Thronestorm. A two player abstract set collection game designed by unknown and published by Original Content London. Price not known.
This was my first visit to the UK Games Expo (UKGE) and I am at a special two hour session for various publishers to show-off their games and wares before the expo began in earnest the next morning. I already had a small bag of goodies from Play Fusion including a double starter deck of their game Lightseekers Awakening. I came across Thronestorm laid out on a table.
The art on the cards was beautiful, so I starter chatting with the publisher and he explained that it was an abstract strategy game based on the idea that you are adventures returning from a successful mission. You then have the decide how to divide the loot and this is how you do it. After he explained the key mechanism, I decided to give this game a punt and review it. It was just a set of cards and I am a sucker for gorgeous art. A highly portable game has a niche in the market.
Before we go any further, I am not a massive fan of abstract games. In my collection of board games about five percent of them are of this type. We are talking about Qwirkle, Guildhall – Fantasy and Century Spice Road. It has got to be really good to impress me. Let us see if this one is seated on the throne of royalty or needs flushing down the toilet!
The rule book is more of a pamphlet than a book. It just opens out. You split the cards into four decks according to what is one the back of the cards. One stack has a goblet on the back of it, the others a sword, a shield and the last a helmet. These represent a jewellery item, a weapon, shield and head gear respectfully. These are your ‘relics’. The aim of the game is to collect all four of the type of relics that belong to the same set or ‘noble house’ before your opponent. There are ten sets in total. They are distinguished by having a different art style and colour background.
The four stacks of relics are placed to one side of the playing area and called the ‘reliquary’, for some strange reason. We just called them the draw stacks. Four cards from the goblet stack are placed in the middle of the table in a 1:2:1 formation face-up called the‘realm’. The top card is flipped over and placed next to the stack so you know which one it comes from (this was an idea I came up with an not in the rules).
The players take it in turns to ‘claim a relic’, i.e. take a revealed card from one of the draw stacks and add them to their ‘inventory’ in front of them. The next card is flipped over. If, at any point, they have the same class of card, say two weapons, one of them must be placed in the ‘realm’ according to a rule that will be explained in the video.
To take a card from the centre of the table, ‘realm’, the player must have a card from the of the same suit or ‘noble house’ of one of the cards on their side of the ‘realm’. Once again watch the video.
The first player to collect all four cards of the same suit or ‘noble house’ wins the game.
As it has already been stated, the art is beautiful, attractive and the colours are bright in most cases. The card quality is good and they are of a decent size (bridge sized cards). The cards are the only game component.
However pretty they are, there are two serious flaws. Not all of items on the cards are intuitive. For example, one of the shield relics is a bow and arrow and another one is lute. That did not make sense to any of us. We spent a lot of the time turning the cards over to check which type they were. A simple icon on the face of the card would have resolved this problem. The colours are also similar and can be mistaken for ones from another suit or ‘noble house’. Even in good light and able sighted people, this became an issue. I hate to imagine how a colour blind person would fair.
The box that is comes in is fine. The cover is uninspiring. It is of a dark foreboding castle in the midst of a lightning storm. On the back is just a spread of the cards and that is it. There is nothing that would attract someone to buy this game off the shelf.
Why they needed to give each area peculiar names we do not know. There is nothing new of special about the mechanics. I can see why you have to place the cards in the ‘realm’ in a certain order, but this can give your opponent the game. There must be a better way of doing this. There can be a strong element of luck in the game. If you flip over the last card your opponent requires, this will play right into their hands. Not is no fun at all.
Replayability and value for money 1/10
I have no idea how much this game costs, but I can see that after a few plays it may never see the light of day again. If a game is only going to sit in one of the dark recesses of your board game shelf or cupboard, it is probably not worth keeping. It would blend in well in a dark corner having such a dark box. My gaming group of friends have already forgotten this game.
When I am looking to review a game, I try to put it in front of people who will tend to like a game especially if it not one I would be attracted to in the first place. I played two games with my friend, Gary (he loves abstract games) and both games ended up with both of us having three cards of one suit and remaining card that the opponent required to win. We would not give up that card so the game would end in a stale mate. I contacted the publisher and I was told this was, “…not an optimal strategy.”. I was also told the player needed to have a spread of colours to win the game and to wait until all the cards of a suit could be collected. I then realised that if you placed the fourth card in the suit on your side of the ‘realm’ your opponent could not obtain it because they required a suit to match with a card in their inventory with one on their side of the realm. Now this game made more sense!
I then gave the game to a couple of gamer friends (without any instruction) and they gave it a go. They did the same as we did and grabbed as many cards of one suit as possible. This game did not end in a stale mate. Each player had three of the same suit and the final card for one player was drawn by the other. Because of the rules concerning how cards could be placed in the ‘realm’ he had to place it where his opponent could take it on his turn thus bringing the game to an anticlimactic finish! They just looked at me and I knew this game was pretty much “Meh” for them. He could have sacrificed a card from his ‘inventory’, but I think they were bored of the game after ten minutes.
I think you know that this game was pretty much a damp squib for everyone who played it. It plays in ten to fifteen minutes so it was not that painful an ordeal to reach that conclusion.
A good abstract game should flow. After I played this game with Gary, we played Century Spice Road, another abstract game. This one played like an abstract game should. The rules are simple and the game play slick. Because of this the game is fun. Thronestorm lacked this and that is why we play games, to have fun! Even when I played the game using a better strategy, it was still did not engage me.
With any set collection game, people try to collect their suit as quickly as possible. This game is designed to work against that. But the first or second time you will not know that. The mechanics work to a point, but the game could also boil down to luck whether you or your opponent draws the card you are after. If you do, then most likely, it will be put out of your reach (if they can) and you will have to find another way of winning. This means the game is won or lost on a coin flip. The designer could have put a section with strategy tips to mitigate this.
Just one last point, who is the designer? Why is there no name on the box or anywhere online? Are they ashamed of their game? It always rings alarm bells for me when a game does not tell you who designed it or you cannot find out. Queue toilet flush!
If you like or want a two player abstract game then try Onitama or Hive. Both take up to twenty minutes to play, have enormous replay ability, solid pieces and are highly playable. If you want a game that is portable and you can play pretty much anywhere, Hive has a travel edition.
If you have had any experience of this game, please leave a comment below.