Friday, January 21, 2011

Dominion Vs Thunderstone - Fight!

Someone asked and I responded. Here is my take on the question of Dominion versus Thunderstone. Enjoy.

Friends (and podcast listeners of old) know that I was not a fan of Dominion. It didn't hit Fluxx/Talisman levels, but it was not very high up on the chart for me. I was introduced to Thunderstone rather recently have found it to be quite an entertaining game. Light and flavorful, which made it in some ways the anti-Dominion.

The key problem with Dominion to me is that victory can be acheived with the base gold and vpn cards. Picking up any other card had better speed up your buying power, or slow down your opponents. And grabbing more than 4 of the non-gold/vp cards for your deck usually spells trouble.

So in the setup of a Dominion game ten piles of extra cards are laid out and often half will be untouched in the course of the game. One could possibly lay out a formula for what cards to take when, but it's still a risk versus going the gold/province route.

1. Buy a Province, if not
2. Buy a Gold, if not
3. Buy a Silver, if not
4. Pass

Sure, there are strategies with other cards, like the Chapel - kill entire deck down to two silvers and a chapel, then build up fast and buy lots of provinces - but even then it is bad form to buy more than a few action cards.

Dominion rewards the player who looks at the ten starting cards, analyses whether any of the cards are useful, then plays robotically until the game ends. Not a lot of choice toward optimal play.

And yes, the flavor of the game is horrible. Yay, I bought a [money card]. Yay, I bought a VP card. Yay, I shot my fun gland right off!

Dominion plays quickly (faster on the computer) with lots of choices when the game first enters a person's gaming world. But once the basic rule of buying is learned, it quickly loses it's luster.

Thunderstone is, in my opinion, more entertaining because there is not a basic formula for winning. The main VPs are obtained by killing monsters from the dungeon stack. This stack is built using three of the eight monster types in the base game. Each monster type is themed (Undead spirits, Oozes, Dragons, etc) and has different gameplay ramifications. Oozes are resistant to different types of atach, undead of give diseases, and on. So the victory needs change with each game.

Then basic attack cards are the heroes, and are randomly selected from 4 of the 12 heroes in the base set. These cards can upgrade over the course of the game and have a diverse selection of powers related to the various clasess of D&D - fighter, wizard, etc. This effectly combines Gold and Actions from Dominion into one card in Thunderstone.

Finally, there are the Village cards, which are similar to the basic action cards. The game pulls 8 random cards out of the 20 base set cards. The bigger difference is that it feels like the players need to acquire more of these cards to win instead of Dominions "buy 4 max, if you must" mentality. And when an "action" card is a Flaming Sword, Fireball or a Flask of Oil - gain one Light or destroy to gain 2 Light and +2 attack - that adds more entertainment to me.

A turn comparison:
Dominion - Gold, Copper, Silver, Estate, Village - play village, draw a silver, buy Province into my deck, and go.

Thunderstone - Milita, Amazon, Dagger, Torch, Cleric, Fireball - go into the dungeon, attack the Undead Doomknight, I give the dagger to the Amazon, and have three sources of light, and a total of 8 attack, which is enough to take it out, except the Doomknight kills All Milita, so I'm at 7 attack, still enough to kill it. Take the Doomknight into my deck, grab 2 XP for later and go.
Thunderstone - Cleric, Torch, Disease, Iron Ration, Dagger, Doomknight - can't kill anything in the dungeon, so go to the village and buy a Short Sword and level up my Cleric, go.
Thunderstone - Disease, Disease, Militia, Doomknight, Dagger - destroy a disease card, go.

This kind of magnifies the speed of Dominion, but shows the flavor of Thunderstone.

Thunderstone needs expansions to really shine, as it suffers the same problems as Dominion when it comes to card repetition. But like Dominion is already has a couple of expansions with another coming out soon.

Both games have limited player interaction, but in Thunderstone you end up rooting on the other players to kill the monsters - or at least I do - because it is action happening. And sometimes the other players cards will impact your hand - giving disease cards (they're like curses) or reducing your hand size, similiar to cards like Minion and Witch in Dominion.

However, Thunderstone usually leaves that kind of activity to the monsters, who will also impact more than the active player from time to time.

On the flip side, Thunderstone takes longer to play and feels more random than Dominion, which hurts it from the perspective of a fast playing game. Also, the card frames of Thunderstone are not sufficiently different when it comes to sorting the cards out after a game has finished.

An extra splash of color on the cards beyond the art would be nice. Apparently, AEG is reusing art assets (ala Spellfire) but would it really be upsetting if they did an L5R themed expansion of Thunderstone?

Also, in terms of expansion, Thunderstone feels to have a little more design space than Dominion. Prosperity adds the Platinum and Colony (?) cards, while Seaside added the additional boards for Native Village and Pirates, but they a little trapped with a vast amount of options for those 10 slots.

Thunderstone has the Monster/Dungeon area - to which they have added traps and treasures already. Heroes can be increased - although I suspect this will be more difficult to develop. And the Village cards have the usual expansion directions similar to Dominion.

Between the two, I would suggest that Dominion has a better design but suffers from lack of flavor and a way too basic path to victory. Thunderstone has better growth space and flavor, but isn't as serious as Dominion and takes longer to play.

Be seeing you!