We played Runebound from Fantasy Flight Games recently. I had played it before and was not sure about the game. I really wanted to like it but the game play did not strike me as being that great. Then I was on the FFG website a couple of weeks back and found out that I had been getting a key rule wrong! Apparently, when it tells you to roll the dice to attack, it does actually mean both of them and not one die. Had the rulebook said 'roll 2d10', it would have been clearer. As it is, it could mean one die or two dice, because dice is used as both singular and plural by many people these days. Anyway, rambling aside, with this simple change the entire texture of the game improved massively and we had a great time.
So, what is it about?
Runebound is a fantasy quest game. You move around the map to adventure locations, draw an adventure card and try to defeat it. Defeating adventures nets you gold and experience, and sometimes a special reward. You can go to towns to buy equipment or recruit sidekicks with the gold and you can buy stat upgrades with experience counters. As you gain in experience you can take on more difficult encounters until eventually you take on the most difficult encounters and defeat the big bad guy. Meanwhile the other players are busily doing the same, so it is in essence a race game.
The basic quest in this game is "The Rise of the Dragon Lords". The evil necromancer Vorakesh is trying to find the ancient dragon runes and wishes to use them to resurrect the high lord of the evil dragons, Margath. As a heroic adventurer it is your duty to stop him.
What do you get for your money?
12 Hero cards and the corresponding plastic miniatures
84 Adventure cards
84 Market cards
60 Wound counters
54 Exhaustion counters
58 Adventure counters
60 Experience counters
6 Undefeated challenge counters
50 Gold counters
8 Doom counters
The game board is a hex map with town locations, different terrain and a series of adventure locations marked on it. It is set up by placing adventure counters of the right colour on each adventure location. Adventures are rated as green, yellow, blue and red in increasing order of difficulty and the locations on the map are marked in these colours to show which counter you should put on each.
At the start of the game each player draws a hero card. That is their character for the game. Each hero is slightly different and has a special ability that relates to their character class. Some are stronger in melee combat, others in missile combat and others in magical combat. All characters start in the same town and set off from there to explore the map
With everything set up, the first player rolls the movement dice and moves as far as they wish, or can. The movement dice have terrain types on each side, so you need to roll the right sort of terrain to move into it. If you have no dice showing rivers, then you cannot move into a river hex. If they finish their turn on an adventure location with an adventure token on it then they draw an adventure card and resolve it. If they finish their turn in a town, they draw a market card, which may be an item or an ally, and place it in the market space for that town. There may already be market cards in that market space. If they have the gold, they may buy any item or recruit any ally that is in that market space. At the end of their turn, they may spend any experience counters they have to buy experience tokens that increase their stats. Once they have done all this, then their turn is over and play passes to the next player.
Adventure cards may be challenges, encounters or events. Challenges always involve combat and every adventure must include dealing with one of these. Encounters usually involve skill tests instead of actual combat. If you draw an encounter you often get to keep the card and use it at a later date for some special effect. Events introduce global effects to the game. There can only ever be one event in effect at any given time, so newly drawn event cards tend to replace old ones, although in some circumstances they do not. If you draw an encounter or an event, you must draw another adventure card after resolving the immediate effects of the encoutner or event. This means that every adventure must finish with a challenge card.
If you fail to defeat the challenge card, then it remains at that location and someone else can come along and try to defeat it. Losing means you lose all your gold and one ally or item that you own, and then you are returned to the nearest town.
How does it play?
As I noted earlier, it feels more like a race game than anything else. There is little interaction between players, although it is possible to attack or trade with each other if you finish your turn in the same space as someone else but that is where it rests. Leaving aside this last, your actions only affect you. This means that there is potentially a lot of downtime between turns in a larger game. We got around the downtime by getting into the role-play and reading out the adventure cards in portentous tones. The social aspect of gaming comes in at that point too.
We only have a two or three hours to play games on our regular gaming evening and even with only two of us, we did not actually finish the game in that time. To some extent that was probably because neither of us felt up to dealing with the most difficult encounters at any point, but I get the feeling that a larger game could take much longer again. There is a mechanism for forcing a conclusion to the game using doom tokens. This system puts a limit on the length of the game based on the number of players. Once the limit is reached, each player must take it in turns to try their hand at the endgame confrontation, which consists of just drawing red challenge cards and trying to deal with them until you have achieved the game's victory conditions or you are defeated. This feels a bit contrived to me, but it might be worth using to ensure that the game actually does get completed within a reasonable time frame.
Overall, and with the addition of playing the rules correctly, I enjoyed our game much more than I did the times I played it in the past. I shall certainly play Runebound again. I am also keen to try the various character decks that are meant to increase interaction between players. It will be interesting to see how they affect the game play and the experience of the game for the players.