Now that I've had the privilege of playing Thunderstone: Dragonspire, it is time to post my review.
So, this is the part of the review where I normally summarize the game. I'm going to assume that you have already played the base game, and if not, you should probably read my review of Thunderstone. Instead, I'll try to focus on the differences that set Dragonspire apart from the other iterations of Thunderstone that I've played. In all honesty, I skipped Thunderstone: Doomgate Legions, so I'm not 100% sure what was introduced there instead of in Dragonspire, but after doing my due diligence on Board Game Geek, I think I have a pretty good handle on what aspects were introduced in each set.
Dragonspire really doesn't introduce very much in the way of new mechanics to Thunderstone. The only two things that I saw that seemed to be new were Settings and a new cooperative way of playing the game. However, it did include everything necessary to play the game (it is a fully playable standalone game), and also expanded upon all of the features that were added in previous expansions (new Thunderstones, Treasures, Traps, Mercenaries, and Guardians). Therefore, whereas the game isn't especially innovative, it does allow a new player to jump into the fully developed Thunderstone game.
Now for the pros, cons and something in between. We'll start with the in between, which is the packaging. If you have read each of my previous Thunderstone reviews, I thought that the packaging for Thunderstone was absolutely atrocious. However, I thought the Wrath of the Elements packaging was amazing. I personally think that Dragonspire is somewhere in between those two. Instead of the sleek, spartan packaging of Wrath of the Elements, AEG went back to the ridged plastic dividers, but with the ridges meant to keep the cards from sliding instead of to separate cards. They have also continued providing nice, labeled dividers. I'm not completely sold on this being "better" than what was in Wrath of the Elements, but it is definitely better than what was in the original game. Along with the new packaging design, they also included plastic experience tokens and a dungeon board (to help keep track of light, guardians, etc). These are (though unnecessary in my opinion) nice little additions to the game that make you feel more like you get your money's worth. Regardless of which packaging I prefer, I have converted all of my cards to be in the Dragonspire box, because it is big enough to actually hold the board and the instructions (which annoyed my about the Wrath of the Elements box because it wasn't big enough to hold the instructions from the original game).
Now that I've had the obligatory discussion about packaging, time to get more into the actual game. I'll do one quick note about Settings, and then I'll go on to the cooperative play. So far I like the Settings mechanic. What the Settings do is change the actual overall game. They add rules like "every time you defeat a monster you gain a disease" or something similar that makes one game of Thunderstone different from the next. This is a plus, in my eyes - especially since they are optional, and if certain players find them annoying they are easy enough to leave out.
The innovation that I found in Dragonspire was around the cooperative play. My wife refused to play this game competitively with me after our first game (I have lots of deckbuilding experience and she has very little, and so she found the experience quite frustrating). With a new cooperative game, I was excited that I felt like I could convince her to try again (and in fact, I was successful at this). The cooperative game works very similarly to the advancing monsters game variant that was introduced in Wrath of the Elements, where the monsters attack and cost the players points every certain number of turns. There were a few big differences, though. In the cooperative version of the game you have a shared experience pool, you can trade cards (to a limited amount) when resting, and you can turn in monsters when visiting the village to gain experience (and remove them from your deck). This mode of play worked fairly well, and I would be willing to continue playing it. I really appreciate the fact that each release I have played has added a new game play option.
Another quick pro is that in Dragonspire, the heroes have diverged from the standard setup. Whereas in the previous versions all the heroes had levels 1-3 and the same number of cards (from one hero to the next) for level 1, 2, and 3. This is no longer the case. In Dragonspire, some heroes have 4 levels, some have 2, and therefore the heroes are actually becoming more unique. This helps the game not feel like it is the same every time through.
The next thing that I have learned to really appreciate about AEG (through my interaction with their Thunderstone brand) is that they seem to both learn from their mistakes and fix them. As an example that was stated previously, the original Thunderstone storage was horrendous. AEG realized this and setup the Wrath of the Elements box to use labeled dividers between the card sets. The problem was, these were not included in the original set. AEG, fixing their mistakes, provided labels in Wrath of the Elements for both the original game and the Wrath expansion. They have done this again in Dragonspire. They determined that it would be very convenient for the randomizer cards to have different colored backs. Therefore, they provided new randomizers for each of the previous sets. I really wish that all companies tried to fix their mistakes like AEG has done with the Thunderstone brand.
Now that I have talked about the pros, here are a few cons. First off, I noticed more than ever that you need to be careful when picking the heroes and village cards that you play with. If you randomly select them, you will often get cards that do not mix well together and so you will have several cards that are essentially unusable in your setup of available cards. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to fix - look at the cards selected and make sure they work together; ie, do not have a wizard that works well with spells and then no useful spells available (this happened to us).
Something that I have mentioned as a con previously in the Thunderstone set, but that I noticed again (and so I will mention) is that the game seems to be setup where nobody attacks the dungeon for quite a long time. It seems to be all buildup for the first half of the game, and then attacking for the second half, but not intermixed. Because of this, I will continue recommending that you play with the advancing monsters variant that was introduced in Wrath of the Elements.
There are several other pros and cons to the game, but these are the same as what can be found in the previous versions of Thunderstone, so I don't really feel the need to retype them, since you can click on those reviews from my links on this site.
A few final quick notes before wrapping this up... First, I like Treasures and Mercenaries (these were introduced in Doomgate Legions, and I will write more about them if I play and review that expansion). Second, the game seems to work best with about 3-4 players, as with 2 your deck will get too watered down with monsters, and with more than 4, you will not have the opportunity to purchase many village cards.
Overall, I give Thunderstone: Dragonspire an 8.0/10. It is not nearly as innovative as the original game (and so I seriously pondered giving it a 7.5), but it introduces some useful new aspects to the game and so I keep them on par with each other. If you really enjoy the Thunderstone brand, then you should pick it up, because it will add more replayability to your sets. If you are debating whether to try out the Thunderstone system, I would recommend getting this set before the "original" base game, as it includes everything the base game had plus more.
If you want to read about more Thunderstone, I've also reviewed Thunderstone, the Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements expansion, and the Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin franchise reboot.
I would like to thank AEG for providing me a demo copy of Thunderstone: Dragonspire to review.