Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 40mins
Play Time (Goof): 30-60mins
Producer/s: Z-Man Games
Designer/s: Richard Borg
Growing up I always had an interest in ancient mythologies. Gods, Titans and creatures of bizarre and awesome power. Fueled by movies such as 300 and Clash of the Titans, and games such as Age of Mythology and Black and White 2; my knowledge grew and my interest grew even more. For some reason, my main interests swelled around Greek and Egyptian Mythologies while Norse was something I didn’t engage in to the same degree. It seemed dull by comparison, as though it was a group of brutish oafs smacking hammers together- I didn’t get it back then. I do now. And I was wrong.
What I was seeing as bland was in fact the deepest and richest system of wars and brutality. Rage fueled battles of mystical powers and awe inspiring weapons, where even the Gods drew their metal against monsters and fought until Ragnarok. Death was not something to be feared, but embraced, as a warrior’s journey would take them to Valhalla. A literal multiverse of epic stories that I’d somehow shied away from in my formative years. There is a reason Marvel and DC Comics both use this Mythology. And that reason is: awesomeness.
While this game might seem as though you have two separate armies of unique monsters and soldiers going to war, it’s very symmetrical (read very as entirely). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In a world of complex asymmetrical games it’s nice to have something simpler to sink your teeth into. Admittedly.. Thunder and Lightning looks anything but simple. In fact, I was originally hesitant to play the game with my father, despite he being the one to procure the game for us, because I thought he wasn’t going to enjoy the level of complexity (read enjoy as understand). If I was in a store looking to buy it for my family, I might have overlooked it. Much to my pleasant surprise… which I’m finding is a running theme with my underestimating the Norse Mythology, the rules are simple. The complexity is right where it ought to be, in the strategies.
The more I play this game, the more strategies that I would never have even considered are open to me. My initial impression was that it was a very slow game that didn’t allow me much control over my deck (blame the MTG player in me), and yeah there’s something to be said for the lack of deck control you have, which comes about more in the ability you have to use actions to draw cards, but an experienced player will almost always outplay a new player. From the meta alone, you’re looking at 9/50 raven cards, and you draw an opening hand of 9 cards. What’s left is largely monsters and soldiers to march into battle with a few unique cards strewn throughout. This means that the majority of the game is about what monsters to play where, and how to get the information to allow yourself to make the best choices. The special cards, which are very easy to focus on, are simply supposed to be small buffs that come along to help you towards that end.
The information gathering is not the only form of deduction in the game either. Since you’re looking for either Odin’s Crown or Odin’s Ring, either of which will immediately win you the game, you have to think about how to hide what you’ve got. Since the battle lines also work as the amount of actions you’ve got each turn, it might also be about bluffing your opponent to push their edge which ends up being a nasty trap in the form of the Nightmare. I’ve even thrown a shield wall into the middle of a column, just to surprise my opponent’s Fenrir as it tore through my ranks.
I love the hidden card element in Thunder and Lightning. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times a Raven has literally sat on the field in the front row, praying that the Frost Giant wasn’t going to call my bluff and reduce the bird to a snack. Or I’ve sent birds to their death in order to use Odin to call them back to my hand from the field. There’s so much to exploit and enjoy here. It just takes a slightly different way of looking at games if, like me, you’re used to your typical CCGs.
My only real gripe here is that this game could really benefit from an expansion. Each time we’ve played, we’ve gone at it two or three times because it really is fast and fun. And although our strategies keep building, I’m at a point where I’m content that I’ve played this enough. And now I want more! I feel like there are ideas that could be expanded upon, and concepts that could be explored that would work great in this game. And I hope that Z-Man Games has plans for this one.
Pros: +Simple Rules, +Interesting Strategies, +Deduction and Bluffing
Cons: -Deceptively Complex Looking
When I first looked at previews and tutorials of this game, I’ll admit that I wasn’t a big fan of using the cards to form battle lines. It felt a little odd to me and even a little light on theme. I’m happy to report, I was very wrong. I look over the battle field and I get a little bit giddy as slowly the armies increase, and the battle takes its mortal toll. It’s easy to picture the Ravens attempting to gouge people’s eyes out and report back to Thor or Loki. It’s easy to picture the Female Archers firing their arrows into the gaps in the Shield Wall. And picturing Thor landing on the front lines, or Loki being revealed from behind his mirage as a regular soldier. Ah! They just captured this battle in my mind.
The back of the cards has this really interesting art design that we’ll get into in a minute, but thematically, the design of the heads of Thor and Loki clashing head on works so well. You feel like you’re going head to head. You look across the table at your opponent and it’s easy to picture these two Gods commanding armies into battle, attempting to outplay and outwit one another.
I love that the Raven’s play a roll in terms of gathering information and shifting the fates of cards. It makes me think that they’re an omen to the characters in the game, and you can picture them having an ill fate befall them before they can enter battle. I swear, they just tripped and fell.
Pros: +Cards Form Battlelines, +Artwork Lends Itself to Theme, +Ravens and Information Gathering
OI! literally every other bloody game producer out there! Would you please take a moment of your time and have a look at the incredible artwork in this game? This has to be my favorite artwork bar none. Especially the card backs. You know, I complain about card backs a fair bit; but when you think about it: the back of the cards are the single most looked at piece of artwork in the entire game. Which holds especially true in a game like this where you place cards face down. Therefore, to dramatically increase the look of your game you should give the card backs some good looking artwork. And this game truly accomplishes that.
Some people will no doubt be upset that the cards are abnormally large. I personally don’t mind this all that much, but yeah it makes it hard to sleeve them to look after your game better. And they can get a little cumbersome when you have large amounts of cards in your hands. I’m not really complaining, it makes the artwork larger and battle look just that much more epic. But those who complain would make some pretty decent points.
There are these two pieces that come with the game that are just cubes. Honestly thought I’d missed something and must have read the rule book front to back a dozen times -which is one of the cleanest and easiest rule books to read I’ve had in a long while. Turns out… they don’t do a whole lot. Or so I thought (spoiler: I was wrong again). So yeah look, calling them components would probably be a bit of a stretch, they are somewhat decoration. However, having them on the field actually makes things a lot clearer. Your mind fills in the gap between the cubes and forms a really clean battle line. I’m very impressed.
Pros: ++Best Card Back Artwork, +Stunning Artwork, +Accessible Rulebook, +Useful Cubes
Cons: -Abnormally Large Cards
I’ve been a fan of Z-Man Games since my first round of Pandemic. They’ve kept my family entertained for years, playing that and Stone Age so much I’m convinced that if there ever is an outbreak, or I somehow end up without technology with a tribe to feed, that I have all the necessary skills. Gladly, I’ll be adding Thunder and Lightning to these games, which is awesome because I needed a two player game for when everyone else is too busy to indulge my geekiness.
I give Thunder and Lightning:
“Whoever holds this game, if they be worthy, shall have a bloody good time.” – Please feel free to use this as my official quote for the game.
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Thanks to Z-Man Games for sending me a copy of the game to review!