Review: Thornwood Siege (Thunderstone)

Thornwood Siege is the latest expansion for the Thunderstone deckbuilding game (this review will presume the reader has played Thunderstone before). The 317-card expansion retails for $39.99, and also contains a small assortment of punch-out tokens. The cards are the same good quality as the prior expansions, and the tokens are solid as well. Thornwood Siege features 7 new heroes, 5 new monster types, 14 new Village cards, and a new Thunderstone. Thornwood Siege has a general theme of the bad guys coming out of the Dungeon and going after you and the village.

New Mechanics

Thornwood Siege introduces two new formal mechanics to the game: Stalk and Raid. Both are triggered when a monster is revealed in the dungeon. Stalk, which is found on the Centaurs, means that at the start of the active player’s next turn, they will be on the receiving end of a smallish negative effect (gain a disease, reduced gold, discard, etc.). Since a monster is usually revealed when you just defeated another monster, Stalk can act as a bit of a brake on a player who is having more luck at taking down the Dungeon (unlike the treasure mechanic from prior expansions, which can act as a “win more”). One of the two types of token in the box are for use with the Stalk mechanic, giving you a reminder that you’re going to get hit with a penalty at the start of your next turn. There was a graphics error on two of the tokens, swapping the images – I didn’t even notice, but one of the other players was mildly annoyed (AEG has put up some replacement printouts with the right pictures if one is so inclined, although I’d rather use the thicker tokens).

When a Monster with Raid is revealed in the Dungeon (in the Raider stack), something bad happens back in the village – generally destroying a few cards off of a couple of village stacks. Repeated Raids can tweak the flow of the game (in a good way) by significantly altering the players’ options.

Both new mechanics are great additions to the game. We really liked Raid, in particular – it has an interesting effect, is very straightforward, and adds no ongoing complexity to the game state. Stalk has a smidge of rules baggage (you have to remember that it doesn’t affect you until next turn, I guess), but the addition of the tokens make it hard to forget that you’re going to get tweaked, it’s something that only one player has to keep track of, and they effect is done and gone quickly (so, again, no added complexity to the board).

The Monsters

In addition to the Centaurs and Raiders, Thornwood Siege features Siege, Verminfolk (Ratlings), and another Abyssal monster stack. Like the Raiders, the Siege cards attack the village and also the Hero cards. The Siege cards do this through Global and Breach effects. We liked the Raiders better, but the Siege monsters were solid too – just don’t play them together, or there isn’t going to be a village left long before the game is over. The Verminfolk are straightforward Disease creators. The new Abyssals also hand out Disease, but they vary from monster to monster, with most destroying one card of a particular type and then handing out a Disease based on what (if anything) got destroyed (the ones that target Militia would blow them all up, and then give you a Disease for each). We were glad to see some more variety in the Monsters that wasn’t just a bunch of ways to make them immune to half the deck.

The Heroes

As usual, the Heroes cut across a spread of all the classes. The eponymous Thornwood Hero is an Archer, who gets pretty wicked against Rank 3 once you level him up all the way (Attack +9 and bonus XP). Especially together with some of the Village cards in Thornwood Siege, the 4-level Krell Fighter rewards you for throwing lots of Militia at the Dungeon. Another Fighter is the Magehunter, who gets bonuses so long as you don’t have any Magic Attack at all. There are two Thief types – the dagger-wielding Nightblade and an anti-Light item Lurker. Rounding things out are a Weapon-buffing Veris Wizard and the Woodfolk Cleric, who gets massive bonuses against Monsters that hand out Disease. What was nice about almost all of these Heroes is that they often strongly favor building your deck in a certain way – the Krell wants Militia, the Magehunter makes you avoid buying Wizards, the Nightblade wants small Edged Weapons and no Light, and so forth. Again, the new cards manage to change the game up without adding a bunch of new rules or excess game state complexity.

The Village

It may not be flashy, but the first Village card that caught my eye was the Elite Militia, a weak Village Hero that blows up a Militia when you buy it, basically letting you “upgrade” the worst cards in your deck early on. Another great is the lone Food Item – Unicorn Steaks. That’s right, you’re eating a unicorn – and, if you believe the art, you’re using its own horn to make unicorn steak shish-kebabs. Hilarious. Several cards like the Thieves’ Blade and the Highland Officer reward you (implicitly or explicitly) for still having those Militia in your deck – again, we liked the possibility of being able to pursue your own deckbuilding strategy, instead of everyone just going for the “best” cards. On the other side, the Insight Blade needs a really hefty Strength to pull off, so you’d better get rid of those Militia quickly.

Scroll of Chaos and Stalking Spell both add a bit of randomness into the mix – the former can redistribute everyone’s bad cards, and the latter makes everyone else follow you into the Dungeon. I’m not sure how often you’ll want to buy them (since they don’t generate attack and don’t do anything in the Village), but they can throw a monkey-wrench into everyone else’s plans if you do.

The second set of tokens are +1 Light tokens to be used with the Guiding Light Item, which illuminates the Dungeon this turn, and then for an additional turn cycle. Unlike the Stalk tokens, these ones were a harder to keep track of – if you just have them in front of you, it’s easy for everyone else to forget about the bonus light, but if you put them by the Dungeon then it’s easy to forget who generated that Light token and when it’s supposed to go away. One “miss” card for us was the “capstone” Spell for Thornwood Siege – Power Word Kill. It never seems like the wrong time to draw a Fireball or a Creeping Doom, but it’s easy to have your PWK do nothing (its effects are based on the level of your Wizard/Cleric Heroes), which (at least for us) removed the usual excitement of finally hitting enough Gold to grab the big spell for the set.

The Final Verdict

Thornwood Siege is a great expansion for Thunderstone. Of the ones we’ve played (our group hasn’t picked up Dragonspire), it’s definitely the best. Thornwood Siege adds variety and new deckbuilding options to the Thunderstone experience, without ratcheting up the complexity or the number of bits you need to keep track of. It’s nice to see a game that’s dropping a lot of expansions and actually getting better as they go along, instead of getting repetitive or adding too many moving parts. We were very impressed. If you like Thunderstone, you will like Thornwood Siege.

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

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