By Chris Bowler
It’s been almost a year since I started playing Thunderstone with my review of Dragonspire. Since then I’ve bought and played every expansion and promo with the sole exception of the 2nd promo (‘Cause it’s outta stock). Heart of Doom will close out the series and with a little creative re-jigging of my Dragonspire box, it will also fill my box with only enough room for a couple more promos.
When AEG very kindly sent me my copy of Heart of Doom I declared myself done with Thunderstone, my set complete, my box full… but then I saw the previews for Thunderstone Advance… But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s pull this back and look at Heart of Doom.
With seven Thunderstones in hand it is time for the heroes to go in search of the eighth and finale stone, the Heart of Doom itself. Not only is Doom a Thunderstone but he is a villain so powerful that nothing in this world can defeat him, our Heroes only hope is to use the stones gathered this far to banish him forever from this mortal realm.
What do you get in the box? Erm… Cards… Lots of them.
- 84 Hero Cards (7 Different Heroes)
- 104 Village Cards (13 Different types)
- 6 Treasure Cards
- 70 Monster Cards (7 Different Monster Types)
- 3 Guardians
- 3 Settings
- 1 Thunderstone
- Dividers and Randomisers
Firstly I must applaud the selection of card types here. This set includes more monster groups than any of the previous small box expansions, along with 3 new guardians and 3 new settings offering more variety and ways to play, but it doesn’t do this at the cost of Hero and Village cards either. Overall HOD is the best value small box expansion to date.
A special note must be made about the rulebook. It’s been a learning process for AEG with rulebooks but this one finally does what all the others do not, it lists every card in the set, so now it’s very easy to tell if you are missing a card.
Not much, it has to be said. Buying Heart of Doom will not introduce anything you haven’t seen before, which is unusual as each expansion has brought something new, either card types such as Traps, Treasures and Settings or new mechanics like Raid and Stalk.
What Heart of Doom does do is provide variety and a sense of closure in the form of a “Boss Fight”. While the game was advertised as including a “scenario” it is not the same as for example Rune Age. The included scenario is a combination of the Rite of Banishing setting and the Heart of Doom Guardian card, but it is essentially the same game, just a bit more climatic.
Essentially Doom is a 25 Health Guardian who ends the game if he moves into rank 1. In addition he has a global effect that destroys all monsters in the hands of players visiting the Dungeon and finally if you fail to defeat him you are eliminated from the game.
Finally each Thunderstone in your hand gives you a +6 attack bonus against him. The Rites of Banishing Setting shuffles upto 7 Thunderstones into the monster deck which can be claimed by defeating the monster in front of the stone.
Once Doom enters play the players will cease going to the Dungeon, instead, they will begin parsing their deck for their strongest heroes and items and preparing for the final battle. Instead of this feeling slow Doom’s presence instead generates an atmosphere of fear and that feeling that you are preparing for the biggest and baddest fight of your lives.
So, other than Doom and the Rites of Banishing, what other treasures lie in wait inside the Heart of Doom?
- Bluefire – The Bluefire Cleric is weak and barely better than a militia but he does give you experience points just for going to the dungeon. At higher levels he allows you to level up Heroes while in the dungeon, making him a great utility hero, without being a good fighter.
- Canon – The Canon starts out pretty standard for a Cleric, small attack, can destroy diseases. However, then she turns vengeful, allowing you to place diseases into other players discard piles or under monsters in the dungeon.
- Dark – At low levels the Dark hero allows you to strip your deck of useless militia and villages in exchange for magic attack, at higher levels she powers up off the experience points of monsters in your hand. This makes her useful throughout the game, rather than simply just a way to get rid of unwanted militia.
- Highland – This fighter/thief starts out as a brigand who can steal other players treasure cards, however when she levels up her charisma allows her to purchase heroes while in the dungeon and even have them join her in battle if she attains 3rd level.
- Isri – The Isri is an Archer who specialises in throwing weapons. She can destroy weapons to gain bonus attack, at later levels she can destroy weapons in the village to gain a bonus equal to their weight.
- Jondul – This cleric gets bonuses against undead, ignoring light penalties against them in rank 2 or higher.
- Nyth – Another archer, bringing this sets total to 3, the Nith gets a bonus equal to it’s level for each rank of the target and additional light for having a bow equipped.
- Bag of Holding – A classic item from D&D this card allows you to destroy a weapon or item to draw 2 cards. This is a great way of getting rid of items that are no longer helpful.
- Belzur’s Blessing – A cheap spell that allows you to draw 2 cards and everyone else draws 1, plus it gives you a light.
- Chalice Mace – The +3 Attack chalice mace is another weapon that offers Victory points. In addition it counts as a weight 3 weapon for Clerics (instead of 6) and gives them a light bonus.
- Dredging Net – Draw 3 cards, destroy one, discard one, keep one. The net is a good card to get early on as it allows you some additional card draw as well as allowing you to get rid of unwanted cards.
- Grognard – The Grognard gives you 2 xp when purchased and he gives you a victory point at the end of the game. He also allows you to redirect traps affecting you to another player.
- Jondul Bow – This bow gives a +4 bonus in rank 2 or higher and allows you to swap the positions of two monsters in the hall. Useful if you can’t beat the monsters in their current ranks.
- Magma Hammer – This is an expensive but versatile weapon offering +1 Attack and +1 Magic Attack, meaning you should always be able to hit something. It also generates light.
- Ritual of Cleansing – This spell causes 1 player to discard 5 cards from the top of their deck and destroy 2 of them. Like the Stalking Spell, it is destroyed when used on a player other than yourself.
- Short Spear – The short spear makes militia useful, it costs 3 gives militia a +3 Attack and allows you to draw another card. Very powerful.
- Soulfire – This spell can turn upto 5xp into Magic Attack. It also gives light. Useful in those games with high xp monsters but no hero upgrades left.
- Swamp Provisions – A food item that gives strength bonuses or if destroyed it gives a +3 Attack bonus but all players get a disease.
- Village Thief – One of my favourite cards in the set, this is a Hero but he counts as a Village card. He allows you to purchase Village Cards while in the dungeon. At 2nd level he allows you to steal a lower cost village card than the one you bought.
- War Hero – Another way to make Militia useful. The War Hero gives a Hero or Mercenary +3 Attack but they are destroyed at the end of battle. In the village he allows you to draw a card.
- Abyssal Darkspwan – These monsters present a challenge by increasing the light penalties the closer they are to start of the Dungeon.
- Basilisk – These beasties are generally quite easy to defeat unless you happen to have the wrong cards at the wrong time. Some of them power up based on the gold revealed, while one gets +2 health for each card in your hand.
- Dopplegangers – These are Anti-Villagers and Anti-Mercenaries. Each one is unique and has a global effect that is basically the opposite of the ability of the Mercenary or Villager they are impersonating.
- Dryad – Each Dryad adds an additional rank to the dungeon. In addition some of these are very difficult to remove. I found them rather tedious to deal with, but they do each give a light to help combat the ever expanding dungeon hall.
- Lizard Folk – These are all quite high health monsters, but they each display a weakness, such as militia or daggers gaining bonus attack.
- Spiders – The spiders work on denying heroes the ability to attack or destroying them entirely.
- Undead Spectral – This monster group are reasonably tough to beat, but in addition to middling to high health they require you to destroy specific items, heroes or weapons in order to even attack.
- The Last Doomknight – This 15 Health beast gives off global –1 light –1 strength and +1 health to all other monsters.
- Mournwater Witch – With 14 health this evil witch increases the cost of all Heroes in the village by 2 gold.
- Last Refuge – The village holds 2 more stacks and 1 fewer Hero stacks. This allows for more variety and choice in your deck, but it will also lead to a dash for the “best heroes”
- Mournwater Swamp – Traps and Treasures are triggered when they reach rank 1 rather than as they are revealed. This allows you to plan ahead for traps and gives a sense of reward for killing monsters to gain treasures.
- Gems – These allow you to purchase heroes or village cards or level up whilst in the dungeon. Not only are they very useful they are potentially very powerful.
Heart of Doom does what all Thunderstone expansions do well, it gives you more to play with. It doesn’t add complicated rules, or token or new types of cards, it just expands what is already there, which is great.
Although this is technically the end of a saga, the lack of real story up to this point means you probably wont feel like you’ve been playing a campaign that culminates in the defeat of the Heart of Doom. Of course, there is nothing stopping you setting up a campaign to allow players to win all 7 Thunderstones and then fight their way through to Doom in a final climatic battle, so it gives you options.
I like the new settings, especially the one which changes the way traps and treasures work, something that many fans have disliked and house ruled for years.
I like the continued synergies between the new cards and the basic cards. Many of the cards and monsters either give you ways to strip out the basic cards or to use them for great advantages, or in some cases both.
I like that the set begins to play with the basic concepts of the game, such as shopping while in the dungeon or recruiting and levelling heroes while battling for your life.
I also suspect that in more ways than one this expansion is paving the way for Thunderstone Advance. Not only does Heart of Doom represent the final expansion for Thunderstone as we know it, it also introduces some concepts that have been spoken about in previews for the upcoming next step, Thunderstone Advance
TA also aims to make the basic items more useful, in Heart of Doom Militia can be used to power many Hero and Village Cards, can be sacrificed to monsters or possibly even provide additional bonuses against them. The drive to make your starting hand more useful (like it is in Nightfall for example) has been a theme of the last two Thunderstone expansions and it sounds like it will be even more important in Thunderstone Advance.
TA will change rules that have have met with player disapproval, I suspect that the way Traps and Treasures work will be high on that list, especially given that Traps appeared in neither of the last two expansions and one of the settings in HOD specifically targeted them and changed the way they function.
So, despite my initial decision to skip any more Thunderstone expansion, I have to admit that Advance is looking to be an even better game, refined from 3 years of trial and error. So, while Thunderstone may be done and Doom may be vanquished, it will return and it’ll be better than ever. Don’t believe me? Then check out the new board!! Gorgeous!
So, is the final foray into the world of Thunderstone really worth your hard earned cash? Yes, definitely yes. This expansion is probably the best with the exception of Dragonspire. It’s not too complicated, but it still manages to be new and refreshing despite being the fifth expansion for the game. Go get it and see if you can banish Doom and advance to the next stage of your adventure.