Review – Heart of Doom (Thunderstone)

Heart of Doom
Believe it or not, this guy is somehow a Cleric Archer

Heart of Doom is the fifth expansion for AEG’s Thunderstone deckbuilding game. Heart of Doom bring new options to Thunderstone’s fantasy fighting goodness, and brings to a close the game’s initial story arc. Heart of Doom requires the base Thunderstone game (or the stand-alone Dragonspire expansion) to play, and this review will assume that the reader is familiar with Thunderstone. Heart of Doom retails for about $35.

What’s In the Box?

Heart of Doom receives the now-standard Thunderstone packaging – shoebox-sized with inserts to keep everything steady if you aren’t going to fill the box up with all of your Thunderstone expansions.

The complete Heart of Doom includes 7 new Heroes, 13 new Village cards, one new set of Treasures, 7 new sets of Monsters, 3 Guardians, 3 Settings, and 1 Thunderstone (for a total of about 270 cards), plus randomizers and dividers for everything (including a card divider for the Harruli from Doomgate Legion). WARNING: You do not actually get the complete Heart of Doom out of the box. One of the cellophane-wrapped card packs was accidentally left out. If you buy Heart of Doom from your FLGS, it should have the pack available for you (if you buy it online, I don’t know how that works out). If you end up with Heart of Doom but without the additional pack of cards, you can contact customerservice@alderac.com and they should mail you one.

The art in Heart of Doom continues the Thunderstone tradition of re-using Warlord artwork – but both Warlord and Thunderstone are D&D flavored, so it all works out.

New Rules/Design Space

Heart of Doom is mostly devoid of formal new rules. The rulebook lists the Heart of Doom scenario (which I don’t think will get a lot of play) and one of the monster types (which is only sort of a new rule, as opposed to new design space) as “New Rules,” and that’s it. Which is not to say that a lack of formal “new rules” is a bad thing – the expansion just keeps providing more Thunderstone-y goodness.
The Heart of Doom scenario is the “final battle” for this stage of the Thunderstone story (don’t worry, our intrepid heroes will be off to more adventures in 2012). The scenario uses the Rite of Banishing Setting and the Heart of Doom Guardian. Up to seven Thunderstones go in the Dungeon Deck, and the Heart of Doom goes on the bottom. The Heart of Doom has 25 Health, so even with the +6 Magic Attack it gives each Thunderstone, it is exceptionally difficult to defeat. If a player tries to defeat it and fails, he or she loses the game. If the Heart of Doom breaches, then the game ends. So you’re probably looking at either a very drawn-out period of building up for someone to be able to take the Heart of Doom down . . . or else players just cleaning up the rest of the Dungeon and letting the Heart of Doom breach and end it.

The other “new rule” is for the Dryad monster stack. A spot in the Dungeon with a Dryad basically doesn’t count as one of the three slots – when a Dryad is revealed, an additional spot in the Dungeon is created and then filled with the next Monster (all of the Dryad’s give Light when they’re in your deck, to help offset the additional Light penalties for having 4-7+ Ranks in the Dungeon). The extra spots goes away when the Dryad is defeated. This is the only rules text on any of the Dryads.

Another monster type that, I think, jumps into brand new design space are the Abyssal * Darkspawn. Each of these monsters modifies the Light penalties (and has no other rules text). For example, the Whisperer applies a Light penalty of 5 when in the first Rank (instead of 1) and 4 when in the second Rank (instead of 2). As a result, the Darkspawn are all easier to defeat when they are deeper in the Dungeon.

New Cards

Of course, Heart of Doom comes with lots of new cards that do new things without breaking vast swathes of new ground all by themselves. In addition to the special Heart of Doom Scenario/Guardian cards, there are another two of each type, which pair up. There’s The Last Doomknight (Global Light and Strength penalties, plus a Health boost for other Monsters) to do with The Last Refuge (play with only three Hero stacks, but ten Village stacks). And there’s also the Mournwater Witch (Global increase in cost for all Heroes) do take up residence in the Mournwater Swamp (adds one more Dungeon rank, and makes Traps/Treasures wait until Rank 1 to go off).

The Treasures (as well as a few of the Heroes), provide a number of ways to level up or acquire new Heroes mid-battle, which can really add some extra pizzazz to a Dungeon attack. Even though you know exactly what you’re planning to do, there’s just something satisfying about charging into the Dungeon “without enough Attack” and then grabbing something new to put the party over the top.

On the Monster front there are:

– Basilisks, who get more Health (sometimes a lot more Health) if you have certain cards types in your hand);

– Dopplegangers, who are all unique False copies of various Village cards – the False Chaplain to hand out diseases, the False Trainer to destroy XP, the False Scout to protect the Dungeon Deck, and so forth; and

– Spectral Undead, who require the immediate sacrifice of certain card types in order to defeat them.

Some of the more distinctive Heroes include:

– The Bluefire Wizards, who are very cheap and who hand out XP as a Dungeon effect. I have never seen so many deliberately futile Dungeon runs as when we played with these guys;

– The Dark Wizards (necromancers), who can destroy cards in the discard pile for bonuses early (Die, Die, Mi-litia) and later one generate Magic Attack for the defeated Monsters in your hand; and

– The Nyth Archers, who just get brutal at higher levels. The Level 1 gets +1 Attack per Rank of the target. The Level 2 gets +2. The Level 3 gets +3 per Rank. And +1 Light if there’s a Bow handy. That’s a lot of attack really quickly. And make sure to pick them up if you’re playing with the Dryads, because there’s nothing quite like one Hero generating +15 attack all by himself.

And last, but hopefully not least, entertaining Village cards include:

– The Chalice Mace, because it’s good and I like to see a decent number of more “narrow” Village cards so that there’s more strategy in deckbuilding beyond “pick the best card.” The Chalice Mace gives lots of Attack and decent Gold, but it really “shines” when you’ve got a deck full of Clerics (who don’t need to meet the high Strength requirement, and for whom it generates Light);

– The Dredging Net, which is a purely village card that thins your deck – but is it worth popping 5 Gold early on for a card that is useless in the Dungeon and that gets worse and worse as the game goes on?

– Grognard, who is worth 1VP and 2XP (gained when you buy him), but is mostly blank after that (his only other effect is to stop you from getting hit by Traps). We avoided him at first, but later came to think that he was a worthwhile early buy to accelerate into better Heroes;

– The Jundul Bow, which is the closest thing to a “capstone” card in Heart of Doom (I always miss it when there isn’t that one awesome card you can buy when your deck hands you 9+ Gold). It’s +4 Attack against Ranks 2 and higher for 7 Gold is solid, but it’s Dungeon ability to rearrange monsters can be fantastic;

– The Magma Hammer, which is one of those “everyone will buy this ASAP” cards. With +2 Attack, +1 Light, and 3 Gold generation – all for 6 Gold and with only a 4 Weight – it’s hard to go wrong picking these up quickly;

– Ritual of Cleansing, on the other hand, was a 6 Gold card we were not as fond off. It reveals 5 cards off the top of any deck (repeat use if your deck and one-shot if an opponent’s deck), and then destroys two of them. It’s a solid deck-thinner for your deck early on, but suffers there because of its relatively high cost and because it generates no Gold or Attack. We thought at first it could be a pretty nice way to take shots at other players, but then we realized that the opponent gets to choose which card gets destroyed, not you;

– Short Spear, which can be a great early game card, and still does something later on. Short Spear is a relatively rare 3 Gold card that generates both Gold and Attack. And when you buy it early on you’re most likely to still have a lot of Militia around, making it much easier to get the big Attack bonus the Short Spear can offer;

– Soulfire, which together with Short Spear represents what might be a first – two 3 Gold Village cards that you might not hate buying. Providing Light and Magic Attack and a possible late-game outlet for excess XP, Soulfire manages the rare feat of being a low-cost card that doesn’t generate Gold and doesn’t draw cards, and still might end up in your deck;

– Village Thief/Robber/Cutpurse, which is a Village card that is not just a Hero, but a Hero that can be leveled up. He’s also one of those several cards mentioned above that let you buy cards while in the Dungeon; and

– War Hero, who is one of the strongest non-Gold producing, low-cost Village cards yet. In the Village, he just replaces himself. In the Dungeon, he shreds a Militia (or, once enough of them are gone, himself) for +3 Attack. Fantastic.

Opinions/Judgment Calls

While not my personal favorite Thunderstone expansion (that’s probably Thornwood Siege), and while not adding any big new wrinkles (if you actually wanted any big new wrinkles), Heart of Doom still provides good additional options for your Thunderstone collection. With Heart of Doom, the low-cost, non-Gold-producing Village cards seem to finally reached a place where you’d probably have an interest in buying most of them at some point during a game. Add in a lack of multiple “you will always buy several of these right away” cards (Magma Hammer being the only one that seems to fit into that category), and there’s not only additional options, but a relatively smooth power curve (even in games like this where everyone has the opportunity to grab “overpowered” cards or avoid “underpowered” cards, I think it improves gameplay if things are relatively even). We continue to really enjoy Thunderstone, and enjoyed adding the Heart of Doom cards into the mix.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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