Review: Caverns of Bane – Thunderstone Increases
I’ve previously reviewed Thunderstone Advance – the reimplementation of the classic (can deck builders be “classic” yet?) deck builder, Thunderstone. Well, the first expansion, Caverns of Bane, is out.
Caverns continues the Thunderstone Advance narrative as the players seek out the new thunderstone bearers. Caverns comes with new village items, new monsters, new setups, and introduces treasures. And those new cards provide unique tools and tactics to add variety to your Thunderstone experience.
The Basics. For the most part, Caverns changes little from Advance. Cards are drawn in the same way, monsters appear, and the heroes hack them into tiny bits. Many of the new cards have interesting new mechanics or combine with Caverns and base set cards for interesting synergies. The one main area of addition is Treasures.
Treasures are a new type of card that can be added into the Monster deck. When a monster is defeated, and the monster hall has to be refilled, the top card might be a treasure. If it is, then you also play the next card on top of it (and so on until a monster is revealed). That treasure is part of that particular monster’s horde.
Each treasure has two abilities. One ability applies to the monster itself. That’s right, the monsters don’t collect these things just because they are shiny. Instead, they add an ability to the monster that makes it harder to kill. Once vanquished, however, the monster’s treasure is claimed by the adventurer. Each treasure then grants a second ability to the player when drawn.
The Feel. Caverns is an interesting set because it provides very, very different strategies for the players. It really opens up the potential for unusual and tricky deck combinations. As an example, normally players need light to get into the dungeon. If they lack light, the monsters are harder to kill. Well, rather than bother with torches and other light bearing items, the players may choose to go after the spell, “Owl Eyes.”
Owl Eyes removes the light penalty entirely. So you can go after the card in the very back of the monster hall with only one of your six cards being used up for light (instead of two or three). However, if you do end up with a pesky torch in your hand, the light actually reduces your attack effectiveness.
Another great series is the Disowned heroes. Why are they disowned? Well, every time they go into battle, they have a nasty habit of killing their fellow heroes. But, as the Disowned levels up, you come to realize that he doesn’t really need any other heroes. The top guy can add +8 physical and, after a battle, goes back onto the top of your deck. He comes out again and again and is a massive point generator when he gets going.
The treasures also evoke the right feel of the game and continue the improvements from the old-timey Thunderstone. In the previous iteration, treasures would be disbursed if they happened to be drawn on your turn. This increased luck and made the treasures seem swingy. Now, players can actively seek out a particular treasure and will have to defeat the monster that is already using it. This keeps treasures interesting while increasing player decision and indirect interaction.
The only negative, if you can call it a negative, is that this set is very neat and interesting without being completely awesome. It adds a lot of new cards – some of them quite unusual. But there is no “ZOMG best expansion evar!” feeling. It doesn’t shake Advance up and make it an entirely new game. And, I guess that may be the problem.
As a first expansion for Advance, it does what it is supposed to. It builds on the base game and provides even more variety – a key ingredient for a deck builder. But this isn’t really the first expansion for Thunderstone. By my count, this is actually the sixth expansion (including the still-compatible original series). And, I feel like new expansions should bring more than just cards at this point. Maybe that’s unfair since the game did just receive a total revamp, but Caverns feels like a good-but-not-great addition to Thunderstone.
Components: 4.5 of 5. Caverns keeps up the same high quality standards. It has excellent artwork on all of the cards, fantastic dividers for the sets, and the cards are on the same stock and have the same backs as the base set. Really, the pieces leave nothing to complain about.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. The major addition with Caverns is the treasure cards. And, they are a wonderful improvement over the original series. By coming out with the monsters instead of after them, they feel a lot more like treasures should. Treasures are items of power to be pursued – not manna that falls from the sky randomly. And, while there is still a mild luck element dependent on turn order, overall it is a fun and interesting addition to the game.
Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. Caverns gives a wealth of new and interesting cards. The strategies for most of them may not be immediately apparent – and some may work much less effectively depending on what other cards are available, but they open up new possibilities. The treasures work just the way they should.
Replayability: 4.5 of 5. Advance already had a ton of replayability behind it. The base game was packed with cards that would keep the game fresh for some time. Caverns, with its slew of unique cards, really takes it up a notch. The interaction the Caverns cards have, not only with each other but with the base game cards, swirls with possibilities. I feel like the main purpose of Caverns was to give more variety to Advance and it definitely succeeds.
Spite: 2 of 5. Caverns maintains the mostly indirect competition of Advance. There are only a few cards that directly impact the other players. And even then, some of them merely spread the love. For example, there’s a card that, when attacked, gives the attacker a curse. But if that card is killed with an excess of four attack or more, then every other player also gets a curse.
Overall: 3 of 5. Is it solid? Yes. Does it expand the world of Thunderstone? Absolutely. Is it fun to play. Of course. But is it a must-buy? Probably not. I feel like fans of Advance, who are already itching for more are going to get a lot out of this expansion. But if you’ve experienced a lot of Thunderstone already, like me, and are hoping for something a little more revolutionary, then Caverns may not do it for you. That said, the new setups are very fun and more cards in a deckbuilder is always a good thing.
(A special thanks to AEG for providing a review copy of Caverns of Bane)