Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Before I Got Greedy...

Boardgaming post. 

On Friday, Sept. 19th, I went back to the Landing in Crystal City to play some boardgames. I had a clear agenda this particular evening: Thunderstone! The deck-building boardgame had just arrived in the mail the previous night. I had been reading about it all week and by Friday morning was whipped into a fervor over it. I wanted to play nothing but Thunderstone, all evening.

When I arrived, a game of Betrayal at the House on Haunted Hill had just started.

"We've got room for one more," said one of the guys setting up. "Want to join us?"

Ten minutes later, I was exploring the creepy haunted mansion. I was cool with it at first; a little appetizer before the main course. But as the game dragged on, I realized that I don't actually care much for "adventure" boardgames where the point is to uncover unexplored spaces on a board. More to the point, I WASN'T playing Thunderstone!

Thankfully, I got killed. After the mid-game twist revealed that one of us was now an invisible serial killer, we wandered around the mansion some more. The player, who had earlier expressed interest in the magic spear that I found, was now capable of stealing objects from us. So I knew he would be after me. Sure enough, once he successfully took my spear, I gave a good, educated guess as to where he was and found him. In response, he killed me. I later found out that my finding him got him killed in the end, technically meaning I and the other not-psychos won the game. Good news!

But more importantly, it was Thunderstone time! I got together with three other players (names changed to hide the innocent): Pete, Frank, and Rob.We set up the board (which took considerably less time than usual, thanks to my lunchtime preparation of the game beforehand), and the game was on!

Here's a quick summary of what Thunderstone is (you can safely skip the next paragraph if you know how to play Thunderstone):

In Thunderstone, you construct a deck through purchasing cards with gold pieces from "the village." Once your deck is mighty enough, you enter "the dungeon" and begin slaying monsters. When you slay a monster, that monster's card gets added to your deck, which has a victory point value on it. The game proceeds until the boss monster (who is shuffled into the bottom half of the dungeon deck) shows up. The game then ends when either a player defeats the boss, or the boss makes it to the furthest empty dungeon slot (advancing by taking the spaces of other defeated monsters). At that point, whomever has the most victory points in their deck wins the game.

For those of you familiar with it, Thunderstone is very, very similar to Dominion, but with a more high-fantasy, D&D theme than the more straight-medieval theme of that game.

Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Well, it was! We played, we bought cards, we formed decks, and we slayed monsters.

There were only two problems:

1. Thunderstone's got a fairly steep learning curve, especially for players unfamiliar with the deck-building sub-genre. There are a lot of fine gameplay concepts to understand, plus there's the usual basic strategy common to most deck-building games that needs to be mastered. For example, your deck begins with 12 cards, all of which are pretty weak and actually do more harm than good to your deck later on (because drawing them is less efficient than drawing a better card). So a savvy deck-building gamer knows he or she's got to get rid of those cards as fast as possible. But newer players who's minds are in the "more=better" mentality don't always get that, and are thus much slower to remove cards from their deck. This depth is what attracted me to the game so much, but it proved troblesome for other players (which I'll talk about in a minute).

2. Pete was taking an INCREDIBLY long time on his turns. Like, absurdly long. By design, Thunderstone puts a pretty strong limit on what you can do in a turn (e.g. you can only buy 1 card OR defeat one monster in a turn, not both), the idea being that gameplay will be fast-paced and more fun by keeping between-turn down-time to a minimum. However, Pete is one of those deliberate-thinking type gamers who likes to ponder every possibility before commiting to action. Thunderstone isn't built this way. Of course there's a lot of planning involved, but each individual card is a small part of a bigger plan, so pondering each individual card means you don't have an overall plan; you're just trying to figure out what the best card is. Combine this with the idea that you draw an entirely new hand every turn (thus assuring that even with the right cards, you may not draw them at the right time), and Thunderstone, like many deck-building games, is a game of big-picture thinking, not turn-to-turn pondering. Not only did Pete's pondering suck a lot of fun out of the game for the rest of us, but he also came in dead-last when the game was over.

By contrast, Rob, who seemed to be flying by the seat of his pants the entire game and barely seeming to think about his moves, beat me by a single point to win.

So that's how the first game went. I'll talk about the second game of the night later, since this post is quickly spinning out of control!

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