monster will have different effects and different rewards depending on which room it’s in.
It also gives you more choice when deciding which monsters to go after — you’ve got six to choose from, not counting the level 0 monster in the wilderness. That means you’re not stuck fighting a low-level monster when you draw a great attack hand, or having to return to the village because you didn’t get your powerful heroes for a turn.
The wilderness also gives you some more flexibility when you’re first starting the game and don’t have a lot of heroes and weapons yet. At least in the first two scenarios, the level 0 monster is a Giant Rat: it’s pretty easy to kill, doesn’t give you any wounds, and — the best part — it allows you to level up an adventurer for free if you defeat it. That means that you have an opportunity to hit the dungeon even on your first turn and start building up without having to grind for a few more weapons and heroes or whatever. At some point, going into the wilderness to fight a Giant Rat is no longer worth it, even if you still have adventurers in your hand, simply because there are better rewards for fighting stronger monsters, but it’s a boon when you’re getting started.
The lantern, one of your starting cards, also provides a special bonus: you can take a normal turn in the village, and then go to the dungeon afterward and take another turn with the same cards — though you can’t leave the wilderness on that turn. This can let you buy some things and still go kill off a Giant Rat, or even the Guardian if it’s been revealed.
With only the first two scenarios unwrapped so far, I haven’t seen all the variations on the card types, but I already like what I’ve seen. There are some heroes that are multi-class, which makes them more versatile for certain weapons or items. Clerics usually allow you to heal wounds, rogues are good at generating gold, wizards and spells go together like peas and carrots, and fighters have powerful attacks. But within each class there’s a lot of variety, too, and each hero has its own particular strengths.
The side quests are a fun addition that doesn’t change up the game too much but can give you a nice secondary goal to strive for. I usually like taking the side quests that give you a legendary card, though those cards don’t always work with your preferred strategy, so do that at your own risk! Treasure cards are another fun addition: they offer unique cards that are only available through the Shop of Arcane Wonders or by defeating monsters that offer treasure as a reward.
Ultimately, what I like about Thunderstone Quest is the way that you have to look at the whole system — the available heroes and marketplace, the particular mix of monsters and dungeon rooms, your side quest and guild sponsorship — and try to build a deck that will get you through it all. You try to figure out which cards will work well together, and it’s exhilarating to see it pay off. Deck-building games are often about building an engine: how do you ensure that, in a random draw of 6 cards, you’ll get a good combination that will benefit you? Do you put a lot of gold-producing cards in your deck early so that you can buy up a lot of expensive cards, and then worry about leveling up later? Do you fight a bunch of giant rats so that you have a bunch of stronger heroes to employ? Do you get a little of everything, or go heavily into one hero type and one weapon type? For me, it’s fun to puzzle out these different questions as I play, and see if I can build a better deck than the other players.
The Champion pledge level isn’t cheap, of course, but you’re essentially getting a base game and several expansions all at once (plus the One Box to Hold Them All). If you go the more traditional route with the $60 base game and then add on expansions later, I imagine the total price will be slightly higher but it gives you a little more leeway if it turns out you don’t like it. Me, I’m all in — it will take me a while to get through the first five quests, particularly because I’m always working on reviews of different games, but I’m sure that it’s a game I’m going to want to keep on my shelf for a long time. (I’m almost ready to let go of my original Thunderstone and expansions, now that this one has arrived.)
Go to AEG’s website for a link to the Thunderstone Quest Kickstarter page! There will be plenty of stretch goals and additional content to check out, I’m sure, and if last year’s Kickstarter campaign was any indication, there’s a lot more in store.