Begin Again – Thunderstone Advance Starter Set review

Thunderstone COVER

If you look back through the LMDS archives, you’ll see that we’ve talked about Thunderstone quite often. From the original version and its expansions through to the rebooted Advance products, we’ve always been rather positive about AEG’s deckbuilder. Having received the recently released Starter Set, I figured I’d see if we could get a fresh voice in to discuss it, so I passed it on to my friend Simon (who is also the guy who does all our laser cut stuff for FrogFlip!). Here’s what he reckoned.

“I have never played Thunderstone by AEG before and its been on my to get list for quite awhile, but for one reason or another it unfortunately stayed on the list. So when a very good friend [Hi! – Michael] gave me a copy of the new starter set I dived straight in with a lot of enthusiasms and excitement. I wished I had swum in the dungeon-y goodness of Thunderstone sooner. So far I have played six separate times with different friends in a little over a week, and at the moment I cannot get rid of the need to play more of it.

This is a new reincarnation of the starter set, but this time it’s the turn of Thunderstone Advance to get the entry level treatment. This starter is not just a recompiled set of old cards, but a mix some old and quite a few new ones that have been finely tuned into one hell of a hero hiring, equipment buying, monster bashing, dungeon adventuring deck building game. Not only have the card decks been finely tuned, the rulebook is now easy to read and understand pages. To go from a Thunderstone virgin to a player that is able to teach the game to other people within one game was so very surprising and simple. The longest bit for the first game was undoing all the wrapping and the initial card setup, basically sorting the cards into their groups and placing them with their dividers into the provided plastic card tidy while trying not to get caught up in reading the text on the cards and ruining the suspense of the first game. I sat with a friend and read the play setup and the rules which took ten minutes maximum and we went straight into our first game; it was that simple. No reading the rules the night before in bed while trying to remember them as your wife asks day to day questions as you’re hoping to remember enough of the rules that you don’t feel a failure when you finally sit down to play.

Let me talk about the components to the Starter Set. You get over 250 cards and dividers of Heroes, Monsters, Equipment, Specials and Randomisers plus the previously mentioned rulebook. The cards are heavy, good quality stock, and feel plastic coated to allow a good amount of wear and tear at a gaming table. Artwork is great and nicely presented, not cartoony at all, and all text is in a large, clear font that is easy to read for us older players! The balance between art and rules on the cards is very good and neither detracts from the other, with the sections for the game mechanics easy to view at a glance. I also noticed that the cards where not so glossy so they’d be to hard to read when they are laid down in the Village or Dungeon locations when playing in a brightly lit room. It’s all stored in a smaller than usual box, and the great surprise inside was the strong and simple card tidy; now my cards can be kept in an easy to access way without them being damaged whilst in transit. AEG also supply two pieces of foam to help hold the cards upright – one comment on the foam (mainly for AEG if they’re reading this) is that a little bit larger piece of foam would have made all the difference, as in the end I added a bit more myself to help keep the cards firmly in place. I wish they’d included some tokens or counters to represent experience in the game and more selection of cards to help with replayability [But remember, it *is* a Starter Set- Michael].

Some of the cards you'll find in the Starter Set. There's plenty of exclusives in there too, so even Thunderstone veterans will find it appealing.

Some of the cards you’ll find in the Starter Set. There’s plenty of exclusives in there too, so even Thunderstone veterans will find it appealing.

The game mechanics are very simple, allowing players to engage one another in friendly banter and conversation whilst enjoying the game. This I found was one of the joys of Thunderstone; conversation did not distract from the game play and the game did not get in the way of being sociable. This may not sound like a big plus to some people, but for me where I am limited on both social time and game time, I feel that the ability to enjoy both makes for a better experience. The game is designed around building a powerful deck of cards from a basic starting selection that will allow you to gain the most victory points. Each time it’s your turn you draw six cards, then decide what you are going to do with your hand by using your hand to do one of the following:

– Going to the Village to buy Equipment or hire some help. You can also level up a Hero if you have enough Experience.

– Enter the Dungeon, fight a monster and possibly gain rewards. You can go and purposely lose the fight too, just to change the monsters line-up!

– Prepare, where you to put any useful cards back on top of your draw deck in a bid to get a better hand next time.

– Rest, which allows you to get rid of cards from your deck by destroying one card from your hand. Useful to get rid of weaker cards that are gumming up your deck.

Then your turn is over and on to the next player. There are many strategies within Thunderstone – do you aim to make a small but powerful deck or go for a build that has a bit of everything where you could possibly cope with any monster you might face. Whatever you choose, just remember that the Victory Points are what you’re looking for in the end, and any strategy is potentially legitimate.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first opened the Thunderstone Advance Starter Set box I was not so sure as nothing is given away with any content shots on the box! I have played a number of other deck building games by different companies that have been around for as long as Thunderstone with a similar number of expansions, but I and many of my gaming friends have suffered with learning the rule systems and getting to grip with correct meaning of a rule in the manual or even on a card. I’ve had to trawl through the rulebook (many, many times), go to a FAQ or even ask a question on the game’s forum. In the end I always feel like I was missing something or more to the point the other games where missing something that stopped me from enjoying the game. The end result is me leaving the other games on the shelf and me reaching now for Thunderstone. This is a game that can be learnt, played and enjoyed so quickly and easily and I wish more companies would learn from AEG and their Thunderstone Advance Starter Set.

So, the positivity continues! The Thunderstone Advance Starter Set can be picked up at most decent game stores, and the good folks at Gameslore have it in for £20.49. The set caters for between two and five players and games will normally take around an hour. Thunderstone Advance is designed by Mike Elliot and published by AEG, who were lovely enough to provide a copy of the Starter Set for this review. Thanks to Simon for the write up!

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