Loki has stolen the All-Father’s crown; for what nefarious needs, Odin does not know. But he has tasked his son, Thor, to retrieve the crown from his brother, entrusting him with the power of his prized ring, Draupnir. Reclaim the crown as Thor and ascend the throne of Asgard, or steal Odin’s ring as well and gain all the power for yourself as Loki. Thunder & Lightning is a re-implementation of the 2000 game Hera and Zeus with larger cards and reworked abilities. Both of these 2-player games hearken back to another little classic game from early 20th century known as Stratego, where each player secretly plays troops to their side of the battlefield all while trying to protect their flag, or in the case of Thunder & Lightning, their Ring or Crown.
Foregoing a traditional board, the battlefield itself is instead formed during the course of the game as you place cards according to a particular format: three cards to a row, four rows in total. There can never be a space between cards of a single column, and cards can never be moved around unless a special action dictates otherwise. On each player’s turn, they’ll have as many actions to take as they have columns. The game starts with each player drawing 9 cards, and from those choosing 3 to create their initial row; therefore, at the start, each player has 3 actions (3 columns, formed from 3 separate cards).
It’s a rather obtuse thing to explain, but after a turn or two the layout of the battlefield should click. Of the actions you can take, players may either: draw a single card from their deck; place a card face down on their battlefield (adhering to the aforementioned rules); challenge a card in the opponent’s front row; or play an action card directly from their hand. Any of these actions can be repeated, so in theory a player could spend their whole turn simply drawing new cards, and in fact, this will happen more often than not.
With a limit of 12 cards in hand, there’s very little risk in drawing more. All of the cards are distinguished by several primary features, most notably a number or symbol in their top corners, the latter denoting them as a mythological (action) card. Some actually have both. Cards with numbers are your troops, and will be used during challenges in the game. A challenge is when one player “activates” one of the cards in his front row and initiates an encounter with the opposing player’s front row card that directly faces it. Players compare the numerical values of each card (and as such, a card with just the mythological symbol cannot be played on the battlefield), and the higher number wins. The loser’s card is discarded, and in the event of a tie, both players lose the challenge.
Because cards are typically played faced down on the battlefield, there’s a bit of guessing when it comes to issuing a challenge. Some cards allow you to challenge directly from your hand, primarily the Ravens. These are a plentiful set with a value of 1, but also have a mythological symbol on them. Their primary function is to work as an action card, and in so doing, players can challenge any card in their opponent’s front row. That player must reveal his card, and in most cases will probably win the fight against a weak Raven. But the Raven has served its purpose – you now know what card the player has in that spot, and because the other player won the challenge, their card remains on the battlefield face up. Another feature of the Raven is the ability to challenge a random card directly from the opponent’s hand. There are some minor drawbacks to this, such as, if the card challenged is a value 2 through 7, that player gets to place it face up in their front row for free; however, if it’s not one of those cards, you now have a little bit of knowledge as to what’s in their hand. More dangerous yet, a player can keep Odin’s Ring/Crown in their hand the entire game if they like and is not obliged to play it to the battlefield, so having a player use a Raven to challenge your hand can be just as tense, because of either the Ring or Crown is ever challenge, you lose the game.
When a player loses a challenge and discards a card from the battlefield, any cards that are directly behind it slide up to create a complete front row. If that is not possible (in the event that the card that lost was the only card of that column), then the player will have one less action they can take next turn. If a player somehow loses all of their cards on the battlefield, or if they have actions remaining but have no legal moves that they can take, they lose. If a player’s deck runs our, then you do not reshuffle, and simply cannot take the draw action anymore. And as I’ve already mentioned, if either player manages to find the opposing player’s special card (if you’re playing Thor, the crown; if you’re Loki, the ring), then you win.
Each player’s deck consists of identical strength-and-ability cards, although names and artwork may be specific to each god (for instance, Loki commands the 6-strength cards Fenrir and Jörmungandr, while Thor has two Odin’s Wolves cards of the same strength). The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, with vibrant colors and evocative graphical design, and while some of the mythological cards’ text is a little too vague, the rule book includes more detailed descriptions of what each action does. The card stock is also incredibly high quality and feels excellent in your hand. A game of Thunder & Lightning will last no more than 30-40 minutes, and in some cases less if a player gets lucky enough with a Raven card. This exceptionally high quality little card game packs a stressful punch in such a short amount of time, it goes without saying that if you like quick, tense, and strategic 2-player games, this one is a no brainer.
Time: 30 minutes
Set up/Clean up: Quick/Quick
Component Quality: High
Final Verdict: Great