2-4 players, Competitive, Deck Builder
Designers: Mike Elliott, Bryan Reese, Mark Wootton
Artwork: Jason Engle
Overview of Gameplay
In Thunderstone Quest you are building up your deck of cards to delve into the dungeons and battle monsters in the hopes of finding these elusive Guardian keys. That’s the game in a nutshell but there is so much more than that. Firstly all players start with the same exact cards. Over the course of the game you will draw from this small deck and play these cards gaining specific benefits from them. Some allow you to purchase other cards to add to your ever growing deck to strengthen it. Others give you power to attack and kill creatures in the dungeons which in turn gain you experience and treasure. You can then use this gained experience to level up your base character attack cards in your deck to much more powerful characters. So basically this game pulls off a nice amalgam of a deck builder dungeon crawler. And it works very well I am happy to report!
Win Condition /Length
So even though the game is competitive, you never really feel like you are competing. There are more than enough of each card in the market to buy and plenty of the four different characters to level into. So you really never have a fear of losing out on any cards. The biggest competition comes from the dungeon monsters as when a player defeats one, it gets replaced with a new one that could be different. But even then it doesn’t really feel like you are fighting for supremacy here. So each player can easily do their own thing, racking up VP’s through cards and exp.
To win you and others must delve into the dungeons and fight creatures until a total of four guardian keys are drawn. Once this happens, the main boss reveals itself and each player has one final turn to take any action and then the game ends and VP’s are calculated based on the value of the cards you bought and the experience you have gained. Personally I felt the game ended WAY too suddenly. You are spending all this time crafting up a nice deck, collecting keys and the like. Then once you finally find the last key to gain access to the final boss…..you get one more turn. That’s it. It seemed anti-climactic to end the game that abruptly after all that time building up but I guess a game has to end eventually. But then again perhaps that is the sign of a fun game, when have been playing for 2 hours and still want to play more.
As mentioned you will probably drop a good 2 hours into this one depending on luck of the draw. I mean there are 6 of the keys spread through the three decks and you only need four but still those keys could be at the bottom of those decks, who knows.
This is a beast of a game for setup. There is the main board and then you have 7 different tiles boards alongside that comprising the dungeon and wilderness. On the board itself you have spaces for the many different piles of cards you will be buying from and spots for the three different piles of tokens that you will be using. On top of that you have your personal player board which has spaces for your deck of cards and tokens that you collect. You will also have some experience tokens off the board that you will need.
It’s really not all that bad of a setup other than the initial card placement and decision. There are many different types of cards to use and each story scenario you play has a different batch of cards to use for the assortment. Luckily the quest book details exactly what you need and the insert has card spacers that detail what card is what. So the time you are taking setting up is mostly spent finding the required cards you need and setting them up.
Everything is really good component and board wise here. The board itself is double sided with one side displaying the names of what cards should go where and the other side is just nameless. This is a little puzzling for me personally. I mean I get it from a teaching perspective but once the cards are on the spots, it covers up the labels. So why even print the label-less side?
The player boards are really nice foldable gameboard style mats. And the dungeon tiles are a nice thick cardboard as well. All the cards are a really good quality although a little slippery for my taste, not a huge problem if you plan on sleeving them I expect. The tokens are wooden and shaped and colored differently which makes them look really nice. Also there are some minis! You get, if memory serves, 5 miniatures depicting some different types of characters. In the game you don’t really play as a specific character per say. Each player starts the exact same and then over the course of the game you will level up and upgrade to new styles of characters that have their own specific strengths and weaknesses. So the minis are of the basic trope of fantasy characters such as a wizard and warrior, cleric and hunter. Stuff like that. I can say they look really good though! Very detailed and actually have interesting sculpts.
The box is a fatty although should still fit on a typical Kallax shelving unit. There is a kind of insert. Basically the insert splits the inside of the box into 3 sections. The two outer sections hold the cards complete with spacers between them to better keep them organized and the inner section holds the player boards and minis along with the bagged up tokens. The board and instruction manual sits atop that stuff. There are also a couple of plastic card toppers that sit on top of each side of cards to keep them from spilling out if the box is tipped.
All in all it is a very sturdy and workable insert and I like it. It’s not fancy at all but man, it works. I store basically all my games on their side and have pulled this one out a few times and never had any mix up in the cards which is fantastic.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Visually speaking this game is great! The artwork on all the cards looks spectacular and the game boards and dungeon tiles look awesome. The dungeon tiles are also double-sided with different locations and art on each side to further enhance your gameplay. No complaints at all on the artwork.
The theme is your pretty standard fantasy theme. There is a story written in the quest book to follow which is always welcome to really pull you into the game but I don’t feel that it really does much to combine with the gameplay like some games. Every game you play is fun don’t get me wrong but it doesn’t really require the story or even enhances it like some do. I think a part of this, at least for me, is the fact that there are missing parts to the story from the get go. It says right in the quest book that the core game includes parts 1 and 3 of the story with parts 4 and 5 being expansions. I’m fine with the expansion aspects as those parts are the tail end of the story but not having part 2? Come to find out that part 2 is a Kickstarter exclusive story and will not be offered to customers at all. This immediately soured me and basically killed the story for me. Now all that said, if playing the game for the gameplay alone, this is a great and fun game.
I wasn’t overly impressed with the rulebook. There were quite a few parts that flat out confused me and other parts that were missing completely like the black experience tokens…..what are these used for? I assume they are meant to be used to dictate a flat 5 exp points instead of singles. I always appreciate a good component glossary in the front of the manual that shows what all the game comes with and what each thing is with pictures. This was sadly lacking from this guide. Also the way the book was laid out was confusing. It’s like the writer was starting to explain a section of how to do something and then would get off on a tangent of something they just remembered. The quest book however was nice. It had clearly laid out pages of exactly what cards to use in that quest to help with setup.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
The game is great fun, I am a huge fan of deck builders so going in enhancing my deck of cards to finally be able to challenge that 3rd dungeon level monster was satisfying. Although there is very little player interaction to be had unfortunately. I mentioned earlier that the game is competitive but there is very little to compete directly in. Because of this you are left to your own devices to mold your deck the way you want and get in the dungeons at your own pace. You will end up spending a great deal of time thinking about your actions based on what cards you draw on your turn but since your actions affect the other players so little, there isn’t much to discuss. There is something to be said for players working together to try and level into different characters just to be able to more efficiently take down all the different varieties of monsters but even then there can be only one winner.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I would say two players to be the optimal player count. I could see how if playing with 4 players it would take longer between turns but at the same time you would be locating those keys much faster. I have even tried the game solo even though there is no dedicated solo mode. You end up playing two characters back and forth basically just trying to beat yourself. It was fun and helped learn the game easily.
The replayability is off the charts. There are SO many different cards included in the box from different monsters to different items, spells and weapons. Not to mention all the unique treasures and characters that you can level up into. You can use any of these to mix and match a very unique game every time. On top of that the 6 dungeon tiles are all double-sided with completely different locations on each side. So many customization options to choose from in all aspects of this game.
Positive Final Thoughts
I love how this game is a unique mix of game mechanics and design. It’s a dungeon crawler deck builder and that is awesome. There are others out there that also accomplish this but slightly differently but this one really uses the cards in all aspects. Heck even your characters are represented as cards, as the mini is just used for showing what location you are in. The component quality is very high, the artwork is excellent and the overall presentation is superb. Game play is also very good if you enjoy deck builder games.
Negative Final Thoughts
The rulebook needs work and I felt the game ends rather suddenly after all that deck building excitement. The player interaction is somewhat limited as well and the missing story also left a foul taste.