Thunderstone had a rough launch when it first came out.  The rule book was unclear on many factors and eventually got a rewrite for later reprintings.  As the game has matured though, it has become one of the top tier deck-building games, second only to Dominion.  Now with Dragonspire, the first stand-alone expansion, they have created a box that is worth getting for both Thunderstone veterans and newcomers alike.

Thunderstone is similar to Dominion in that it is a deck-building game, but that is where the similarities end.  Each player in Thunderstone starts out with the same deck of twelve cards and expands their deck with cards bought from the Village.  As you buy heroes, weapons, items, and spells, you use them to enter into the Dungeon and defeat monsters.  Monsters and heroes are worth different points and the player with the most points when the game ends wins.  If you have read any of my previous Thunderstone reviews, then you know how the game plays.

Several differences between Dragonspire and the previous Thunderstone games are evident when you open the game.  Dragonspire comes with a board for the Dungeon deck.  While this isn’t necessary to play the game, it does make it easier to visual the ranks of the dungeon and the amount of extra damage needed to defeat a monster due to the light penalty.

Once you take the board out of the box, you can see the insert inside.  The insert is large enough that it can hold all of the original cards, the two expansions, and the Dragonspire set.  There may be some cards you don’t want to put inside because they are duplicated, but at least you have the option to leave them in there.  The box is pretty heavy with all those cards inside, but it is nice to be able to carry all the cards in one set and put them in whatever order you like with the card separators.

All of the art of the previous Thunderstone games was drawn by Jason Engle.  Dragonspire’s art was drawn by Jason Engle, Brent Keith, and Hal Mangold.  Previous sets felt consistent artistically because they used a single artist.  The styles of the three artists are very unique, which is to be expected.  None of them are bad, but it is a little jarring seeing the different styles after being used to the same artist all this time.  The artwork has changed for the Militia, Iron Rations, Torch, and Dagger, which makes it easy to see the difference between the original game and this set.

Previously when you gained experience, you received “1XP” experience cards that didn’t look very different from the regular cards in your deck.  Dragonspire includes plastic tokens for every experience point you get.  These stand out easier and don’t have the possibility of getting mixed up with any deck you have.  It’s another little thing that makes Dragonspire a nice improvement over the original.

The rules are well written and include some of the previous rules from all of the expansions.  Trophies, traps, treasures, and Guardians are all explained in the rules since Dragonspire includes cards of those types.  It also includes a variant called United We Stand for a cooperative game and a single player game called Alone in the Dark.  None of the campaign variants are included, but they aren’t necessary since this is a starter set and the campaigns can be much longer than a regular game.  These rules can be found on the AEG web site since the rules for the other expansions can be downloaded.

The new cards in the Dragonspire set have a nice blend to them.  A few more cards give you light for going into the dungeon. These include both items and spells, as well as a Mercenary.  A few new Mercenaries show up in this expansion, making going to the Village more interesting.  Some of the monsters are very powerful and some can even take out your heroes after the attack, even if your attack is successful.  Most of the heroes have three levels of strength, but a couple have only two levels, while one can actually level up to a fourth level.  There’s a wide variety of cards available in this game, so you’ll have plenty of cards to play with even without any of the other expansions.

Thunderstone Dragonspire is not only a great expansion, it’s also a great stand alone game.  Thunderstone might have been compared to Dominion early in its life, but the game has added and grown since the original game.  Every time I play Thunderstone now, I can’t believe how much I enjoy playing it.  If you haven’t played Thunderstone before, Dragonspire is a great place to start.  If you already have Thunderstone, Dragonspire should be an instant purchase with all of the improvements made to the game.