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Reviews - Thunderstone: Doomgate Legion
 
by Lee Valentine


Thunderstone: Doomgate Legion boxThunderstone: Doomgate Legion
Published by Alderac Entertainment Group
Designed by Mike Elliott
Contents: 317 cards, full-color rulebook, 28 card dividers, foam storage inserts
$34.99

Doomgate Legion (DL) is the newest expansion released for Alderac Entertainment Group's (AEG) fantasy deck-building game, Thunderstone (TS). It expands the game with 30 randomizers, 287 other cards, and enough dividers to keep the new cards introduced in this set organized in your collection.

Thematically, the expansion tells the story of the order of the Doomgate Legion, which, according to AEG, is the group that guards the third Thunderstone, "the Stone of Avarice from friend and foe alike. [...] Their cult-like existence known only to a few, the Legionnaires dedicate themselves to the secrecy, protection, and worship of the stone."

New Cards
DL features 13 new types of Village cards, seven new Heroes, five new Monsters, a deck of Special Disease cards, two categories of Treasure cards, one new Thunderstone, and one new Guardian card. DL introduces a variety of new mechanics to TS. Among these are a new Disease deck, "cantrip" cards, Treasure cards, and cards that offer alternate uses for cards from earlier releases. I will briefly address each of these new mechanics.

Leprosy cardThe Special Disease deck features ten standard disease cards that simply penalize you with a -1 to your Dungeon Attack rating, but there are also 15 new special Diseases. These include a variety of debilitating effects, from making your Village purchases more expensive to cards that cost you Victory Points at the end of the game. Unlike traditional Diseases, when the Special Disease deck is utilized the deck is kept face down and Diseases are handed out at random. This means that it's a bit tougher to blithely attack a monster that gives you a Disease card in Battle. Two of the new monsters introduced in the set require that you play with the Special Disease deck, but it can also be added at any time to increase the game's difficulty and length.

Among the new Village cards are a new type of card called "Mercenaries". Some of these offer what I'll call a "cantrip effect" (a term borrowed from Magic: The Gathering players). These cards offer you a standard effect like a static bonus to Attack, but in both the Dungeon and the Village they offer you the ability to draw one or more extra cards. This is a boon compared to some other Village cards, which grant you an effect either in the Village or the Dungeon, but not both.

One Mercenary, the Pious Chaplain is highly situational and differs from the other Mercenaries – he is not a "cantrip effect" card. He allows you, either in the Village or the Dungeon, to destroy any Disease cards in your hand and draw two cards for each Disease that you destroyed. Unfortunately, he has no alternate ability. So, unlike every other card in the game, if your randomly selected Monster sets contain no Disease-producing beasties, then the Pious Chaplain is an entirely dead card that you would never select. Similarly, after you trim the other Diseases out of your deck he serves no function whatsoever, just clogging up your deck in a fashion that's only slightly better than the Diseases that he is supposed to be ridding you of.

Nature's Mistress cardTreasure cards are nearly polar opposites of the Trap cards from the Wrath of the Elements (WE) expansion. Treasure cards are shuffled into the Dungeon Deck and randomly appear in the Dungeon Hall from time to time. These cards are immediately collected by the active player, and do not go into his deck, but are instead set in front of him for the rest of the game until they are used. Each one grants a one-shot game effect that can be cashed in during any future turn of the game. Treasure cards can even be acquired when you fail to defeat a monster, an idea that seems counter to the dungeon-delving theme. They are an interesting addition to the game in that they encourage players to enter the Dungeon Hall even to unsuccessfully encounter a monster, helping to keep the Dungeon Hall from remaining too stagnant if all the monsters are too powerful to kill. Ideally, though, Treasure cards should have been kept separate from the Dungeon Deck and tied to a Spoils effect of some kind on particularly difficult monsters to encourage you to fight them. As it is, since they appear at random, I question the game balance effects these items can have on the game, but as their effects are modest and one-shot in nature, I'm not willing to count them out just yet.

Some of the new cards let you teach an old dog some new tricks. The new Spell "Spirit Blast" allows you to gain a variable attack bonus equal to your unspent Experience Points (up to a maximum of 6). The Doomgate Squire allows you to discard Experience Points repeatedly in the Dungeon to gain a bonus to attack at a one-to-one basis. A new race called the Deep gets large attack bonuses when they aren't wielding weapons, but they also gain attack bonuses or extra card draws for every Mercenary in your hand, meaning that you have a use for those normally deck clogging cards after the early game.

Slynn cardSeveral of the new heroes introduced in DL allow for more player-versus-player cards. The Sidhe are one of the more interesting examples of effect interaction in DL. If you would normally gain a Disease while a Sidhe is in your hand, you get to pass the Disease to another player instead. Other Heroes, while not allowing this level of controlled decision making, still allow you to occasionally needle your opponents effectively, such as the Verdan race's ability to make other players each discard a card from hand.

There are five new Monsters introduced in this set. Two of them hand out cards from the new Special Disease deck. One of these, the Swarm, is merely a slight revamp of the Horde monster from the WE expansion. Each Swarm animal is more difficult to defeat than the last one that appeared in the game, and the number of Experience Points you gain for each Swarm is equal to the total number of Swarm cards in your deck at the end of the game (up to a maximum of 5 points per card). Each Swarm grants you a Trophy effect of +1 to Attack, but offsets that by giving you a card from the Special Disease deck. Clearly hunting the Swarm down with members of the Sidhe race gives you all the positives and none of the negatives. This interaction is one of the more interesting types of intra-set synergy in the DL expansion.

Components & Packaging
The art on the cards in this expansion is top notch. While some of it simply displays more and different monsters for the players to fight, thematically some cards are more tightly tied into the expansion's backstory than others. For example, there are cards for the cultists who worship the Stone of Avarice, though surprisingly none of them are "in frame" with the Thunderstone itself. There are also some great cards displaying evil druids, who presumably want the Stone of Avarice for themselves. These druids sow disease and death in their path instead of merely encouraging green grass and trees to grow. In spite of all of the fine card images, AEG still has not done anything to update the iconography on the game cards to make them easier to interpret for beginners.

Rage cardThe art of the box itself is quite good as well, although the package art is dark and low contrast, so it doesn't visually "pop" the way the WE box did. The image of the box included in this article is substantially more vibrant than the actual box art that resulted from the printing process.

The card stock for the cards has a nice spring for shuffling and a good "slip". The card backs are very slightly different than previous expansions, but they match closely enough that many players will not detect a difference.

The 16-page rulebook is fairly clear. I found one card, "The Bloodless", that made me guess how to resolve part of it. Some cards are now both Weapons and Items. Since Weapons have to be equipped to a single Hero to function and Items don't, this caused me enough confusion that I wish it would have received greater attention in the rulebook. Another thing that threw me was the setup information included for your first game with this expansion: in the rulebook "Border Guard" was listed as "Bodyguard" and "Doomgate Squire" was listed as "Squire". Since I have the cards alphabetized this confused me for a minute, but I soon puzzled it out.

DL comes with a new box that is the same size as the WE box. This time, however, only 28 index-tabbed dividers are included for the new cards. Players looking for dividers for their base TS cards will have to buy WE. Each divider has the name of the card it is supposed to be filed with. These dividers are noticeably taller than the game cards, unlike the non-tabbed dividers in the base TS set, which were barely taller than the game cards and had no names on them. The new tabbed dividers keep the cards easy to find, while sponge blocks keep categories of cards separate from each other (like Village cards and Heroes), and keep the cards from moving in the box during transport. The blocks are obviously removable to allow for further expansion cards to fit in this storage box. I managed to get all of my TS cards into one box. If you use thin card sleeves you may be able to remove the foam blocks and sleeve your cards as well, though the DL box will limit the thickness and length of the sleeves that may be used while still managing to store everything in one box.

Conclusions
Doomgate Legion is net positive overall as an expansion, but it is not without its drawbacks. Many of the monsters are immune to magic, and yet many of the Village cards improve spells and spell casters. Some cards are simply minor variants on old cards, feeling like AEG did not push their design space as much as they could with this expansion. Factors like these, and having a Pious Chaplain without disease-generating monsters can occasionally limit interesting deck-building decisions, can sometimes cause the procession of monsters in the Dungeon Hall to stall, and can potentially lengthen an already long multi-player game. I think with this expansion more than with WE, players may need to hand tweak their starting Village cards, Heroes, and Monsters more often instead of entirely randomizing them as intended. If you are willing to do this periodically, then a number of the failings of the set can be ignored, and DL will be a good fit for your TS game collection. If you have got the money for just one Thunderstone expansion, pick up Wrath of the Elements instead. If you can afford both, Doomgate Legion will be a nice addition to the mechanics and the packaging introduced in Wrath of the Elements.

For Retailers
While the packaging is great, since the price for DL is $5.00 more expensive than WE and comes with only a fraction of the dividers, this product won't have the same "must have" quality about it that WE did. TS is a popular game and its expansions will sell, but you may sell slightly less of this set than you did of WE.

 

Lee's Ratings:
Overall: B+
Gameplay: B
Artwork: A
Rules Clarity: B+
Card Layout: B (due to lack of useful iconography on some cards)
Packaging: A
Retailer Salability: B (or lower, if Wrath of the Elements was not a strong seller for you)

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