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Subject: A strategy gamer's opinion on Runewars (long) rss

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Joachim Poirel
France
Hohengoeft
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This is my first review on the Geek. I am not usually keen about writing reviews if I find other ones that have the same opinion as me, which was not the case for Runewars.

Disclaimer

I am usually an amateur of "eurotrash" games. My favorite games include Eclipse, Cyclades, Kemet, Mage Knight and Through the Ages (more of a Eurogame). As computer games go I am a avid player of Civilization 4 and League of Legends. The common point to these games and what makes my like them so much is that they are all good at providing randomized or unpredictable interesting tactical and strategic opportunities (not quite the same thing). After over 40 plays of Runewars, I can say that it is a pretty solid game by these standards. If you do not agree with my opinions, good for you. You are a different person with different tastes, so please remains constructive in your comments

Review

(Components are rated out of 3, theme out of 2, mechanics, balance and replay value out of 5)

I.Introduction
Runewars is a heavy weight game for 2 to 4 players, designed by Corey Koniecza and set in the same universe as Runebound and Descent. It pits the players in a (rather epic) race and struggle to acquire dragon runes trough questing, politics bidding and of course, conquest
I will review this game for what it is: a large scale grand strategy race game, not a wargame or a purely thematic game.


II. Components
The components are about to the level of what you can expect from a game retailing at 84.95 €. The artwork is great, especially the tiles, only a tad under The Lord of the Rings: The Card game or Mage Knight Board Game. The minis are quite nice though sometimes a tad too fragile (dark knight anyone ) The box art is simply magnificent. The cards are nice and solid even though you probably will want to sleeve them if you are as maniacal as me. The components add a lot to the already good theme.

However I do have a few minor complaints. The previously mentioned fragile minis. The uselessness of the mountains that look nice but are probably not worth the increased production costs they created. And most importantly, while quite immersive, the game looks quite cluttered and is unreadable (situation isn't very clear to analyze), especially compared to other games like Eclipse or Cyclades which have excellent graphic design) The rulebook, while not bad for learning, is horrible for reference.

Overall quite good bit a few big gripes such as readability (I tend to privilege function over aesthetics in games)

III.Mechanics
(Note:I am speaking about the core mechanics not the details such as the cards)
The mechanics are altogether quite good and relate well to the theme and allow many opportunities and tactics.
The game begins with building a hex map by player placing tiles they have drawn and choosing among the four factions andplacing starting assets on the map. The game is played in six years and the goal is to be the first to gather 6 dragon runes.
The years are divided in seasons each have a special effect and possess different event decks each:
- spring, the season where you get to reset your order cards and units.
- summer, the season where you get to use your heroes to quest in order to find dragon runes
- autumn, the season where you gain bonus "resources"
- winter, the season where you must feed your army and most often bid influence for dragon runes
Each season each player reveals simultaneously a order card. Each order card may only be played once a year. You may gain a "supremacy bonus" if your order has the highest number you have played this year.
Orders consist of:
1:Strategize allows to move units a short distance without starting combat. The bonus allows to draw Tactic Cards according to your resource dials, which allow players to perform special one-time actions.
2: Mobilize allows to move units a long distance and start battles. bonus allows a second move but not another combat. Units can only be moved once a year.
3: Conquer is same as mobilize except for the bonus that ease attacks against strongholds.
4: Harvest allows to adjust your three resource dials (food, wood and ore according to the resource in the areas you control. Bonus allows the construction of a development that provides resources or defensive bonuses.
5:Recruit allows to recruit the units present on one dial. Bonus allows to do the same once again
6:Rally support allows to gain bonuses from neutral cities in areas you control. Bonus allows you to recruit a hero for influence.
7:Acquire power allows to gain influence tokens according to your dials. bonus allows to seize all-important title cards for influence that give you bonuses for some strategies.
8:Fortify allows you to build a stronghold that allows you to recruit units where it is built and gives a defensive bonus to the area.
Events such as combat and questing are handle by drawing cards according to your Army/hero stats
Runes are gained by accomplishing your secret objective, bidding for them with influence when they appear in winter events, finding them while questing or stealing from other heroes and conquering territories where your opponent has placed them.

The mechanics feel quite elegant and well implemented, avoiding excessive micromanagement pain (TtA anyone? ) They create numerous tactical and strategic opportunities and choices(influence vs tactics cards, influence race vs heroes race vs armament race ... Etc) The different card decks create numerous opportunities for the players to exploit . The Order card system is excellent, for it gives meaningful choices in when to play each card (sacrificing a opportunity vs sacrificing a supremacy bonus). I am mixed about the combat system that could have been more strategic but at the cost of more downtime. There are excellent variants about this in the Variants section btw). The heroes might seem slightly useless but the revised rules fix that, I highly recommend playing with them.

The core mechanics are quite good apart from a few things that are easily fixed or corrected in the revised rules.

III.Balance
Runewars is fairly balanced. A interesting balance exists between the three resources as they are employed for different things. The different paths to victory are all interesting options and one cannot achieve victory without balancing the three (heroes, influence and army). All races (elves, men, undead, demon) fare equally, which I find quite rare in this genre. The decks are well balanced and provide a interesting mix of predictability and randomness that I find quite exceptional for a Ameritrash game.

There are a few cards and abilities that are slightly overpowered in the early game such as Lost City that guarantees a free stronghold or kelloth's favor that creates free dragon runes as well a the undead necromancer's ability of creating extra units. In the late game these individual ability lose their exceptional strength but some combos are very strong, but also allow quick changes of situations and with a few exceptions there is no clear leader until the end as most cards are held secret. Some cards are also poorly designed for 2 players such as Favorable Alliance or New trade rout.
Runewars is a exceptionally well balanced game with only a few minor umbalances.

IV.Replayability
Not much to say here. Runewars has great replayability due to its modular map, numerous cards and combos and varied strategies. Once the game is mastered, it can play a short as 45~60 minutes per player. A nice afternoon in perspective
nearly infinite replay value. Really!

IV.Theme
Theme is extremely well implemented in Runewars. Almost every mechanics makes sense and one can find himself imagining stories about the events in the game (for example: Uthuk player plays a scorched earth tactic card to destroy his bastion that Daqan just conquered= The demonic armies were unwilling to leave anything behind them to serve the humans. They had left, and on their passage, burnt everything to the ground..) A story presented at he beginning of the rulebook helps a lot. There is an epic feel to this game. C'mon what's more epic than Pegasus riders clashing Chaos Lords in a epic battle for a mighty stronghold?...
this game is basically dripping with theme! And epicness! Yay!

Conclusion

I won't pretend that Runewars is easy to learn, or that it is short to play. But it remains one of my favorite games. Disguised under a Ameritrash veil their is a true strategic and tactical pearl full of interesting opportunities and brilliant epicness. Runewars has the potential to seduce strategy gamers as well as those who like waging epic wars or negociating with opponents. I highly recommend it! While not my favorite it remains a great game
Componenents 2/3
Theme 2/2
Mechanics 3.5/5
Balance 4.5/5
Replayability 4,5/5
overall 16.5 thumbsup thumbsup only 3 board games I've played would rate higher than that


EDIT: I am changing my rating of balance from 4,5 to 4 as I realize thanks to some comments that the game is more unbalanced for 2p .. So the overall grade would be 16.





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Jo Bartok
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I didn't find the balance to be too good. I found the balance of the game as well as options to rebuild and stuff like that a lot worse than Starcraft while very similar in other regards. I did like the components like 100% (only the small plastic minis sometimes are of bad quality but then... there are 192 of them.

So for me it was more like 3/3 components. 2/2 theme. 4/5 mechanics (actually the only thing sucking heavily because it is tons of luck are tactical cards, heroes and quests), 2/5 balance and 5/5 replayability. It is not a bad game but it did not pass my gameplay quality assurance tests.
 
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Barry Kendall
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A very fine review; please write some more!

I agree in all points, with the exception of balance. This may be due to my relative lack of ftf play experience in complete games (under ten) but I've not seen the demons win one yet (in fairness, though, in one case, the "lose a city" card came up early and was played on the demons, setting them hopelessly behind for the balance of the game; I favor a house rule placing this card in the bottom half of the deck).

One very handy discovery I was fortunate to make is that the small cards, which see a great deal of play because of their multiple applications, fit beautifully into "tobacco card"-sized hard-plastic card sleeves, making them nearly indestructible.

Investing in enough of these to hard-sleeve all the small cards is something I highly recommend to anyone who plays "Runewars" more than once a year.

Excellent review, and I was pleased to see that someone besides me envisions almost a novel-like experience from play. In fact I've toyed with the idea of developing a fantasy novel out of the events of a "Runewars" game. Perhaps a project for retirement.

Oh, and the mountains. I love the mountains. I'm thankful to have the first edition, with the mountains. I don't care how much it added to the price, I just love the mountains. I wish WOTR Deluxe had such mountains! To each his/her own, of course.

Thanks for your review, Jo.
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John Di Ponio
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Great review! This is one of my favorite games, certainly in my top 10.
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Sean D.
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Well done review.
 
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Joachim Poirel
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Thanks for your feedback everyone. I will be writing a review for BoW (that I hate) shortly.


ionas wrote:
I didn't find the balance to be too good. I found the balance of the game as well as options to rebuild and stuff like that a lot worse than Starcraft while very similar in other regards. I did like the components like 100% (only the small plastic minis sometimes are of bad quality but then... there are 192 of them.

So for me it was more like 3/3 components. 2/2 theme. 4/5 mechanics (actually the only thing sucking heavily because it is tons of luck are tactical cards, heroes and quests), 2/5 balance and 5/5 replayability. It is not a bad game but it did not pass my gameplay quality assurance tests.

I do agree that Runewars holds quite a lot of with similarities with Starcraft when it comes to mechanics. Having never played the game I can't speak about balance. I'd be interested to hear about what you find so imbalanced. The luck can usually be mitigated, e.g heroes can train their skills for questing, most tactics appear several times and heroes with tons of items will usually be great targets for other heroes.. Of course this is less true in 2p as there aren't enough players to gang up on the leader..


Barry Kendall wrote:
I agree in all points, with the exception of balance. This may be due to my relative lack of ftf play experience in complete games (under ten) but I've not seen the demons win one yet (in fairness, though, in one case, the "lose a city" card came up early and was played on the demons, setting them hopelessly behind for the balance of the game; I favor a house rule placing this card in the bottom half of the deck).

Yes the game did feel at first quite unbalanced but as we played more games and used different tactics most apparent unbalances vanished.

The demons can have a great first 3-4 turns if they take all the opportunities that are given to them by their large amount of Tactic cards. Their army is also the most balanced and adaptable in the game as they are the only ones to posses one unit of each type and each of their units is quite useful (compared to say, the Sorceress of the Bowman).

"Raze a city is not crippling if you know how to deal with its effects. Cities are weak points in your defenses because strongholds cannot be built in a city tile. I have found myself voluntarily playing that card on one of my cities to replace it with a stronghold. There are in fact much more crippling tactics that can be played early on such as a "Lost City" near your home kingdom combined with a recruitment. It's all about being able to seize the opportunities provided by your situation and using the metagame to your advantage . There is a big problem with 2p because someone can get a huge head start if they have the right tactics and there will be no one else to balance it by attacking the lead player.



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Alexandros Boucharelis
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Excellent review, thank you!
 
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Jo Bartok
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With Broodwar and researching and golden orders etc you travel through your combat deck quite fast. In runewars if you have bad kuck with your fate cards, you have bad luck. Worse, everyone shares one deck. Then the seasons, while thematic, can really break the game. The worst though are the tactical cards ... if you collect many of them and have a lot of luck, you can really break then game. Starcraft... no comparison. Much much better game; yet similar (and don't get me wrong, I like the Runewars theme more... and the components are of similar quality).
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Thel Schuhart
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Nice review. Runewars is still one of my all time favorite games out there.
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