Review – Thunderstone Advance from AEG (a solitaire viewpoint)

Review – Thunderstone Advance from AEG (a solitaire viewpoint)

Designers – Ed Bolme, Mike Elliott, Mark Wooton

Art – Jason Engle, Erich Schreiner, Mark Tarrisse, Shane Tyree

Thanks to AEG for providing a review copy of this game

First there was Dominion, which brought deck-building to our attention in a big way. I struggled to enjoy this Spiele Des Jahres winning behemoth of a game, primarily as it offered theme in the artwork but failed to deliver on that level. And I do like my theme.

So along come the inevitable deck-builders to cash in and Thunderstone from AEG is the only one to catch my attention. Why? Because of a cool fantasy/dungeon bash theme which permeates the game. I’ve played a number of times since the first version came out and although not being great at it, have enjoyed it.

I managed to get a copy of the new incarnation, Thunderstone Advance, and thought I’d review the game, solely through the solitaire experience as this, for me is a nice feature.

Unboxing

Before doing that, let’s take a look at what you get inside the box.

For starters, a big difference from the previous versions is the double-sided game board. On slightly easier side, is the Wilderness. Easier in that you lose only 1 attack point (for not having enough light) per each of the 4 spaces in the hall. The Dungeon side has 3 spaces in the hall and you lose 2 points per each space. What a nice change to have spaces to lay out cards in the village. All areas for cards you can purchase are clearly marked. It looks great and gives a bit more of a nice look. There are spaces for the monsters as well as Spells and Familiars too.

Lots of cards, of course dominate the game. The artwork is top class and up to the usual high AEG standards giving you a good sense of the Thunderstone world. The rules are easy to go through and understand (although those new to Thunderstone will need a bit of time to digest the system, not not loads) and nicely laid out. The card text is clear and I personally found them easy to understand in terms of their usage. This games is definitely high quality and speaks to how an “upgrade”, when done well, can be a nice step forward for a game system.

You get -

95 Basic cards

132 Hero cards

103 Monster cards

152 Village cards

28 Special cards

39 Randomizer cards

plastic Thunderstone experience point pieces

What’s new in the Gameplay

The game process is generally the same as in previous versions of Thunderstone but changes have been made -

Bosses – The game is won, not when you pick up a rock, but when you defeat the Thunderstone Bearer, or when the Thunderstone Bearer escapes the Hall.

Dungeon – the wilderness board has 4 monster slots and simplified darkness rules while the Dungeon side has 3 slots and classic darkness rules. Monsters are rated at levels 1-3 to make set-ups more balanced. This helps avoid a stall and gets players into the dungeon faster.

Prepare Action – this additional action has been added and it allows players to put cards from their current hand back on top of the deck to be used next turn.

New Familiar cards have been added and disease cards have been changed to Curse cards.

New starting cards – Militia has been replaced by Regulars, Daggers with Longspears, Iron rations with Thunderstone Shard. These are designed to give more options and get players into the Dungeon faster.

Various minor rules tweaks.

Yes, you can use previous Thunderstone cards with Thunderstone Advance cards.

Solitaire rules

The game is set-up as normal except that the hall is left empty. You see, the AI of the game has a monster moving forward into a hall space at the end of each turn. If the hall is full, the newly revealed monster pushes the monster in rank 1 out of the hall. This monster escapes and attacks the village. This monster card is placed in a pile of escaped monsters which will cost against you at the end of the game. Defeated monsters are added to your own deck.

The main game plays just as well as in previous versions with the basic structure of choosing to go to the village to purchase stuff or helpers to build up your hand, or to go to the dungeon to smash monsters, or as in my case, nit :(. You also can choose to rest or prepare for the next turn.

The game ends when you either defeat the Thunderstone bearer (which is shuffled within the lst 10 cards in the monster deck), or the Thunderstone bearer escapes to attack the village.

You win Thunderstone Advance if your VP total is greater than the VP total of the monsters that have escaped to attack the village.

Did the solitaire version work for me?

I’ve played a number of games with solitaire rules through the years and usually there is a lot of structure required for the AI of the enemy and also for you as a player to get the game to fully work. Not so in this case. The solitaire rules for Thunderstone Advance are very simple and straightforward, and elegant. Don’t that fool you though. It’s screamingly hard, at least at first.

So far, I have continuously been well and truly given the smack down in the solitaire version. The 3rd level monsters are really tough to beat. I also think that I need to learn better which cards to keep, which to ditch to get an optimized deck. Trouble is, you need to do this whilst those monsters are headed for the exit and dinner at the village.

This is a very tense experience. The game play for solitaire is fast and moves along very well. Its easy to get fixed on trying to kill monsters instead of sacrificing, letting some escape, making good purchases and getting a stronger, meaner hand to deal with the monsters. Its going to take me a while to figure out the best choices. Smacked down or not, I found this to be a lot of frustrating, tense fun. The theme is strong as you do have the sense of a fantasy world and monster romp. I couldn’t wait to try again and I actually prefer playing solitaire best of all. The games are short enough that I felt energized to have another go. There is the basic set-up as well as scenarios with a reasonable amount of cards. Hmmm… I might have a go and play 2 separate hands of adventurer cards.

Yes, it is really tough to beat, so not for those looking for a quick win. You will have to earn it and this may be too frustrating for some. I do wonder if the level 3’s are a bit too tough and whether some will be put off. But for me, I just want to have more goes to try and figure out how to beat those rock hard level 3’s. I recommend players should give the solitaire version a go. It is a bit of a puzzle to figure out the optimal deck to win with a load of replay opportunity and divers set-ups. I’ve scratched the surface so far and I want a lot more please. I have to say that I think that I am hooked on the solitaire version of Thunderstone Advance.

Kudos to AEG for keeping the solitaire system very simple, very enjoyable (in a masochistic kind of way) and fun. Overall, this is a very nice upgrade to the earlier Thunderstone system.

Boardgames in Blighty rating for solitaire play – 8.5 out of 10

Family friendly?

No, its not a family game.

For more information go to – http://www.alderac.com/thunderstone/

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