Mike Elliott


No. of Players:
1 - 5

G@mebox Star



The sheer volume of games published each year makes it more and more difficult to keep an overview, and now and then it happens that I miss a good game which could be worth a playtesting. One of the games which I have skipped so far was Thunderstone from ALDERAC ENTERTAINMENT (AEG), and upon my first opening the Thunderstone-box at the presentation table the loads of cards and the absence of a gameboard and other kinds of tokens strongly reminded me of Donald Vaccarinio's Dominion. And indeed, it is not just the outer appearance of the game which offers some similiarities with last year's bestseller, but also the basic setup and gameplay mechanisms offer a strong semblance between both games. Thus, Thunderstone contains an assortment of different card decks belonging to three major categories (Hero, Monster and Village-cards), and at the beginning of the game the players will randomly determine four Hero decks, three Monster decks and eight Village decks which will be used for the game. In addition, basic decks for "Militia", "Torches", "Iron Rations" and "Daggers" are added, and they will be used in each game regardless of the other card decks which will be used.

From the basic decks each player receives his own starting deck of six Militia, two Daggers, two Iron Rations and two Torch cards, and each player shuffles his deck and draws six card to form his starting hand.

So far the Thunderstone-rules will sound quite familiar for all Dominion-fans, but from this point onwards both games will move on somewhat separate alleys. In Thunderstone the active player has three different options how he might spend his turn. So, the player may

  • enter the dungeon to slay a monster,
  • visit the village to buy reinforcements, or
  • rest his party.

The monsters in the dungeon are the ultimate combat test for each player's deck of cards, since three Monster-card always are revealed on the table, waiting for the players to attack them with the cards in their decks. The three different monster decks which were chosen during setup all are shuffled into one big Monster-deck in which the player's goal, the Thunderstone-card, will be hidden. The Thunderstone-card is placed in the lower third of the Monster-deck, and when enough monsters were slain by the players the Thunderstone will appear. The claiming of the fabled Thunderstone by one of the players marks the end of the game, and now all players will add up the value of their card decks and slain monsters, and the player with most victory points will have won the game.

But how does the monster-slaying-business work? At the beginning of each turn a player receives a fresh hand of six cards from his own deck, and since no cards from the last turn may be kept, the player may only use these six cards to decide on his strategy for the current turn. If the player decides to go into the dungeon, he must chose one of the monsters which he wants to attack. He then checks for the Monster's strength rating, and modifies this rating by the position of the monster within the dungeon. There is one monster in the first second and third rank, and when a monster is slain all other monsters move forwards and the last slot then is re-filled from the Monster-deck. The position of a monster in the dungeon determines how dark the surroundings are (3rd rank is darkest), and with increasing darkness the monsters get an increasing modifier on their strength rating. In addition, the monster also might have a special ability which either may influence its strength or cause some other kind of trouble.

Once the monster's strength is calculated, the player starts to play cards from his hand. These cards may be heroes, spells, weapons etc, and the player will try to play cards with a total strength rating exceeding the monster's strength. However, some basic restrictions need to be observed here, and so a player only may play one weapon card for each hero he uses in this combat, and furthermore the weapon associated to a character may not be heavier than the hero's maximum weight limit.

If the attacking player succeeds in slaying the monster, he will receive the monster card to add it to his discard pile. The card may have a Gold value which may be used during a visit at the village, but some monster trophies also may be useful in a later combat. In addition, the monster card has a victory points value which will be counted when the player adds up his total score at the end of the game, and as a further bonus the player also receives some Experience cards. These cards do not become part of the players deck, but instead he keeps a separate stockpile of experience cards.

If the attacking player looses to a stronger monster, the monster will be disgruntled and moves back to the bottom of the Monster-deck, making room for the other monsters to move forward and for a new monster to be added at the third dungeon rank. However, some monsters also cause damage, and this may force the player to draw a Disease-card which must be added to the player's deck. If - in a later turn - the player has one of these disease-cards on his hand while visiting the dungeon, the disease card MUST be played, leading to a reduction of the player's total strength for this dungeon visit. However, there also exist some options to discard Disease cards, and these options encompass either the spending of a full turn for a resting action or the use of Clerical powers.

As might be guessed, the battles in Thunderstonedraw most of their tension out of the question how well the cards in a player's hand fit with each other. Most of the cards possess some special attributes, and it will be up to the player to construct a deck during the course of the game which contains a good choice of corresponding cards. However, it is not only the choice of cards which must be considered, but also the balancing of the player's deck is an essential part of the game. Due to the fact that a fresh hand of six cards must be drawn at the beginning of each turn there is no possibility to save a good card for later, and so a player must construct his deck in a way to increase his chances to get a hand of cards supplementing each other.

New cards are acquired in the village, and when a player decides to use his turn to make a visit to the village he is allowed to buy one card from either one of the eight Village-decks, a Hero-deck or one of the four basic decks. To make this purchase, the player uses cards from his hand, since many cards have a gold value which will give the player the possibility to make additional purchases. However, it is essential here to note that cards used to make a purchase are only discarded into a player's own discard pile (so that they remain part of the player's deck).

As indicated, the choice of cards available at the village depends on the game's setup, but overall Thunderstone offers a broad variety of cards with different special abilities. There are cards which increase the attacking value, cards for making ranged attacks, cards for healing, cards for making additional purchases etc, and by fitting purchases from the choice of available cards the player slowly will increase the effectiveness of his deck both in the dungeon and in the village.

An important special option available in the village is the possibility to "Level up" a hero. Each Hero-card exists in three different levels, and at the beginning the players only may purchase the level 1 heroes which can be found on top of each deck. However, if a player has accumulated some experience, he may check his hand of cards when visiting the village whether he has enough experience to level up one of the heroes from his hand. He may then discard the required amount of experience, remove his old hero from the game, and instead take a take the same hero card with a higher level from the corresponding Hero-deck. In this fashion the heroes can be brought up to level 3, stepwise increasing their powers.

As indicated, the players need to adjust their purchase policies in order to keep their deck of cards balanced. A streamlined, compact deck with effective cards is especially nice to have during the first half of the game since such a deck allows some well-targeted strikes against the evil monsters. However, the players need to keep their deck evolving as monster-trophies come in, since too many trophies and too few other cards will clog the deck up and make it ineffective. Also, players with a liking for role-play-games will feel a strong urge to create a "nice" deck with different heroes and weapons matching their fancy of a nice adventure party, but the key to winning Thunderstone is effectiveness! No price is given for the best looking party, but instead the challenge is to find the best combination of matching cards for cutting surgically through the monster ranks. Here the random setup of the game works marvellous, since every game brings its own combination of cards and with it its own unique challenge.

To be honest, I think that Thunderstone perfectly matches the expectations I first associated with Dominion, and here especially the perfect combination of playing mechanisms and background story can be mentioned. Whereas Dominion always has has left me with the impression to be a rather "mechanical" deck-construction exercise, the whole process of deck-construction is integrated much more smoothly in the Thunderstone-rules. Thus, despite the focus on an effective monster-slaying-business, the players get a feeling that their characters are evolving and that they follow a clearly specified goal. Even the Disease-cards seem to be more fitting from an atmospherical standpoint, since they nicely carry the image of the player's band of heroes getting exhausted by the constant dungeoneering.

On a more down-to-earth approach, the similiarities between both games cannot be denied. Both games operate on a mechanism of deck-building, and on the rules level they are separated only by a few minor but decisive twists. However, it is exactly these twists, which make Thunderstone superior to Dominion, since the general orientation of Thunderstone is more variable. Thus, the Dominion players each turn circle through their decks with the same aim - getting more purchase actions plus money and (possibly) finding some fitting interactive cards. Thunderstone leaves the players with a decision either to visit the village for shopping/levelling-up OR to visit the dungeon in order to advance towards the general goal of the game, and the variety of monsters in the dungeon actually gives the players a somewhat more sophisticated, evolving challenge.

G@mebox Special - Thunderstone Campaign

Note: These campaign rules use the cards from Thunderstone and Wrath of the Elements!

Due to its rather atmospheric implementation of the fantasy-theme Thunderstone is going to appeal especially to RPG-players, but after various games of Thunderstone I came to the conclusion that I was missing an element which is crucial to any RPG - character development and a bit of identification with the hero I play. This brought me the to the idea to develop a Thunderstone-campaign, and these rules will Thunderstone-fanatics to play many rounds in a huge campaign-arc...

Main Character

Each player may choose one fixed character for the whole campaign. Thus, each player receives a level one character card of his choice which he shuffles into his starting deck for each game, plus the matching level two and three cards which he places close at hand for use if the character is upgraded to level two or three. As indicated, this character takes the role of the player's main character, and the player may re-use the character in every new game even if a card effect had destroyed the character in the previous game.


The campaign is divided into quests, and each quest is subdivided into single games. A quest will be won by the first player who succeeds in winning a second game within the quest. Each player starts into the first game of a quest with a normal starter deck plus his main character at level one, but when the first game is over each player is allowed to take his main character (at current level) plus one card of his choice from his previous deck into his next starting deck. This additional card may be any village card or even a hero, and if a hero is chosen he starts the next game at the same level as he has reached in the previous game (i.e. at current level). Thus, if the chosen hero is at level one or two, the player also receives the necessary card(s) for levelling up the hero in the following quest(s).

When the second game in the quest is over, the players once again receive an additional card which they can carry over into the next game of the quest. So, the third game of a quest sees each player starting with his main character (at current level), the card he has chosen at the end of the first game of the quest (at current level), and the card which the player has chosen at the end of the second game of the quest (at current level). The quest continues in this fashion with each player taking one additional card over into the next game of the quest, and so the players slowly develop a temporary party of adventurers with some equipment. However, when the first player succeeds in winning a second game within the same quest, the quest is over and the players have to disband their temporary parties.

Questing campaign

The starting of a new quest sees all players disbanding their parties by discarding all collected characters and items, keeping just their main character to go into the next quest. However, a player who has won a whole quest will receive a special reward, and this reward is that he may permanently add one card from his last game's deck to his starting hand. Thus, this player will not just have his main character, but he may also keep an additional item or receive a second main character. So, with each quest won, a player's permanent starting hand will increase (permanent party).

To simulate a the players fighting tougher monsters and to keep the game fair, each new quest requires all players to start with all heroes at level one. So, in difference to the games within a quest where the characters keep their levels from one game to the next, each new quest forces the players to start once again with their heroes at level one. However, players who have won a quest still will have a nice advantage, since their starting deck contains one additional weapon or character for each quest won.

No permanent destruction

All heroes and items which are part of a player's party (both the temporary party within a quest or the permanent party which is built from cards collected by victorious quests) cannot be destroyed permanently. These cards are removed from the current game, but they will rejoin the player's starting hand at the beginning of the next game. This can be seen as a serious injury of a character or a damage in case of a village card.


To make the whole challenge a bit tougher, all Disease cards are kept from one game to the next! Thus, a player who has taken some serious injuries in order to slay high ranking monsters in the previous game will start with a slightly "damaged" party in the following games. This puts more emphasis in the use of Clerics or even in spending a turn for resting. Please note: the Disease cards are kept, even if the quest is over!


So far the basic game and the Wrath of the Elements expansion simply focus on the discovery of Thunderstones, but why not have a little variation? Thus, chose one of the following goals at the beginning of each game:

  1. Get the Thunderstone! Follow the normal rules, adding a Thunderstone card to the lowest ten cards of the dungeon deck. The game ends as normal, and the player keeps the Thunderstone for the remaining games of the quest.
  2. Rescue the Princess! Shuffle an "Amazon Queen" (level three Amazon) card into the lower 15 cards of the dungeon deck. The Amazon Queen card is assigned to a player the same way as a Thunderstone, but the player will not shuffle the card into his deck. Instead, play must continue until the whole dungeon deck is used up. The player who has the Amazon Queen in front of himself must victoriously slay a monster in his turn or return the Amazon Queen to the middle of the table. She is then taken by the next player who defeats a monster in the dungeon. Play ends when the dungeon deck is used up, and the player with the Amazon Queen in front of himself receives her victory point value. The Amazon Queen may be chosen to be kept for the following games of the quest.
  3. Find the Priest! A level one Divine Hero is shuffled into the upper half of the dungeon deck. The Divine Heroe card is assigned to a player the same way as a Thunderstone, but the game will continue until the whole dungeon deck is used up. The player shuffles the Divine Hero card into his deck, and he must victoriously slay a monster in the dungeon whenever he has the Divine Hero on his hand. If he is unable to do so he must return the Divine Heroe to the middle of the table. He is then taken by the next player who defeats a monster in the dungeon. The game ends when the dungeon deck is used up. The Divine Hero may be leveled up as normal. If he is at level three at the end of the game, his current owner will receive his victory point value. The Divine Hero may be chosen to be kept for the following games of the quest.

Prowling Monsters

A major change to the basic rules is that the campaign uses a variation of the "prowling monsters" rules which can be found in the Wrath of the Elements rulebook. The game is set up as normal, but you use four monster sets instead of three, so you have a total of 40 monsters (plus eventual traps or guardians) in the dungeon deck. In addition, the dungeon is empty at the beginning of the game, so that the first player only can visit the village.

At the end of every players' turn a new monster card is revealed from the dungeon deck, moving monsters which already are placed into the dungeon one step forwards. If no new monster is revealed because the active player has gone to the village, a token is placed on the front rank monster by the end of the active player's turn (use a coin or a dice or something like that).

At the beginning of a turn if the front rank monster has tokens equal to the number of players in the game, the active player either must go to the dungeon and attack a monster of his choice, or place the front rank monster face up in front of himself as a penalty card. (This card is never shuffled into your deck.) When this happens, the hall refills and the counters are removed. The "clock" then will start ticking for the new front monster on the next turn.

If the active player goes to the dungeon and attacks a monster not on the front rank, no tokens are added. If the front rank monster is attacked or moved, the tokens are removed and the clock will start for the new front rank monster on the next turn.

At the end of the game, each player subtracts 1 VP for each penalty card (unstopped monster) he has obtained during the game.

Themed Villages

Instead of randomly setting up a game, it seems preferable to go for themed villages with a semi-preset choice of heroes and village cards. Use the chart below to determine your type of village for each new game, and add two random heroes and four random village cards to finish the setup.


Hero #1

Hero #2

Equipment #1

Equipment #2

Equipment #3

Equipment #4

Wizard's Tower



Arcane Energies

Lightstone Gem

Flaming Sword

Magi Staff

Assassins' Guild



Illusory Blade

Amulet of Power

Short Sword

Cursed Mace

Army Camp




Battle Fury







Magic Missile


Magical Aura





Tavern Brawl



Provincial Capital



Town Guard

Tax Collector



Elven Greenwood





Short Bow

Foresight Elexier

Dwarven Stronghold







Campaign End

The game ends with the first player who has won a certain number of quests (I would suggest four). This player has developed the strongest party in the whole Kingdom!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany