What's this? Why, it's the Hiller Flying Platform! It flew in 1955.
This brief review of Runebound, 2nd Edition, is more about the feel of the game rather than a recapitulation of the game mechanics and rules, etc.
I look for a game of this type to create the sense that I am immersed in a real world on a real adventure. I want the game mechanics to facilitate this image in my mind, aided of course by the proper dosage of willing suspension of disbelief on my part. The character you choose in Runebound at the outset, from a choice of twelve, comes with some basic, yet unique, capabilities. As the game progresses the acquisition of improved skills, hardware and assistance in the form of allies does make you feel that there is a narrative unfolding. This aspect of the game builds nicely in a crescendo that culminates in big battles with tough opponents that define the endgame.
What doesn’t work as well is the sense of “place”. I just never feel that the land of Terrinoth, or whatever it’s called, is really all that interesting. The game is not designed such that players must understand the board and become intimate with its geography in a way that is required, for instance, in Magic Realm or Return of the Heroes. This is because Runebound allows for far more varied choices in how players are allowed to move on the board. This is usually deemed a good thing, but in fact has the result of obliterating any sense of geography. When there are 16 ways to get from point A to point B, you don’t really care what lies between. On the other hand, if there is but a single path through the mountains, and you know there is a nasty creature waiting for you there (as in Magic Realm), you really pay attention to the lay of the land. The “Island of Dread” expansion for Runebound improves on this, somewhat, by forcing the players to pay attention to how they are going to get around to the different islands in that world. But in basic Runebound, the land of Terrinoth has less presence. One underlying problem is the geography just doesn’t make any geologic sense. Mountain ranges can appear anywhere. Rivers are randomly scattered and the whole thing is a random mish-mash of terrain types, obviously placed after a certain amount of playtesting to equalize movement options, but not particularly memorable as real estate.
There are separate pages on BGG to deal with the Character Deck expansions but let me just say something about them here. They work but seem to layer a completely different game on top of the existing game, and not in a good way. The Character Decks are supposed to create greater player interaction but they don’t allow you to stay immersed in your character’s “narrative” while doing this. The Character Deck inserts a process into the game in which players, normally acting as participants in the game world, are suddenly required to mentally cease their character immersion to become, temporarily, Dungeon Masters whose meta-powers enable them to place obstacles in the path of other players. This is done in at least two separate phases per player turn. Being jerked in and out of the game world, from an active participant to a Dungeon Master and back again, is like reading a book that keeps switching between first and third person viewpoint. The effect is jarring and not pleasant. So, I have generally left the Character Decks alone.
Despite any shortcomings I’ve discussed above, I find that the basic Runebound 2nd Edition is generally successful at creating an immersive world where a unique, linear narrative unfolds for your character each time you play. The rules and mechanics are fairly simple to understand and implement yet are capable of handling a variety of situations in depth. The game itself can be set up in 5 minutes and is very easy to get under way.
You just convinced me for good that I don't want the character decks. I am addicted to Runebound, but I always feared that the character decks would be a waste of money for me, since I love the game because of the feel.
I have played computer RPGs a lot, but Runebound accomplishes the same satisfaction with far less time being spent on it. For example Diablo2 is a really great game but the reason people play it for years every day is to get the best combination of randomly dropped items. The game has no real end, so you continue playing to get rarer and better items since with more playtime come more chances to get these rare items. Runebound on the other hand has, to me, the same imperative to make the best out of a variation of randomly chosen items with differing strengths, but the limitation here (and limitation I mean in the good way of "not endlessly timeconsuming")
is that you still have to work towards the endgame.
The thing is that once you have all the stuff you always wanted, the character in Diablo2 gets boring, it is really about the character progression, not about the finished lvl 92 necromancer with 2 stones of jordan, complete Trang-oul's set and Mara's amulet. You spent 100+ hours on
one character and once it is finished, it is finished, all that could be done was done, and starting over with a new char will require the same investment of time. In Runebound you have at least 12 different characters and a constantly shifting availability of items and most importantly it only takes 3 hours to make a great character, who in the end perhaps even beats Margath and wins the game.
And if not, there is always the next game...
anyways, just my 2 cents
While we're on the subject of 'feel' in this fine game - a question has popped into my mind.
Player attacks, player misses, bad guys get an automatic hit back.
Baddie attacks (i.e. player defends), baddie misses, no response from our hero(s). Somehow, that doesn't *feel* right.
Am I missing something here, or is it just a device to level up the playing field because our hero(s) get to 'win' with equal scores on attack OR defence?