Review – Caverns of Bane (Thunderstone)

                Caverns of Bane is an expansion for the Dark Knight Rises deck-building game . . . what, no I’m being told that it is, in fact, an expansion for Thunderstone Advance (I must have been confused because Caverns of Bane does, in fact, have bat-men in it). Caverns of Bane is either the first expansion for Thunderstone Advance, or the seventh expansion for Thunderstone, depending on how you’re counting (AEG apparently counts them all in a row, since the Caverns of Bane rulebook refers to “Thunderstone 7”  when it means Thunderstone Advance). Thunderstone Advance remains, as always, a deck-building game of fantasy adventure, wherein the players must assembly a deck of heroes, weapons, and such, then sally forth into the dungeon/wilderness to kill monsters and take their Victory Points. But with Caverns of Bane, now you can take their treasure too. CoB retails for about $35

Note: Since CoB is an expansion, this review will presume that the reader is familiar with Thunderstone Advance. If you aren’t, feel free to catch up by checking out the Strange Assembly review of the Thunderstone Advance base game.

Quick Take: The new treasure mechanic is vastly more flavorful than the base Thunderstone one. The expansion as a whole is basically just more Thunderstone Advance – if you like TA, and want some more cards, you’ll like CoB. If you don’t like Thunderstone, Caverns of Bane won’t change your mind.

What’s In The Box

Caverns of Bane adds seven new Heroes, six new Monster types, three new Thunderstone Bearer cards, thirteen new Village cards, one new Treasure type (6 cards), 4 new Curse cards to add into that deck, and randomizers and dividers for all of the new stacks.

New Mechanics

Treasures

                The only formal new mechanic is Treasures. Treasures get shuffled into the dungeon deck. When a treasure is revealed while refilling the dungeon hall, the treasure card is placed in the open slot like a normal monster would be, and then next card is flipped and that monster is put on top of the treasure (the one monster goes on top of multiple treasures, if you happen to flip more than one treasure in a row). The monster will then use the treasure against the heroes, gaining some sort of benefit from it – extra health, immunity to weapons, etc. Whoever defeats the monster gains the treasure card as well, and will be able to use it to some benefit (if a monster carrying a treasure leaves the hall for any other reason, the treasure is removed from the game).

There is a treasure randomizer that goes in with the monster randomizers – if you hit the treasure card in the first three, then the treasures go in the dungeon deck, but you take another pull to go up to three monster groups. Alternatively, you can skip the randomizing and just play with the treasures.

The new treasure mechanic is greatly improved over the pre-Advance treasure mechanic, which simply involved whoever just killed the monster getting the treasure card that was randomly on top of the deck. The new mechanic has much better flavor, since the monster gets to use the magic item. Mechanically, it also has less of a “win more” feel to it – you get more of a reward for defeating the monster, but that’s because you had to face a tougher challenge. No more randomly getting even more rewards for defeating exactly the same guy.

The one downside is that the treasures make the monsters even harder to kill up front, and can therefore contribute to the early game lagging. A lot of people play Thunderstone with more regimented dungeons anyway, stacking the low-level monsters first , and wanting to play with the treasures could make more players lean that way.

New Curses

They aren’t a formal new mechanic, but there are a handful of new curses to add into the existing curse deck. They differ from the standard curses because they prohibit you from resting or preparing when they’re in your hand.

Graphical Tweaks

Just one set after the introduction of the new layout in Thunderstone Advance, there are some tweaks in Caverns of Bane. Most prominently, the village cards are now green, so they look different from the heroes in your hand. This is nice, but would work a lot better if all the starter deck cards and ToR weren’t the same blue as the heroes.

There’s also a change in the background for the items/weapons, which is now orange instead of pink. Unfortunately, this did not correct the (IMHO) problem that the items and the weapons have the same background, highlighted by the Seedbomb in CoB, which looks like an item but is a weapon.

The borders are brighter generally – the monsters are a more vibrant red, and the green/yellow on the village/treasure cards pops more.

New Cards

Past the treasures, Caverns of Bane is (like most deck-building game expansions) mostly about getting new cards to put into the mix. So what did CoB add?

There are a couple of sub-themes running through Caverns of Bane. First, there’s some sort of nature-based item/weaponry thing going on – Animal Talisman, Charm of Venery, Liveoak Staff, Seedbomb, Taproot Blade, and Thorn Caltrops.

There’s also a minor dwarf theme, with two dwarven heroes and the Dwarven Ale, which is actually a negative combo, because the dwarf will drink the ale and you lose it.

The three new Thunderstone Bearers each leads a custom scenario laid out in the rulebook – an orc raiding with waves of humanoids, Xobmokt the undead ooze who has to be faced by all those dwarves going deep into the caves, and a djinni lich (fire and undead, yummy!).

Specific cards include:

–          a dwarf berserker who destroys your other heroes (alas, poor Regular, I knew him Horatio);

–          a wizard who gets bonuses for spells being present;

–          an elf fighter who gets bonuses for spells and magic things being present;

–          the pretty amazing Patternmage, who lets you filter the top of your deck;

–          an elf thief who is worth a lot of gold and lets you buy from the dungeon (and, to employ a bit of hyperbole, has possibly the worst card art ever – his head is gigantic, his arms are these rubbery snakes of different lengths);

–          a dwarf cleric/druid who “transforms” into a bear by discarding a card;

–          a very cheap ranger who re-arranges the hall (shocking, I know);

–          the Bloodhound, a villager with +2 attack (+3 if you draw more than one of them) and 2 gold, for only 5;

–          a village card that costs 7, has no attack, and no gold, but that you might actually want to buy;

–          an item that requires you to attack (or, at least, prevents you from going shopping), but at least it’s worth victory points;

–          a spell that rivals Fireball when you have a wizard handy;

–          a villager who hands out xp every time you visit;

–          a weapon that gets much better in the hands of low-strength heroes;

–          an enhanced vision spell that eliminates darkness but penalizes you for having light sources;

–          a sword that lets you drain the life from your Regulars to power it up (OK, it lets you kill curses or whatever else too);

–          “Chiroptid Humanoid” monsters (that’s those bat-men I was talking about), who feature ambushers and raid effects;

–          Doomknights, who get tougher when you already have monsters in your hand;

–          Salamander Elementals who give you an extra card as a battle effect, but punish you if it isn’t the right kind;

–          Cavern Oozes, who tend to have immunities and be rough on your weapons (yes, there is a Gelatinous Cube. Yay!)

–          Trolls, who will not leave the hall just because you lose a fight to them; and

–          giant Worms, who tend to swallow some of your heroes whole as a Battle effect.

Opinions

The quick take pretty much said it all for this one. Caverns of Bane is mostly more Thunderstone Advance, with the improved new treasures being the only real mechanical difference. If you like Thunderstone, I think you’ll like this. If you don’t like Thunderstone, I can’t see Caverns of Bane changing your mind. If you clicked on the review link above, you already know my final opinion – I really liked Thunderstone Advance, so I’m quite happy to use Caverns of Bane to expand it.

 

 

 

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

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