Thunder & Lightning is a card game that I wanted to like from the get-go. In fact, I was pre-disposed to liking it! A game about Thor and Loki battling each other, you say? Well, I am a massive Loki fangirl; just look at all the Loki merchandise overtaking my bedroom! A two player card game? Sounds great; I wish there were more games tailored for two players. Beautiful artwork and lots of different monsters? Give me that awesome dragon card now! The game is a mixture of bluffing and battling mechanics. I like to kick ass and I am always a spy!
Unfortunately, even having these factors as an advantage, the game has settled in the ‘average’ category for me.
• Designer: Richard Borg
• Publisher: Z-Man Games
• Number of Players: 2
• Playing Time: 40 mins (also could be 5 mins)
The rules of Thunder & Lightning are quite straightforward and so are the mechanics. Each player starts with a deck for either Loki or Thor, then they proceed with placing their soldiers in the battlefield, where the opponent’s cards could be challenged. The fighting is similarly simple: the card with the higher number beats the card with a lower number. There are also special Mythological power cards that could give a player an edge, when played strategically during the turn.
The game has three separate end conditions. There are two special items – Odin’s Ring and Odin’s Crown – hidden within Thor’s and Loki’s deck. If the opponent finds and challenges this special item in other player’s battlefield or hand, the challenged player looses. The game end also triggers if the player cannot do all their actions. I have not seen many games where the player has to do all number of actions allocated to them that turn. This mechanic is quite interesting and could be used strategically during the game. Finally, the game is lost if the player has no warriors in the battlefield. Within these end game conditions, the game tries to encapsulate both its bluffing and battling mechanics in equal measure.
However, the game never commits 100 % to either bluffing or battling, and therefore neither of them are completely successful. To be honest, I would get rid of Odin’s Ring and Odin’s Crown cards entirely as they do nothing to the game. There were several games, in which, those cards were at the bottom of the deck and, in fact, never on the battlefield or in the player’s hand. Even so, Raven cards (used to reveal cards on the battlefield or in player’s hand, and therefore are the surest way to find Odin’s secret stash) were much more useful to reveal warrior cards on the battlefield or as method of destroying opponents Mythological cards.
In one game, during which Odin’s Crown was challenged in my hand, it felt incredibly unsatisfying. This was not based on how good my strategy was, or how I played before. It wasn’t a failing of one my plans or a miscalculation. It was just… luck (or lack thereof for me). Why did I just spend twenty minutes carefully curating my battlefield and fighting opponents cards?
In reality, the game quite quickly boils down to one simple goal, that if achieved, guarantees victory within first five minutes: controlling the amount of actions your opponent has. An interesting game mechanic, that can also be easily used as an advantage, is that the number of actions per turn is linked to the number of columns in the player’s battlefield. The maximum is three columns, resulting in three actions, which could be further increased to four actions, if Loki or Thor cards are active on the battlefield. Minimum is one action, if the player has only one column on the battlefield. Therefore, the trick is to limit the number of actions your opponent has by destroying their columns as fast as possible, and then destroying the remainder of the army. If one player has three actions, while their opponent has just one, the maths almost always wins. In fact, when the player stars loosing, there is very little they could do to catch up, and the most likely outcome is that they will continue loosing until defeated. I would not consider the above a mechanic flaw, if it was the result of poor strategising or bad allocation of warrior units to the battlefield. However, in most cases in boils down to the unlucky hand. If the player’s starting hand happens to have more Mythological Cards (that are either special powers or very weak power number) than warrior cards, there are almost immediately outnumbered.
However, if the hands are more or less equal in the number of warrior cards or if neither players start aggressively challenging each other, the game becomes a long one and could last about 30 minutes. This is when the most fun in the game happens. The players get a chance to strategise, use various powers to trigger combos and fight each other to their heart’s desire.
While it may look like Thor’s and Loki’s army are different, they are, in fact, absolutely the same. Each deck has the same number of Mythological cards, which even has the same artwork. Warrior units, while having different artworks, also are the same in both decks. On the gameplay aspect, I understand why the decks are essentially identical. This allows players to plan ahead, count remaining cards and make sure that the powers could be used more efficiently. However, the part of me that screams inside ‘They are Thor and Loki! There are so different and they fight differently!’, is a bit disappointed. It would be interesting to have one deck where the fighting style was headstrong, brash and attacks really powerful. While another deck of cards could be more skimming, sneaking and luring into traps. You know, like Loki and Thor are! But maybe this is a completely different game.
I already mentioned that the artwork of the game is really good, and it truly is. From Monsters to Loki and Thor cards themselves, each one of them is a pleasure to look at and to play with. More than that, I liked the thickness and the feel of the cards. The purpose of Loki and Thor wooden tokens that come with the box still confuses me slightly. You don’t need them for gameplay and players are not likely to confuse which side their own or mix the cards, which have red and blue themes’ for Thor and Loki respectively.
Now to the nip picks. There is a card in the game called ‘Female Archer’, which – you guessed it! – has a female holding a bow in the artwork. Needless to say, there are no other gender clarifying card names anywhere in the game. In my opinion, this is just the case of unimaginable card naming and it made me chuckle when I saw the card. Finally, the rulebook for Thunder & Lightning refers to the player as ‘he’, which is, to be fair, is a problem that a fair few board game rule books have. However, I would really like to see less of this in the future. If Lords of Waterdeep managed to squeeze ‘he/she’ in all text for their cards (with limited available space), others have no excuse.
On the surface, there is very little not to like about Thunder & Lightning. Out of all the games I played, I probably enjoyed two thirds of them, while the remaining third was frustrating. Once the game gets going, it is a lot of fun. The card variety and numbers are well balanced, allowing players solutions out of many sticky situations, if played in a considered manner. The artwork is a joy and so is the theme. However, it seems like the game wants to do a lot of fun things at the same time, without completely committing to following each of them through. It is a shame, and I feel that Thunder & Lightning could be great with more focus.
Tags: Esdevium Games, Loki, Richard Borg, Thor, Z-Man Games