About the game and expansion:
Coming July 31st, Thornwatch is a graphic novel adventure game that bridges the gap between board games and RPGs. It is created by Penny Arcade cartoonists Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, Betrayal at House on the Hill and Pathfinder Adventure Card Game developer Mike Selinker, Lone Shark Games lead developer Chad Brown, Lords of Waterdeep co-designer Rodney Thompson, and the whole crew at Penny Arcade and Lone Shark.
“I’ve made a lot of games that bridge that comforting space between RPGs and board games—Betrayal, Apocrypha, the Pathfinder ACG—and each one has scratched that itch in different ways,” Selinker says. “Thornwatch handles that by abandoning all the complexities of a typical RPG and converting what remains into a wildly interactive board game, thrusting the players into a strange world with a critical task at hand. You’re heroes from the first second you open the box.”
“I’ve been making comics for 20 years, but Thornwatch is my very first game,” adds Krahulik. “It was important to me that when you sit down with Thornwatch, you feel like you’re playing a graphic novel.”
Through the game’s unique modular storytelling structure, players get the experience of an RPG in a board game. Thornwatch can be pulled off the shelf for 60 minutes of fun, or provide 2+ hours of epic adventure. It is a visually arresting game, unlike anything Lone Shark has ever made before. When you play Thornwatch, you are inside a comic book story of your own making.
Krahulik explains, “The incredible thing about the Eyrewood as a setting is that it can be whatever you want it to be. It is an ancient world spanning forest and countless civilizations have risen and fallen beneath its shifting branches.”
“Working with Jerry and Mike means everything is as tight as it can be,” Selinker says. “These guys tell stunning stories with an economy of words and the boldest of imagery. I loved watching the daily artistic one-upmanship between PA’s graphic geniuses Kiko Villaseñor and Dabe Alan, Lone Shark’s Liz Spain and Skylar Woodies, and our illustrators Aviv Or, Lar deSouza, and Nick Trujillo. Our teams enjoyed exploring a new creative space with people who weave tales in a very different way.”
Thornwatch bestows upon one player the role of the Judge who manages the game’s challenges and enemies, playing a unique governing spirit that has their own goals and powers. The other players are members of the Thornwatch, a legendary group of spirit guardians who aid the forest’s denizens. Those guardians are the Blade, Greenheart, Guard, Sage, and Warden. The game begins with the Judge selecting a storyboard in which the Thornwatch manifest before a tree adorned with a knot of thorny brambles, surrounded by conflict. If the players overcome this first challenge, the Judge offers choices that lead to new storyboards and further adventure.
The core engine is the momentum system. This system tracks turn order and monster health, encourages teamwork, and creates dynamic combat with priorities that change turn-by-turn and round-by-round.
“This game moves,” Selinker says. “It’s super-fast and instantly cooperative. On every turn, you’re hanging on what every other player can do to help you. You cannot ever succeed alone in Thornwatch. The Eyrewood needs you to work together, or it will swallow you whole.”
The Thornwatch players each have decks of cards which give them skills and actions, as well as trackers and trait cards to show their unique outlook on the world. They roll custom dice including focus dice gained by manifesting their traits. Each session Thornwatch players can gain knots, which grant their wearer a bonus if worn in real life, regardless of which Thornwatch they choose to manifest in a session.
Finishing a game doesn’t mean the story is over. Whether the Thornwatch is victorious or they fall to the power of the Ebb, the Judge and the players gain new abilities which follow them to their next adventure. “I like that failure isn’t necessarily the end of the night,” says Jerry Holkins. “I like that, as the Thornwatch, you can try to make things right.” For a guardian of the Thornwatch, the journey is never truly over.
THE DARK OF THE WOOD
Need even more stories set in the magical Eyrewood? Or perhaps you want to journey to the less traveled, darker corners of the forest. Your wishes have been granted, but be wary, adventurer – you may not be prepared for what you find.
The Dark of The Wood is an expansion for Thornwatch, and requires the Core Set to play. It introduces five new corrupted heroes – the Briarlock, the Dark Courier, the Unsundered, the Weave-Weald, and the Woldsen – each of which has a troubling curse gnawing at their soul. They may be heroes, but that doesn’t make them pleasant.
“Dark of the Wood offers another take on the Thornwatch,” says Krahulik. “It wasn’t easy to make a game about ghosts even creepier but I think we managed it with the expansion,” Krahulik adds.
There are also two new Judges, a new type of storyboard, new rewards in the form of crests, and two new types of terrain cards – story terrain cards and balms. Combine these with the core set to tell new stories and create new adventures for the Thornwatch.
“This stuff is dark, like the box says,” Selinker says. “These may not be the holiest of heroes, but the binding spell of the Thornwatch means they’re gonna do good whether they’re hard-wired for it or not. Sometimes you gotta be bad to be good.”