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Subject: Carthoris on Rune Age after 102 Plays rss

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Carthoris Pyramidos
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Terrinoth is a fairly conventional epic fantasy setting that Fantasy Flight Games has used in various games including Descent (dungeon crawl), Runebound (heroic adventure), Runewars (strategic warfare), and BattleLore Second Edition (tactical warfare). All four of these games feature a variety of little plastic figures and boards that represent fantasy terrain divided into a grid of hexes or squares. There is one outlier Terrinoth game with none of these features.



What It Is

Rune Age is a fantasy deck-building game. The main thing that sets it apart from the other representatives of its genre is that it is scenario-based. There is a scenario competing to get a hand strong enough to beat a boss dragon. There is a straight-up warfare scenario with player elimination. There is a pure co-op (soloable) scenario. And there is a scenario racing to get the money needed to make a winning purchase. On top of this variety, which really makes for four different games in a single box, there are four player races, each with distinctly different powers and possibilities.

The game consists of 252 cards: units, strongholds and cities, gold, home realms (symbolizing the player's central game identity), and scenario event and objective cards. In addition to the cards, there is a single die, called the "attrition die" (a.k.a. the die die), and a set of scoring tokens used to indicate damage on home realm cards.



How It Plays

Like other deck-building games, Rune Age starts each player with a small deck of basic cards. These include gold which can be used to buy other cards that are then added to the deck. In addition, units can apply their strength to establish strongholds, and conquer cities (either unallied or in the possession of another player), both of which supply influence. Influence in turn is used to gain money and action cards and recruit neutral units.

A player's turn may involve the addition of units, money, and action cards to her deck (via the discard pile), attacking a stronghold or a neutral city to gain control of it, attacking a city belonging to another player or another player's home realm, or attacking an "enemy" (neutral cards produced by the scenario event deck). At the end of a player's turn, he discards his remaining cards and draws a new five-card hand. (Influence can be spent to retain cards rather than discarding them.) At the end of a full round of players, the top card of the scenario event deck is introduced into play as an effect or an enemy. When a player's draw is exhausted, his discard is shuffled to form a new draw.

While many deck-building games tend toward multi-player solitaire, with competition over a common pool of available cards being the main way in which players affect each other, Rune Age has a lot of room for direct player interaction. The most vivid case of this is an attack on another player (city or home realm). In that case, the two players (starting with the attacker) take turns playing cards (units or events) from their hands until both pass. The one with the greater total strength will win, claiming the city or doing damage to the home realm.

Combat against (non-player) enemies uses the attrition die, which destroys zero to two units after all cards have been played, thus creating a margin of risk where the outcome is unknown. When players battle each other, this risk is a function of not knowing the contents of the opponent's hand. There is no similar risk involved in using unit strength to establish strongholds or conquer unallied cities.

The four races each have unique strengths and strategies. The Daqan Lords are fairly vanilla, while the Uthuk Y'llan specialize in wounding (themselves and opponents), the Latari Elves are masters of influence, and the undead minions of Waiqar the Undying manipulate the discard pile.

Although many summaries of this game list it as being for 2-4 players, the solitaire possibilities are part of the original design, and are worthwhile. The "Resurgence of the Dragonlords" scenario can be played solo, as the Dragonlords are quite capable of destroying a player's home realm before the player can defeat the boss dragon, and "The Cataclysm" is unsurprisingly as good for solitaire as it is for cooperative play, Also, there is a fan-devised solitaire variant of the "Monument" scenario which is perfectly viable, thus making 3 out of 4 scenarios in the base game that can be played solo.

The game plays pretty reliably in under an hour, and some scenarios can be played in as little as 20 minutes.



How It Shops

The base game is out of stock at the publisher, but they have it listed in their published reprint queue, and it is still available from various retailers. The MSRP is a relatively affordable $35 US.

Beyond the base game, there is a single expansion called Oath and Anvil. It supplies two more races (Orcs and Dwarves), two more scenarios, additional cards for the earlier scenarios, additional units for the earlier races, and mercenaries (neutral units that can be used in any scenario). The first new scenario is "Ascent of the Overlord," which is one-vs-two-or-three, where the event deck helps the Overlord contest the combined efforts of his opponents. The second is "The Quest for Power," which introduces landmark cards that generate "power" as a third currency (after gold and influence).



The expansion (currently in stock at the publisher) has an MSRP of $25 US, and is totally worthwhile. It adds a little complexity and a lot of additional variety to the base game. It seems unlikely that any further expansions are forthcoming at this point, and that's great. The once-expanded game is very full and well-rounded.

Play Advice

Rune Age decks benefit from being smaller and weeding out the cards that have lower value, so there are some key action cards that facilitate this process. But it's possible to overdo those, so a balance needs to be struck. It's hard to give general advice on this game, because the different races require different play styles, and the scenarios change up the actual goals of play.

Often, it's useful to balance the eventual goal with early play towards an intermediate objective. For example, in "The Monument," where the winner will need a lot of gold in hand, it can be important to work on combat strength first, and wait until later to get gold, because early gold will dilute hand strength and make it more difficult to defeat enemies for gold-supplying rewards.



Verdict

The first deck-builder I ever played was Dominion (the wellspring of the mechanism). Although I've been told that buying expansions could overcome the near-boredom it inspired in me, I also found it somewhat ugly. Rune Age has beautiful art and design, and even without its one expansion, it has much greater variety and excitement than I could find in Dominion. Even though Terrinoth is pretty conventional as a fantasy setting, it does actually have something to offer in terms of "lore" (there are a couple of pages in the rulebook dedicated to explaining the background of the four races) and connections with the other Terrinoth games.

Most importantly, though, this game is straight-up fun. It offers challenging solitaire, vicious confrontational play, cooperative modes, and everything in between. It's a favorite for me, and I recommend it highly.


(I didn't take or upload any of the pics in this review. If you like them, please click through and give thumbs to the original posters!)
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Carthoris Pyramidos
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Ha, ha! While this review was in Geekmod, FFG announced another Terrinoth game: the Runewars Miniatures Game.
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Sean Franco
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Excellent review of a fantastic game. This is tied as my favorite deck-builder (with Core Worlds) and a go-to game for many scenarios (pun, I suppose, intended).
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Kevin M
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Great review. I haven't tried the game multiplayer yet but am really enjoying it solo.

I'm surprised there aren't more fan-made quests for this one.
 
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Jo Bartok
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Interaction leads to Immersion.
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All Deck Buliders aside Arctic Scavengers (and Starcraft the Board game with its dripping theme and high interaction bored the death out of my: Dominion, Ascension, Thunderstone, Core Worlds, Theomachy, Star Realms = no thx.

Gotta get my hand on Runeage!
 
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Krzych Kowalczyk
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I've always liked Rune Age and I always said that it's not a deckbuilding game. Rather, it's a strategy card game with a deckbuilding mechanic. While this might not be so relevant now, at the time this game came out, most deckbuilders were straight-up Dominion clones. Rune Age was different in the sense that apart from the deckbuilding mechanic, it also had a number of actual cardplay mechanics and strategy. Deckbuilding isn't in itself the point and the victory condition in Rune Age the same way that it is in Dominion, it is rather a way that you execute your strategy towards a greater objective - the objective being mutable and dependant on the scenario you were playing, which added a lot of replayability despite what could be viewed as a shallow card pool on the surface.

It is my understanding that Rune Age didn't do that well commercially. It certainly seems to have been overshadowed by Blood Bowl Team Manager, which was released around the same time and similarly had a deck modification mechanic that wasn't the sole purpose of the game. I think this is a real shame, and I attribute it to two factors: the marketing of the game as a straight up deckbuilding game, which made many people automatically take it off their radar in a time when the market was oversaturated with various Dominion clones, and the recommended introductory scenario, which was also played as a demo at GenCon when it was first announced. I think it's called Rise of the Dragonlords or something along those lines.

A word of caution to anyone who never played the game and would like to explore it: never, ever, play your first game with that scenario. It is unbelievably, terribly, outrageously BORING with no player interaction whatsoever and a win condition that, on the last few turns, literally boils down to seeing who can shuffle their deck in a way that they get a winning hand first. You'll sour yourself on the game before even giving it an honest try, like I think many players have done.
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Sean Franco
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DonSilvarro wrote:
It certainly seems to have been overshadowed by Blood Bowl Team Manager, which was released around the same time and similarly had a deck modification mechanic that wasn't the sole purpose of the game.

I was very underwhelmed by BBTM. Rune Age I think is an all around better title.

DonSilvarro wrote:
the recommended introductory scenario, which was also played as a demo at GenCon when it was first announced. I think it's called Rise of the Dragonlords or something along those lines.

A word of caution to anyone who never played the game and would like to explore it: never, ever, play your first game with that scenario. It is unbelievably, terribly, outrageously BORING with no player interaction whatsoever and a win condition that, on the last few turns, literally boils down to seeing who can shuffle their deck in a way that they get a winning hand first. You'll sour yourself on the game before even giving it an honest try, like I think many players have done.

I always teach new players with Rise of the Dragonlords. I think it's a great intro scenario. It showcases all of the mechanics, plays quickly, and gives a focus for what your goal is. It has the option of PvP attacks, but knowing when and how to do those best is almost certainly preferred for the second game. I feel like you're tremendously underselling this first scenario.
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Carthoris Pyramidos
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I don't get the impression that Rune Age has been any kind of commercial failure. It's on the verge of its third or fourth reprint, I think. It was sold in Target for a while, and although they did eventually put it on clearance, even making it on to those shelves had to be worth something.

Blood Bowl Team Manager is a game I've never been even mildly curious about, and I find it hard to imagine that it was critical competition against Rune Age.
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Sean Franco
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Carthoris wrote:
I don't get the impression that Rune Age has been any kind of commercial failure. It's on the verge of its third or fourth reprint, I think.

Commercial failures don't usually spawn expansions also.
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Krzych Kowalczyk
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I never said it was a 'failure', I said that it seems to not have done all that great, by which I meant that it would probably do much better if it was marketed differently and didn't come out alongside another game with a more popular IP that superficially seemed similar in scope.

Compare how many expansions Team Manager got and how quick they were released compared to Oath and Anvil. When I worked at a games store around four years ago, we sold multiple Team Managers for each Rune Age, I remember checking the numbers because I was curious about that. I think it's safe to say Team Manager did better commercially than Rune Age, and my point was that if Rune Age was handled slightly differently by FFG, it's a good enough game that it might have done at least that, if not more.
 
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Carthoris Pyramidos
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DonSilvarro wrote:
I think it's safe to say Team Manager did better commercially than Rune Age, and my point was that if Rune Age was handled slightly differently by FFG, it's a good enough game that it might have done at least that, if not more.

Fair enough, but your "overshadowed" language made it sound like BBTM was taking market share away from Rune Age.

Also, I don't think number of expansions is a very good metric for game success. As far as I know, there has never been a Scrabble expansion. I think that further expansions to Rune Age after Oath & Anvil would tend to clutter the game more than enhance it.
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