As the drums grow louder, Bjorn feels his hands aching from the weight of his axe. He’d always been a capable fighter, his clan’s champion. Something about today felt different. He had sent hundreds of souls off to Valhalla but today he felt like a boy, cold and shaking before his first battle. A signal horn blows ahead, and Bjorn tightens his grip. Thor’s will command, he will march headfirst into the jaws of wolves. But the way ahead is clear. An unseen voice gives a command, and the army begins to run. Bjorn reacts out of instinct, his legs dragging him forwards toward the fray. He looks to his right as his brother in arms takes out an encroaching archer. To his left, he sees ravens scream and claw. This is his moment. One glorious battle, in the names of the almighty Thor and Odin. He closes his eyes and takes a great breath. Bjorn turns forward, his eyes opening just in time to see a spiked shield wall, an inch from his face. He is immediately added to your discard pile.
Thunder & Lightning is a 2 player card game, full of bluffing and viking deployment. It’s published by Z-Man games and designed by Richard Borg.
How It Plays
It’s a nice, clear setup. Players sit opposite each other, each with their own deck of cards. Each player places their draw deck on the table. Setup complete! Well, sort of. The trickster Loki has nabbed off with Odin’s crown, and it’s up to Thor to get it back. And you can’t do that with a bare table.
In Thunder & Lightning, you’re playing in a grid made up of columns and rows. At the beginning of the game, Thor and Loki each draw nine cards from their draw deck.
On a turn, you have as many action points as you have columns of card laid out, so you’re going to want to get some cards down as soon as possible. Loki goes first, initially deploying three cards, face down in front of him. Thor, feeling emasculated, does the same immediately afterwards. Then the turns can start properly.
On a turn you, you have as many action points as there are columns on your battlefield. This means at the beginning of the game, you have three actions per turn. However, if you begin a turn with only two columns, you only get two action points etc etc etc.
As an action, you can do the following: deploy a unit to the field, draw a card, challenge an opponent’s card or play a Mythological card.
Laying a card on the battlefield: Choose a card from your hand, and play it face-down onto the battlefield. You can place it in front or behind another card, in any of the three columns. If you want to place a card in front of an existing one, just slide the column of cards backwards and insert the new card. You have a maximum of three columns and four rows to deploy to, filling up from the front first.
Challenging an opponent’s card: when players both have front line cards in the same column, you can make a challenge. You can only challenge a card directly opposite, unless stated otherwise. Flip cards in a challenge face-up, and compare their scores. The card with the higher strength score wins. The losing card is added to the discard pile and the winning card remains on the battlefield face-up. When results are tied, both cards are discarded.
Playing a Mythological card: To use a card’s special power, select one from your hand and then add it face-up to your discard pile. Mythological powers will allow you to do things like challenge cards, draw cards from your discard pile and look at your opponent’s hand.
The game ends when:
- One player is unable to use all of their action points.
- On player begins their turn with no cards on their side of the battlefield.
- Thor loses Odin’s Ring, or Loki loses Odin’s Crown.
Don’t Look a Gift Norse in the Mouth
Thunder & Lightning is a reimplementation of 2000’s Hera And Zeus, also from Richard Borg. We’ve stepped away Greek, and charged into the violent and chaotic world of the old Norse Gods. It’s an enduring theme, which recent games like the popular Blood Rage have mined heavily. Having not played Hera And Zeus, I can’t say how much better the new theme fits, but it works well. The art and graphic design is beautiful and the special powers on the cards feel relevant to the characters. For example, the Raven cards. Ravens are very weak, and only have a strength of 1. They will be defeated by almost any other card, but you can deploy them from your hand to challenge any other card in your opponent’s battlefield or hand. In essence, your Ravens are scouts; they are expendable but they can provide you with the essential knowledge because any challenged cards will be left face-up on the table.
The mechanics in this game are really great, for a few reasons. My absolute favourite aspect of the gameplay is the link between the number of columns in your army and the number of action points you may use on a turn. It makes it absolutely essential to ensure you’ve always got a decent front line, as even losing one card can make your next few turns infinitely harder. There’s a good mix of abilities on the Mythical cards, allowing you to deviate from the standard gameplay. None of the special cards feel broken or too strong, and it helps that cards are mirrored in your opponent’s deck, so you know that even if they’ve just played something awesome, you’ll get your own chance soon enough.
This game is all about bluffing, whether you’re trying to keep Odin’s Ring hidden on the battlefield, or you’re trying to lay a trap for your opponent’s wolves. Challenging another player’s column feels a lot like the fear and excitement of taking a run at a Corporation’s server in Android: Netrunner. Sometimes you’re teetering on the edge between finding that winning card, or losing your strongest unit. This makes it an incredibly good game for couples who like to play regularly, as you’re playing your opponent more than you are the game. There is so much scope strategy and tactical play within the fairly short rule set, particularly as your familiarity with the cards grows, and you begin to learn how your opponent plays. Cards also display the number of the same cards in your deck, so if you’ve got a decent memory, you can use the knowledge of what is in your opponent’s discard pile to your advantage.
The challenge system is incredibly easy; biggest number wins, unless the cards say otherwise. This shifts the focus from heavy combat to tactical play. It’s far more important to have a well-placed card than a high scoring one.
I’m a fan of the components, in particular the art used for the card backs and the little wooden markers. I haven’t yet figured out what the markers are for, so they may be superfluous, but they’re very pretty and chunky, which is obviously all that matters. The insert isn’t great but it’s an insert. It just about does the job. The unit and character art is strong and very thematic, depicting ferocious beasts and powerful beings.
Listen, it’s not a BIG DEAL, before anyone accuses me of making it one, but there’s just something a little ‘off’ about the way the game handles women. There’s a good showing of women in the game, which is wonderful, they make up a big chunk of the cards. One of the best cards in either deck is the Female Archer, who is the only unit which can take down a dreaded Shield Wall. In the game we’ve got Female Archers (there are no dude archers, so why not just call them archers?), Valkyries (which the rule book literally describes as ‘magical ladies’), and a sexy goddess whose sole purpose is to seduce your opponent’s units. Again, this isn’t a massive issue, and I know it’s got thematic justification. It’s pretty tame compared to many depictions of women, and in this game, the female characters are some of the most buttkicking there are. I’d just prefer it we talked about them the same way as we do the manly man cards, even if they don’t get to go to Valhalla in the end (booo).
But now I’m off my viking high horse (did Vikings ride horses?) I am happy to say I thoroughly, THOROUGHLY enjoy this game. I’m already a fan of the Kosmos two player family, that Hera & Zeus was a part of. It’s an incredibly satisfying game, which plays quickly and has few rules outside of the specific card interactions. It requires no setup and is over under 45 minutes, so is ideal as a quick head-to-head clash. There’s not much I would change about it if I had the chance. The gameplay is tight and it oozes theme. It’s fun without being silly, and tense without being nerve-inducing. More than any game I’ve reviewed so far for islaythedragon, I would urge couples who aren’t afraid of a little direct combat to buy this in an instant. It’s not only going into our regular circulation, I’m going to go off and make my husband have a game right now. He beat me last time, and I simply can’t let that stand.