Thornwatch Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide

Skillfully letting gamers follow the story of a graphic novel through the mechanics of a game, Thornwatch is something a little different.

Combining roleplaying, dice combat, and card management, there’s something for all kinds of gamer in this adventure.

Thornwatch
  • Thornwatch is a graphic novel adventure game for 3-6 players that...
  • A group of heroes fight their way through the comic panels of a...
  • Each branching storyline plays in about an hour using...

Brief Overview of Thornwatch

Thornwatch Overview

Thornwatch is a co-operative adventure game for three-to-six players, set in the fictional Eyrewood forest. Players are summoned together to be faced with an array of missions that must be completed, with the promise of a reward at the end (hopefully you like knots).

It’s a tactical game that combines several elements to move from one Scene to the next. Along the way, you’ll come across all kinds of monsters that must be defeated and will be forced to make decisions that could come back to haunt you. But don’t worry, you won’t be alone. Your teammates will be there every step of the way to uncover this adventure with you.

Versions & Expansions

The Dark of the Wood

Thornwatch Dark of the Wood Expansion

Thornwatch’s one expansion, The Dark of the Wood, is a no-brainer for any big fans of the original game. It introduces a number of new characters (The Briarlock, The Dark Courier, The Unsundered, The Weave-Weald & The Woldsen) and storyboards. It adds a lot in terms of replayability, but it will take you a while playing the original before that becomes necessary.

Unboxing Thornwatch

Thornwatch Unboxing

As you will see, there’s lots of cardboard in this box:

  • 28 momentum cards
  • 1 root card and 1 edge card
  • 150 hero deck cards in 5 hero decks
  • 15 denizen and monster rules cards
  • 50 wound cards
  • 5 turn summary cards
  • 26 terrain cards
  • 25 trait cards
  • 5 scar cards
  • 5 hero trackers
  • 1 Judge tracker
  • 15 storyboards
  • 1 storyboard stand
  • 75 pawns
  • 30 ebb
  • 16 markers
  • 24 map tiles
  •  6 basic dice
  • 2 focus dice
  • 8 dividers
  • 1 rulebook

Being based on a graphic novel the artwork is, as you’d expect, extremely good. Eye-catching and bold, the animation helps to bring the characters and monsters to life, which is useful considering this is a world that I’ve never delved into before. The print quality, too, is very high, meaning they really do ‘pop’.

The map tiles, in particular, stood out to me. Strong colors and sweeping landscapes mean it looks great laid out on the table. The storyboards, on the other hand, mean the graphic novel element is very present in the game.

It’s this aspect that really sets Thornwatch apart visually from a lot of other fantasy games, which I think often suffer from only using two or three different styles of animation. There are not many that come close to this type of design, giving it a very unique feel.

The quality of the components themselves sadly doesn’t quite live up to the strength of the artwork. They’re not the sturdiest of tiles and the cards are a little flimsy, for example, but it doesn’t necessarily affect the gameplay.

Talking of cards, there’s a lot of them. Again, they look great. I especially liked the Wound cards which, while basic, just look damn cool.

How to Play Thornwatch

Thornwatch How to Play

Before you start, you need to decide who will be playing as part of the Thornwatch, and who will be the Judge. The Judge is a dungeon-master style role, playing on behalf of the monsters of the game and also making various other decisions.

Setup

To begin, players choose the role they want to play, such as The Guard or The Blade, and the version of the character they want to embody. The Judge also gets to choose between two Judge characters: the Judge Below, or the Judge of the Stars.

On deciding on an adventure, the Judge then chooses a starting Storyboard. Each one has its own map tile layout, rules, challenges and monsters that players will encounter as they play. Not to mention, it’s own specific winning conditions.

Turn Order

The order of play, known as Momentum, is shown on the Momentum Track. Each round, the cards representing the characters and monsters on the Momentum Track are shuffled by the Judge and laid out to show the order of play. But that’s not all. Each character also has a Momentum stat. Their card is then shifted – positively or negatively, depending on the character – the specified number of spaces on the Momentum Track.

Taking Turns as a Player

As a member of Thornwatch, you can do four different things on your turn in any order:

  • Move – move to one adjacent tile.
  • Slot – put one of your cards into an Action Slot (meaning it could then be played). You can do this as many times as you like each turn.
  • Power – to play a card, however, it needs to be powered. Each action has set criteria of skill or action cards that need to be met to play it. You can do this as many times as you like each turn.
  • Act – you can only do this once per turn. You can either play one of the cards in your Action Slots, use an action on your tracker or a Storyboard action.

Each turn you get five new cards into your hand. Any unused cards are discarded at the end of your turn.

Taking a Turn as a Monster

The Judge handles all non-player turn-taking. They can either:

  • Move – move the monster to any adjacent tile.
  • Act – each monster has actions on their card that can be taken. Often this will be some kind of attack.

Combat and Defeating Monsters

Attacks are made using Action Cards on your turn. This is done by rolling dice. The dice have three options: land a hit, give the Judge Ebb (explained below), or nothing.

Every time a monster takes damage, it’s moved that number of hits down the Momentum Track. If it is ever last in the Momentum track and takes damage, then it has been defeated and is removed from the game.

When players receive damage, they instead getting given Wound Cards. These can give the Judge various benefits and, if your team receives too many, can result in you losing.

Ebb

The Judge can take various actions throughout the game, which they pay for using Ebb. They can build up Ebb in various ways, such as if a player rolls an Ebb symbol on a die during combat.

Roleplaying

The Trait cards are a nice touch to the game. If at any point the Judge feels like someone has really “nailed” portraying one of their Traits, then they get to roll the Focus Die and hopefully get in a little extra damage.

The End of a Scene

Once the characters have achieved their Scene goal (or failed) the Scene ends. On the back of the Storyboard, you’re told what happens next, which depends on whether or not the players were successful.

You’ll get to choose at this point if you want to embark on any ‘branch’ missions. These aren’t necessary to win the game but are a way to extend gameplay if you so wish.

Ending the Game

You continue playing through Scenes as above until you reach the Last Storyboard. If successful, players get given Knots – like medals – which provide small benefits to them in future games. Alternatively, you can get Scars, which prevent you from getting certain Traits.

Your First Game of Thornwatch

Thornwatch Your First Game

On first opening the game and looking at the rule book, you’ll see that it, admirably and understandably, stays in graphic novel mode throughout its description of how to play. While this was quite cool, I did find the extravagant language sometimes made it a little confusing. This hides the relative simplicity of the game, which is very easy to learn. So if you do feel a little bamboozled, just stick with it and things will all become clear.

On a similar note, when playing the first adventure, my crew ended it feeling a little let down. It worked well, sure, but it wasn’t quite the fun, story-driven adventure we’d hoped for. Again, don’t be disheartened if you feel the same way. This game has the potential to draw you in, however, the real magic happens when it flows. Not when you’re double-checking how it works every few minutes. Play a couple more adventures and you’ll be engrossed in no time.

Lastly, as we all know, at the core of any functioning and effective society there has to be a fair and just judicial system. The same can be said about Thornwatch. Be careful when choosing The Judge for your first few games, as they will have an impact on how much you enjoy the experience. Judges get to choose who gets bonuses for effective roleplaying – which does not benefit them in the slightest – meaning you want to make sure you select someone able to be impartial.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Fun story-building, adventure concept.
  • Good for newbies.
  • Can be a short game, or choose to play longer.

Cons:

  • Mechanics might be too light for experienced gamers.
  • Disappointing component quality.

If anyone’s going to know how to write a good story, it’s going to be these guys. And Thornwatch does not disappoint on this front. As you move through the Scenes and storyboards, it’s hard not to become involved in the adventure in the same way you would a graphic novel as you work together to achieve your objective. I thought this was especially impressive considering I had never read any of the graphic novels before.

In terms of gameplay, for a game that mashes together several different styles, it’s straightforward to learn and flows notably well once you get going. All the different mechanics, such as the Momentum Track and combat, work seamlessly and are simple to understand. The co-operation side of it, too, is well managed, with players required to work together to knock an enemy into submission off the end of the Momentum Track.

This makes it a good option for those new to gaming, as it can introduce them to a number of different game mechanics – including roleplay – that crop up across other titles.

I liked, too, that this game can be relatively short. You could be done in 1-2 hours if you wanted, which is relatively quick for the fantasy genre. Whereas you’re also able to extend gameplay by going on side adventures should you wish.

That said, the simplicity of the game mechanics may put some people off. While it incorporates lots of different concepts, it goes a little light on each of them, meaning experienced gamers may not feel especially challenged. Roleplayers, for example, won’t get their storytelling kicks from the few opportunities there are for true player storytelling. Dice combat junkies, similarly, won’t be finding anything new here.

Also, as mentioned, the quality of the components is a bit disappointing. It doesn’t necessarily affect the gameplay itself, but it does feel a bit cheap. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the artwork is simply fantastic and deserves to be printed on better quality card.

TL;DR

Thornwatch is a co-operative adventure game for three-to-six players, set in the fictional Eyrewood forest.

With a combination of various different game styles, it is a relatively unique experience in that it brings many of these together. However, in terms of how each mechanic works, it won’t be knocking the socks off for originality.

If you don’t want to be challenged too much mentally, but fancy an engrossing and exciting mission into the fantasy world, then look no further than this.

Conclusion: Verdict?

Thornwatch is all built around its story. Players may find themselves willing on the game simply in order to find out whether or not they’ll have a happy ending. 

If you’re a fan of PA’s comics you’re going to love it. Hardcore gamers may be left a little underwhelmed by its mechanics. But that shouldn’t matter, Thornwatch is worth buying simply for the artwork. If you’re not going to play it, why not just put it up on the wall?

Thornwatch
  • Thornwatch is a graphic novel adventure game for 3-6 players that...
  • A group of heroes fight their way through the comic panels of a...
  • Each branching storyline plays in about an hour using...

Stats at a glance

Players: 3-6

Ages: 13 +

Medium

30-180 Mins

Publisher: Lone Shark Games

Published: 2018