It’s always tricky to review an expansion. A lot of the time I find myself repeating what I spoke about in the original review, scrap the lot and end up forgetting all about it. This has especially happened with Carcassonne – there’s a few unfinished pieces sitting in a folder marked ‘LMDS’ on my desktop that may well never see the light of day, for example. So, when the first expansion set for Thunderstone dropped onto my doorstep, the fear hit me again… Thankfully, Wrath of the Elements feels like a little more than just another bunch of cards (despite, yes, being another bunch of cards)! I’ll discuss the additions to the game in a moment, but once thing needs to be covered first.
I recall when I first opened my copy of Thunderstone. All excited, ready to read through the rules and play this brand new rival to Dominion. I ripped the plastic off the card stacks, sorted them all out and then went to put them back in the box. Slowly the realisation hit me that this was actually pretty poor when it came to organisation. Sure, it came with a bunch of divider cards, ever so slightly larger than the actual ones you played with, but none of them were labelled. When they went back into the box, you had no clue what was what, especially when getting ready to set up for a new game. Also, put on the lid, stick it in a bag and you’d end up with them all over – so what was the point in organising them in the first place? Thankfully, the team at AEG listened to the players and thought about the design of Elements. This time around the box is about a third smaller and comes with a pair of long card holders that fit neatly inside. As well as that you also get brand new over-sized dividers, all labelled, for both the original and this first expansion. A lot of companies out there could take a lead from the designers as this really makes organisation simple, both when setting up and putting away – making this simpler is not to be overlooked!
Aesthetic improvements aside, the game is the important thing – so what does Wrath of the Elements add to vanilla Thunderstone? Well, the main new things to be aware of are the traps. These are shuffled into your dungeon deck before the start of the game, triggered immediately when drawn from the pile. These are generally pretty awful, but certain cards available from the Village piles can predict their appearance or even disarm them. It adds a real element of risk to the game – rather than simply arming yourself to the teeth, you need to be a little more considered in your actions. Even if you’ve got a handful of cards that you know will wipe out even the largest beasts in the deck, you could still end up on the wrong side of a trap, rendering you useless. It adds a whole new layer to the game – some may say it’s simply a matter of luck, but thinking about when to head to the dungeon could be the difference between winning and losing.
Also in the dungeon are a new bunch of monsters, the Elements that give the game its title. These are pretty hardcore and some have extra effects whether they’re beaten or not, allowing players to see each other’s cards, for example. There’s also a couple of curiosities like the Guardian (which is incredibly satisfying to take down, but hard!) and The Horde, which is basically a mass of monsters that gets stronger every time you draw a new one – you’ll need to defeat them when they attack en masse, but they’ll earn you a good stack of points. New heroes are also available along with a group of new power cards for the Village and, of course, a brand new Thunderstone to try and claim.
So, is Wrath of the Elements worth it? Well, aside from adding 300-odd cards to your collection, this is a great expansion because it actually makes the base game flow that much better. Where the original Thunderstone is a wonderful experience, this takes that and ramps it up, making it feel much more like a dungeon crawl. Sure, there’s still a couple of things I’d like to see added into the game – treasures would be good, dropped by defeated enemies or randomly shuffled into the Dungeon, for example, but these are supposedly coming in the forthcoming Doomgate Legion expansion – but this is well worth getting. Of course, if you’re a fan of the original game, this is pretty much preaching to the choir. However, if you’ve not played Thunderstone or are on the fence, I’d recommend picking up both the base set and the expansion. Combined, this is gaming gold.
Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements is published by AEG and was designed by Mike Elliott (with artwork again by Jason Engle). It’s available for around £25 online and comes with the latest iteration of the rules – version 1.4 – which expand the usual two to four player experience with instructions for solo play. Now, I wonder what else they’ll end up doing with the Doomgate Legion set? This will take a lot of beating…