Deeper and Deeper – Thunderstone: Doomgate Legion review

Time for another guest review here on The Little Metal Dog Show, this time from Steven Robinson. In his own words, he’s disillusioned, bitter and seeking solace from video games in board games and CCGs. Regular readers and listeners to the show will know that I’m a big fan of AEG’s excellent deck builder Thunderstone. I figured it would be a little samey for me to take a look at their second expansion to the vanilla game, so I sent a copy of Doomgate Legion for Steven to investigate. Here’s what he thought.

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Wrath Of The Elements added the pure, unadulterated evil that were traps and the sphincter-clenching Guardians into the mix as well as a menagerie of increasingly evil mob cards like the Elements and the Horde with the general intention of making the game that bit more difficult and, by extension, more fun and Doomgate Legion does pretty much the same thing. The mobs are bigger and nastier, there’s a Horde-like creature called the Swarm and another Guardian to scare the living daylights out of you. Or make you roll your eyes and wonder how the hell you’re going to beat it down with 6 cards.

Here's what you get in the box. And the box itself, obviously.

For those of you that haven’t bought Wrath of the Elements (and why not? Hmm? Excuses excuses) I’ll just summarise the Guardian and Horde. The Guardian is a singular enemy that falls into the “rock bastard hard” category of things that try and eat your face (well, as much as they can in Thunderstone). They have Breach effects, so when they hit rank 1 they move into rank 0 (essentially outside of the dungeon) and proceed to make your life miserable by making you destroy cards or, in the new Guardian’s case, move the Thunderstone to the bottom of the deck should it start the turn in the dungeon hall. The Horde is a separate deck of foes that get progressively harder the further down the pile you go. At the start of the game blank Horde cards are shuffled into the Dungeon deck. When you refresh the dungeon hall by filling it with cards and a Horde card is pulled, you take the top card of the separate deck and put it into play. The Horde card added an interesting scoring mechanic as you also claim one Victory Point for each Horde card in your deck to a maximum of five, meaning it can be a good strategy to scoop up as many of the Horde that appear. This returns in Doomgate Legion in the form of the Swarm, except now there is a nasty twist; every time you defeat a Swarm you have to add a disease to your discard pile. Now, in vanilla Thunderstone and Wrath of the Elements this was a minor irk but no big deal as you could just bin it on your rest turn or suck up the negative effect to your attack, but Doomgate is not a loving expansion. It wants to hurt you and this is done with the introduction of a new Disease deck.

The new deck not only has –1 and –2 Attack cards, but also cards that reduces one hero’s strength. If that hero’s strength falls below 0 you destroy it at the end of the turn. There’s also the one that you must use in the Village and increases the cost of all the cards by 3 gold. Fiendish. The new Diseases are balanced a little by some of the new cards, like the Sidhe hero which allows you to pass on a gained Disease card to an opponents discard pile, or the Pious Chaplain Villager card that allows you to destroy a Disease card and draw off it. The Sidhe is especially evil as if you manage to get a level 3 Sidhe Spirit you get to put a Disease under each enemy in the dungeon, adding to the health of the creatures. The player who attacks that creature gains the Diseases placed beneath, regardless of whether they defeated it. Of course this can backfire if your opponent has been stocking up on Pious Chaplains. That’s just the first couple of examples of how you can with your opponent’s deck though – another comes from the Verdan heroes. Level 1 has the dungeon effect of making other players with 6 cards or more discard a card at random, Level 2 makes them reveal a spell or discard a card and Level 3 makes other players lose 1 XP. Like most deck-building games, it’s the combination of these that make for the most interesting matches when you pass the Diseases around and get that smug satisfaction of disposing of them for card draw.

A couple of the new hero types available. Hmmm.

One of the things about Thunderstone is that it is a curiously solitary affair, even when playing with two or three other people. Even though you are racing against others in the scramble to acquire the most victory points and find the titular Thunderstone, there was really very little interaction between players when compared to the game it most resembles, Dominion. Dominion’s capacity for sticking the knife into your opponents is endlessly hilarious and makes for the most entertaining games, and the lack of ways to hinder your opponent makes Thunderstone a little (and it is only a little) dry. It was still fun building decks to smash demons and whatnot in the face, as it should be. AEG have thought about this (no doubt spurred on by the fans cries for shafting their friends in one way or another in the game) and have added the opportunity to do so with this set of cards. If I’m honest, the game still needs more of this kind of opponent shaftery. It’s excellent when it goes off as planned, but as the card pool grows from the base set and expansions the chances of getting the cards that hobble your fellow dungeoneers are smaller when randomising the selection. Hopefully the new Dragonspire expansion will add more interactive cards to the mix.

The final new addition is that of loot. What good is a dungeon crawler without loot? There are 2 types of treasure in Doomgate Legion, Amulets and Ulbrick’s Treasure. The Treasure cards are added to the play area of the player who drew it while filling the dungeon hall and remain active at all times. Their powers only trigger when the player decides to use them and are then destroyed. It adds a nice boost to the play as some of the new enemy cards can be a tad on the troublesome side, so getting a +3 attack with no questions asked from an Amulet is priceless. The Ulbrick Treasure cards are slightly different in that they’re more based around card draw. The Gauntlets allow another turn if you destroy an enemy worth 4 Victory Points or less, which is a bit bonkers. The Treasure cards aren’t particularly plentiful though – there’s only six of each so I should imagine that more will be forthcoming in the next set.

More cards. Come on, what do you expect, small plastic tokens? OHHHH.

In all honesty, most people will pick up Doomgate Legion because Thunderstone in general is a cracking game and the need for more cards is always very high when it comes to deck builders. The cards in the box are a little on the lean side, but they do add that some spice to the game. I just hope that the next expansion runs with the ball and gives us more of the good stuff Doomgate Legion has put in the mix.

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So, pretty positive, all in all. Doomgate Legion was published in late 2010 by AEG and is available for between £25 and £30 here in the UK. Designed by Mike Elliot with art from Jason Engle, it requires the original Thunderstone set to play and is good for between two and five players. Now, to keep an eye out for Dragonspire…

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