$10.00
Drew Hicks
United States
Raleigh
North Carolina
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One-Sentence Review:
Relic Runners is a very puzzle-y network-building game with tons of paths to victory, which rewards strategic play but doesn't require lots of experience to play well, and which is as simple as TtR but has tons of chewy goodness underneath the candy coating.

Ramblings:
Relic Runners was actually an impulse buy for me, something I rarely do anymore with board games. It was a Days of Wonder title (the worst of their titles I have played was a resounding "quite decent") with an intriguing theme and what looked to be a pretty straightforward set of rules. When I picked it up from my FLGS, the only content on BGG for the game was a preview video which looked intriguing but made the game look quite simplistic... still, I had a bit of faith in DoW as a publisher, and doubted they would have taken a risk on a first-time designer without a good reason.

Got the game home and tore it open. First impressions were definitely positive; the game was gorgeous (of course) with big chunky tiles, a well laid out board, clear iconography, and the gorgeous plastic relics which brought to mind the lavish, extravagant bits of GameWright's Forbidden Island/Desert. We sat down, played it, and as we neared the last few turns, the table fell quiet... now, that wasn't quite what I was expecting.

You see, the board and pieces are colorful and friendly, and you might expect a hectic, risky-feeling experience like Incan Gold or The Adventurers which might bring to mind Indiana Jones films. There's certainly a bit of risk taking, venturing into the unknown when you explore a new stack of tiles, but surprisingly the game had a much different feel; gears were whirring, teeth were grinding, networks spreading across the board, individual strategies appearing... The game felt much heavier than I'd expected, and I found myself looking many potential moves ahead, plotting how to efficiently traverse and reshape my network of trails.

The game is a very simple game, mechanically. On your turn, you essentially take two moves in either order: one along an unfamiliar path, and one along any number of your own trails. Wherever you end up, you can spend one ration pack to explore and take the top tile of the temple you're standing on. Each tile may give you points, a one-shot ability, a new trail to place, or a new power to use throughout the game. You can't block other players except by taking tiles they want. You can't destroy what other players have built. Despite these barriers on interaction, the game still has teeth because of how the valuable relics hidden beneath the temples are scored. Once two of these candy-like relics are on the board, any player who moves from one relic to the other in a single turn gets to claim the relic from the spot where he ends up, scoring more points the longer his route was. This has an interesting interaction; whoever makes the second relic appear may be in a good position to claim the first, but they may inadvertently open up an excellent possibility for a player to grab that second relic by placing a third... I found myself thinking "I could go here, then make a relic appear there. but if I do that, I'll be 2 moves away from actually collecting it. Dustin will be able to get it next move... okay, so I need Dustin to make the relic appear, and then I'll be able to pick it up if I go over here... Oh, but I need to be over there when he makes it appear, so until he does that..."

And the paths to victory... there are a lot of them and they all seem equally valid. I've been talking about relics, which score you huge handfuls of points for building long networks, but maybe that's not the best way to do things. Blue tiles have between 3-5 points per tile, and there's no stressing over when to take them... well, except that taking the top tile reveals the lower tile, which is usually worth more. Okay. Well, there's the toolbox tracks! Raising a toolbox to the top of one of the game's adorable little tech trees will unlock you a big victory point bonus which can boost you ahead as much or more than a big relic grab. But maybe you'll get locked away from toolbox tokens, and it'll take you a while to work back up to that big score. Or, what if you claim white tiles and use the incremental bonuses to rack up a ton of chump-change points every turn? Or, what if you take as many rations as you can, hanging out in the wilderness while your opponents waste turns returning to base camp?

Don't be fooled by the components and light-hearted theme. Underneath the shiny exterior, there's a brain-burning puzzle, how can you most efficiently (and least efficiently, since long paths are rewarded) use your paths? But wait, does that mean that Relic Runners is a heavy, mathy game?

Well... no? And maybe sort of? But only sort of. It's certainly not "arithmetic-y" except on the last few turns, puzzling out your most points... but you can plan very far ahead, and you'll be rewarded for that. The mechanisms are simple, very simple, and the game is still relatively forgiving despite the mathy/puzzley bits. Getting stuck in the wilderness with no rations and no trails nearby can happen to players who haven't started planning and are still exploring the game, but even so, the game won't chew up and spit out newbies. There are ways of getting points everywhere, so even someone who is hopelessly stuck in the wilderness will manage to pick up enough to not get totally clobbered.

In short, it's the kind of game I love. It rewards thought and planning but doesn't disproportionately reward experience, and doesn't take a few suffering-filled plays before a new player can start to see the depth. At the same time, it's friendly and accessible, and pretty much anybody can pick it up with ease and not feel like they're drowning in a morass of rules. It's as rules-light as a game like Ticket to Ride, but allows an almost engine-building feel, letting you plan as far ahead as you want, and change your plans as new tiles and relics appear. The sole caveat is that, as light as the rules are, there are a few awkward exceptions. Only one ivory tile, only 5 rations, must stop in base camp, supply chest tokens eventually flip back over, and so on... On any given first play, I guarantee that one new player will miss one of these exceptions, and make some bad choices because of it... (and probably blame me, even though I definitely explained it and also they don't even know me because they're in YOUR gaming group) but there is usually a very eager second play immediately afterward, so it can't really be all that bad.

This is an out-of-the-ballpark hit for me. I hope that, in true DoW fashion, the game expands and expands? But to some extent, I'm confused as to how it could, since the game is SO mechanically minimal... the map is an abstract collection of nodes, the tiles are mostly just values or extra actions... I'm sure they'll come up with something, though, and I can't wait to see it.
Final Verdict: (yes that's six stars out of five.)

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Mike Bialecki
United States
Costa Mesa
California
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Re: Relic Runners - It belongs in a museum! (and in your collection)
Great review. I have two questions.

1. How long have your games been taking?
2. Does the "puzzley" aspect of the game cause analysis-paralysis problems?



 
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Drew Hicks
United States
Raleigh
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Re: Relic Runners - It belongs in a museum! (and in your collection)
1: Our games (3 or 4 players) have been clocking in at around an hour. Somewhat surprisingly, the second game usually takes a bit longer than the first, largely because...
2: ...AP can be a bit of a problem, as with any puzzley/efficiency type of game. It's slightly less of a problem here because there's plenty of hidden information (the tiles and what will be exposed) and the mechanics are so simple? But if you have someone who is inclined to eat up time on their turn checking every possibility, then I'd be aware that their turns will take about twice as long as the other players would.
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David Jones
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Wilsonville
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Re: Relic Runners - It belongs in a museum! (and in your collection)
AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:
I hope that the game expands, but to some extent, I'm confused as to how it could. The map is an abstract collection of nodes.


I'm sure map expansions like Relic Runners Asia or Relic Runners Africa are easily workable. Maybe even a thriving community of fan created maps will emerge. What about a mechanic whereby one player could "borrow" part of another person's trainl to create a longer path? What if there was a bonus for trails that create some kind of loop? Now, I know this one is going to sound really crazy, but what if the artifacts were put here by aliens and when you disturb their artifacts, they start jumping around the board destroying some of the paths! I'm sure we can come up with other ideas if we really put our mind to it.
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Drew Hicks
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Re: Relic Runners - It belongs in a museum! (and in your collection)
davypi wrote:
AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:
I hope that the game expands, but to some extent, I'm confused as to how it could. The map is an abstract collection of nodes.


I'm sure map expansions like Relic Runners Asia or Relic Runners Africa are easily workable. Maybe even a thriving community of fan created maps will emerge. What about a mechanic whereby one player could "borrow" part of another person's trainl to create a longer path? What if there was a bonus for trails that create some kind of loop? Now, I know this one is going to sound really crazy, but what if the artifacts were put here by aliens and when you disturb their artifacts, they start jumping around the board destroying some of the paths! I'm sure we can come up with other ideas if we really put our mind to it.


While I appreciate the intense level of snarkiness, it was kind of my entire point that the Relic Runners map ISN'T representative of any place in particular, so the whole "maps of other countries" thing doesn't work.
Anyway, you got that out of your system, and that's what matters right?
 
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David Jones
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Re: Relic Runners - It belongs in a museum! (and in your collection)
Well, it was a bit snarky, but it is also a bit serious. If the map really is nothing but an abstract grid, there is no reason it can't be replaced with a different grid. (Nodes with fewer branches will make certain places more difficult to reach. Creating nodes that necessarily require long chains will reward the player who gets there first with exclusive rights.) The point wasn't that maps have to regionally themed, only that different maps can create different stratgies. Similarly, there isn't any reason some (but obviously not all) of the ideas from TtR, Steam, or Hansa Teutonica, couldn't be ported to create an expansion. If I understand the game correctly, each temple color has certain type of "build" or setup to dictates the bonuses you get from it. A new temple type or even simply different builds for existing types also seems like a simple thing to include, either as a mini expansion or as a single punch board to tack on with a map.

On a kinder note though, I did like your review and it makes me look forward to playing this at game night in a couple of weeks when I know I will have access to the game. I just thought the proximity of your two comments was a bit ironic.
 
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Drew Hicks
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Re: Relic Runners - It belongs in a museum! (and in your collection)
davypi wrote:
Well, it was a bit snarky, but it is also a bit serious. If the map really is nothing but an abstract grid, there is no reason it can't be replaced with a different grid. (Nodes with fewer branches will make certain places more difficult to reach. Creating nodes that necessarily require long chains will reward the player who gets there first with exclusive rights.) The point wasn't that maps have to regionally themed, only that different maps can create different stratgies. Similarly, there isn't any reason some (but obviously not all) of the ideas from TtR, Steam, or Hansa Teutonica, couldn't be ported to create an expansion. If I understand the game correctly, each temple color has certain type of "build" or setup to dictates the bonuses you get from it. A new temple type or even simply different builds for existing types also seems like a simple thing to include, either as a mini expansion or as a single punch board to tack on with a map.

On a kinder note though, I did like your review and it makes me look forward to playing this at game night in a couple of weeks when I know I will have access to the game. I just thought the proximity of your two comments was a bit ironic.


I suppose so, but I think the map is SO simple and SO abstract that changes to the map won't make much difference? I suppose if we do something extreme like make several nodes with only one connection that the gameplay would definitely change... but I don't know that it would change ENOUGH to be a good expansion. So things like Power Grid or TtR who got a lot of value from different maps aren't great comparisons. Since you can't really BLOCK anybody, it's tough to get much out of something like requiring a long chain of trails, too... I think that the "more tiles" approach (another temple type, or just more tiles for existing types) would make sense. The thing the game would benefit most from, in my opinion, would be some slightly more direct player interaction, so tiles which could let you close certain paths, or maybe (in HT style) displace a trail for its owner to re-place wherever they like.... I haven't played any HT expansions but this game really does feel to me like HT's little brother, so borrowing ideas from it would probably work well.
 
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