Monday, August 1, 2011

Expansion Review - Thornwood Siege (Thunderstone)

It's time once again for a review from my old man. I could go into a belabored explanation about how I don't like Thunderstone, and he does, and how when he was at my house on vacation a year ago I gave him my copy of the game. And then I could explain how whenever Alderac sends me Thunderstone expansions, I box them up and mail them to my dad, so that he can write about them, because it saves me the trouble of playing a game I don't like, plus it gets me out of writing a review every now and then. I could explain all that, but it just seems like too much trouble. So I'm going to forget about that entire explanation and turn you over to my favorite (and only) guest reviewer - my dad!

The first thing I noticed as I was taking the wrappers off the cards to Thornwood Siege was the exceptional artwork. It is, in my opinion, the best yet. Dragonspire was a great step up in the Thunderstone series, but as I noted in my review of that game, it had some really awful art. (I’m still not over the green hand holding the burning seaweed that passes for a torch.) But in Thornwood’s case the artwork has reached a higher plane – there isn’t one card that makes me shudder the way Dragonspire’s torch does. The hero “Thornwood” has a picture of an archer that is inspiring – a gaming nut could want this as a poster on his wall. I could go on and on about the awesome art, but since you get the idea I’ll just leave it at that.

As I began to read the cards I noticed that in Thornwood there are a lot more cards that promote interaction among players. Well, we could say cards that promote harming, bashing, or stabbing your fellow gamers in the back. In the village you can take the Scroll of Chaos and make everyone discard a card, you take your choice of the cards, and the others get one back randomly. Yeah, pretty chaotic for those who have honed the perfect deck. (Actually, I kind of like this card – chaos in a game can be a good thing if designed well.) With the Stalking Spell you can force everyone else to enter the dungeon in their turn, which we all know could be onerous. On the other hand, The Guiding Light allows you go give everyone +1 light for one turn, so the cards aren’t all mean-spirited. I really like the greater player interaction the cards provide.

In the same vein, Thronwood cards are meant to complement one another, especially in the disease realm. If you have monsters in the dungeon that give disease – and there are more of them now – you’ll really want the Herbalist as an available hero. He’s allowed me to take some nasty cards with his advantage.

There are some really cool monsters introduced in Thronwood (and some I don’t appreciate, but more on that next paragraph). There are Verminfolk – basically rats – that give you disease when you go into the dungeon, so for those of you who like that effect, you’ll love these cards. And btw, the artwork on these guys is truly some of the best yet. One new monster feature is “Raid.” The monsters are really just guys who are taking advantage of the siege on Thornwood to take spoils from the village. When you reveal a Raider card, you have to destroy cards in the village, always either from the least expensive stack or the most expensive. If all ten of these guys come into play in a game, 32 village cards in all will be destroyed. And if the siege engines Doomsday Bombard or Stonepitcher breach, that’s four more cards, for a total of 36 cards that can just disappear. Folks, THAT’S A LOT! From my own play experience, we had several village stacks exhausted before the end of the game. (In one game we had six empty village spaces before the game finally ended.) The other feature new to the game is “Stalk”. All stalk monsters are centaurs, and they give you grief when revealed. (I’m not a fan of the centaurs, but some guys love to see the damage they bestow.) And then there’s the Abyssal Malformed. These guys could cause you some real trouble when you take them on, since you could possibly take more than one disease when you fight them. Disease can be rough in this expansion – in one game I took THREE disease in one trip into the dungeon.

But then on the other hand, I just really don’t like the siege engines, which is sad since they’re the heart of the title of this expansion. Once you get past oohing and ahhing over the artwork and start to read the cards, you just may notice one quirk they present. I don’t think they play out the theme all that well. You still have the dungeon that goes deeper and deeper into the earth, and you still need sufficient light to take on the monsters, but the siege engines somehow manage to do their damage while still in the deep dungeon. And the damage they cause is also not in keeping with the theme, as I see it. As siege engines, they should all breach to cause their damage, and the damage should be tailored to the engine on the card. The catapult is OK, IMO, but the Siege Tower causes damage only when a player goes INTO the dungeon. WHAT!?! The Siege Tower is protecting the dungeon?!? Maybe if they’d breach to cause damage they’d pass inspection, but no, these things are still in the bowels of the earth and besieging Thornwood all the same. (But the artwork is really good.) If you’re trying to see the game as a bit of a dungeon crawl, you may choke on the siege engines. If you’re just into playing a card game, this won’t bother you at all. To help understand my meaning, I jotted down the dialogue made by two guys who were playing Thornwood for the first time, and if you listen in you can grasp the problem.

(The following dialogue may be apocryphal.)

OK, so you’ve played Dominion, right?


Well, Thunderstone plays almost exactly like Dominion, but this game has a theme. It’s a deck-building game, but here you have a purpose. Here you play a guy who’s hiring heroes and arming them to go into a dungeon and kill these monsters that are guarding a Thunderstone – a really powerful artifact that’s been hidden for millennia. You have to go into this deep dungeon and the deeper you go the darker it gets, so you need more light. Got it?

Yeah, I got it. Let’s play.

(About 15 minutes later.)

So, I’m going into the dungeon to take on this Spike Lasher. Got the light, have enough attack points, so I take’im out. (cards shifted in dungeon) OK, a Dynamos moves into rank three.

Here, take this token so you’ll remember to discard a card beginning next turn.

Whadayamean discard a card next turn! Let me read that!

He’s stalking you, so you have to discard a card next turn.

Stalking me? He’s in the pit of the dungeon! How the hell’s he stalking me?

C’mon! It’s a deck-building game, and that’s what this card does.

Yeah, well you gave me the wrong token. This is a different centaur.

Well, the artwork is for another centaur, but the card’s effect goes to the one in the dungeon.

How do ya’ know that?? Maybe I’m supposed to get the token for the centaur on the card.

They screwed up printing the tokens, OK. Just take the damn token.

You told me this game had a theme. Well, the theme’s not working very well – how the hell is a centaur, in the pit of the dungeon, stalking anything?? This morphed cantaur’d be bangin’ his head on the ceiling just groping around.

Look here, it says in the rules, “The heroes are gathered in Wulfburg at the border of the forest,” so this expansion takes place in the forest.

So do I still need to have light to get into the higher ranks?

YES!! That’s just part of the game – you HAVE TO HAVE LIGHT, OK!

So it’s still a dungeon, any way you look at it.

Dammit! It’s just a deck-building game. Don’t get too carried away with the theme. So, I’m goin’ after the Swipepaw in rank one. Hand me a disease card, will ya’? (cards shifted in dungeon) Cool! A catapult moves into rank three.

AH, FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!! So the centaur stumbles into rank two with a bleeding head and now you tell me a catapult’s in the deepest depths of the dungeon!?! What kind of a game is this!! Is it a dungeon or not!!

I keep tellin’ ya’ it’s just a deck-building game! It’s Thornwood SIEGE, OK!! So the game has to have some siege in it!

But it hasn’t even breached! You tellin’ me it’s hurlin’ crap into the village from THE DEEPEST PIT OF THE DUNGEON!?!

IT’S A DECK-BULDING GAME!! OK!! Now, I’m goin’ after the centaur! Here’s two light points and there’s the attack points. I’m taking the token.

The token with the wrong picture.

YES!! And now the next monster comin’ into the dungeon is . . . a siege tower.

(Sound of cards being slammed on the table.) AH FOR . . . WHAT!?! Are they building the siege tower in the deepest pit and then gonna push it out the mouth of the dungeon? THIS IS LUDICROUS!!

(Sound of a punch landing on human flesh.) IT’S A DECK-BULDING GAME, DAMMIT!!

Hopefully you get the idea on how some players, who appreciate theme, might react to some of the siege engines.

Enough about monsters. Some great heroes are introduced in Thornwood. The “Herbalist” actually gains attack points when facing a monster that give disease. A very clever mechanic! I especially like “Thornwood Ranger,” and not only because of his awesome art. He gets more attack points for the deeper you go into the dungeon – I like a lot of these in my deck. And I think I should give honorable mention to “Krell Warrior to become Warmaster” – since militia play prominently in this game, these guys can really kick butt.

Not a lot to say about the village cards. Of notable mention are “Village Mob,” which does some really weird stuff, but mostly I like the concept – pretty cool. My favorite village card, which elicited a guffaw when I first saw it, is “Unicorn Steaks”. A fairly powerful card – much more so than Iron Rations – and helps explain the extinction of the unicorn.

Now for one complaint that some might find a bit silly, but I think Thunderstone expansions are past the need for the full-size box to hold 284 cards. There are a lot of other card games that have over 100 cards and come in a compact box. When you open Thornwood, the first thing that should strike you is how empty the box is, unless you count all the foam dividers. Hey, AEG! Everyone who buys Thornwood, or any other expansions to follow, already owns either Thunderstone or Dragonspire or both! You say right in the Overview that it requires one of those two games. No one needs yet ANOTHER box to clutter their closet, OK? I agree that the price for the game is reasonable, but if you packaged it in a simple box holding the cards, couldn’t you cut the price by a couple dollars?


Exceptional art; the best yet – kudos to all of you on the art team!
Some great new concepts.
Greater player interaction.
Inspired deck-building options – they integrate well together.

The siege cards don’t actually fit the theme all that well. Not a problem if you don’t care about the theme.
Enough over-sized boxes for expansions, already. They’re not necessary.

Apart from my negative comments, this is a great addition to Thunderstone, and if you own the base game, you’ll love this expansion. (You don’t have to use the siege engines, but then it wouldn’t be Thornwood SIEGE, would it?)

You can get Thornwood Siege at Noble Knight Games:



Mik said...

Heya, I just picked this one up, again in large part to your review thanks for doing what you do.

I have a bit of a trivial question; Can I fit cards from: the base game, Wrath of the Elements, Doomgate Legion *and* Thornwood all in the same Wrath/Doomgate/Thornwood-sized box?


Matt Drake said...

That's a question for my old man. I'll ask him, and let you know what I find out.