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Subject: Why I Don't Like Runebound rss

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Mark C
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Full disclosure: I'm a fan of Martin Wallace designs. I'm lukewarm at best on so-called dungeon crawls. So I had to wonder, would I like the very nicely produced Runebound, which has scads of fans and lots of expansion possibilities?

I was initially impressed with it, since it looks nice, comes with character minis, lots of cards, a novel move mechanic, a flexible core system, and seemed to have some fun factor to it. Unfortunately, that was about as far as the game got for me, and it rapidly deteriorated. I've given it 3 tries, and it would take some talking into to give it another go. Rather than a complete gamebox review, which others have done, I will simply focus on gameplay, or rather, my negative view of it.

Getting started – the rules are somewhat compact. That was good to get started, and it's a very flexible system. As the game progresses, you may find them to be a bit underwritten, or have an occasional question of how various items, characters or events interact. Still, a very minor issue.

Gameplay – by far my biggest complaint is the randomness and poorly thought out gameplay. Don't get me wrong, it works fine from a mechanics perspective, and there's plenty of tension in the sense that the outcome is always uncertain. It's the strategy and balance that's grossly lacking, coupled with higher than average downtime –not a good combination. At the beginning, you start with a random character. They aren't very well balanced. In fact, the people who first showed me the game were jealous that I got one of the “great” characters in my very first draw. She had the ability to take a fatigue instead of a hit. It may not sound like much, but fatigue can be healed easily, and hits cost gold to heal. And gold is what allows you to hire allies, or buy items.

You see, at the start of the game, you're just trying to survive to get enough experience for your first upgrade. You often have encounters where the gold you earn is less than the gold you lose from needing to pay to heal your wounds. There's a real push-your-luck element to the beginning of the game, and judging your relative position. It's very unlikely you have smooth sailing –at some point you have to just accept defeat as a real possibility. If defeated, the penalties aren't outrageous, but in a rich get richer game, you'll feel pretty far behind unless it happens very early. When you make that first upgrade, then you might start accumulating gold. A mere +2 upgrade for xp means you might need 1 less round of combat, which means you take 1 less hit, which means you need 1 less heal, which means you net 1 more gold. Sound tight? It is, but it's nice once you get there because you feel like you're starting to make progress.

As part of the gameplay, the encounters are exhausted and replenished somewhat randomly, and you start progressing to the level 2, 3, then ultimately, level 4 encounters. In the level 4 encounters is the ultimate bad guy, who you can defeat to win the game.

The problem I find in Runebound is the utter futility of the game. You roll lots of dice, and draw lots of cards, but the feeling that you are doing something strategic is almost completely lacking. Don't get me wrong, there are decisions to be made, but they are quite small compared to the luck factor. Just to name a few examples:
1.Your starting character makes a big difference. Totally random. If you can avoid damage early because of an ability, you are in much better condition.
2.Your gold accumulation is dependent on the damage you take, which is totally at the mercy of the dice. There are some items that mitigate damage, but your odds of getting one early are fairly small, and in fact are just another random thing that puts someone at a sizable advantage.
3.Item draws are totally random
4.Encounters within each band are a bit harsh. Here's a sample. Someone draws an event card as part of their draw. Card says take a random draw from the item deck and put it in a certain town. Whoever gets to that town first gets the item free. Now it could be the first turn, the next player might tromp off to get it, and that could be the best item in the game they just happened to pick up....from a level 1 encounter. On top of that, you might see an encounter that kills you (while someone else is getting the best item free)
5.The starting encounters are brutal. It's not like you can choose a safe path with low rewards. You're forced into high-risk encounters from the get-go. It's not uncommon to have a reward of 1 or 2 gold, while taking damage that costs 3 or 4 gold to heal (if you survive).
6.Even movement is random. Roll dice to see which direction you can head based on movement dice which determine the terrain options you'll get.

With all the wild swings, there is at least some tendency for things to cancel each other out. The problem I have is that the luck dwarfs the strategic decisions, which are fairly limited. I've heard it said this is a rich get richer game, and that is the tendency. On top of that, the strongest party can also beat up other players in player versus player combat to take an item. The primary deterrent to this is that early parties tend not to have a decisive advantage, secondarily, your risk reward tends to be better with standard encounters, and tertiarilly, movement around the board can be time-consuming. However, as encounters get taken, there is temptation to look at other players inventory for your benefit. If you're close in strength and someone takes your best item, you can imagine how your feelings about your prospects change.

All-in-all, my experience with second edition Runebound was not much more than a pretty game without much under it's exterior. It was a long exercise in rolling dice and drawing cards with very little other than the tension of rolling dice with your character on the line. Games like this rely on the adventure theme, which Runebound does well. However, the gameplay on it's own is quite lame.

In closing, I should point out that my experience may have been on the unusual end of the luck scale. Still, I think a negative review can be useful for those who are deciding whether or not they might want to get into a game. I'd like to hear comments on the luck factor, or if others disagree on the strategic depth. I'm not seeing it as much more than a long dice & draw game.
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Chris Franka
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Mark,
Your comments seem pretty reasonable to me. It is certainly a pretty game, and for me that was what got me to look at it in the first place. I am a fan of dungeon crawls (to each their own, right?) and I was very excited to play this game when I bought it.

After playing it, I reluctantly found a lot of the things you said to be true. The outcome certainly felt significantly influenced by luck, and regardless of how the people in my group played, we all seemed to stay pretty much close to each other in terms of progress at the end of the game. In that sense, I can appreciate the sense of futility you remarked about. After a few hours, it felt like the decisions we had made did not make a lot of difference in the endgame.

But my take is a bit different. I enjoyed the game for the journey rather than the end result. I liked looking at the card art and imagining the battles and reacting to the events and racing to get a great item in one of the markets and then putting it to use. I felt like I was participating in a story rather than debating over strategic decisions and I enjoyed it for what it was.

I think it's fair, and even important, to say that it is a pretty light game and probably won't appeal to fans who don't like a significant luck factor in their games. People deciding whether to buy the game need to see honest assessments about what the game is and what it's not.

But the game never really struck me as trying to be anything beyond that. I never got the impression as I was playing that the game packaging or other session reports or reviews had misrepresented the product. I never really thought that it had "poorly thought out gameplay." It was a fun light fantasy romp with a race to get to the finish line with a lot of luck thrown in, and that's pretty much what I figured it would be. It's a game that appeals to people who like fantasy themes and light games from time to time. (A bit long, perhaps, but that can be changed with a few variant tweaks.)

Is it a bad game? Not in my opinion. It is what it is. But if there are people who might be expecting something different going in, then your review can be a pretty helpful one.

(Edit for spelling)
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Mika R.
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Gamer_Dog wrote:

Gameplay – by far my biggest complaint is the randomness and poorly thought out gameplay. Don't get me wrong, it works fine from a mechanics perspective, and there's plenty of tension in the sense that the outcome is always uncertain. It's the strategy and balance that's grossly lacking, coupled with higher than average downtime –not a good combination. At the beginning, you start with a random character. They aren't very well balanced. In fact, the people who first showed me the game were jealous that I got one of the “great” characters in my very first draw. She had the ability to take a fatigue instead of a hit. It may not sound like much, but fatigue can be healed easily, and hits cost gold to heal. And gold is what allows you to hire allies, or buy items.

You see, at the start of the game, you're just trying to survive to get enough experience for your first upgrade. You often have encounters where the gold you earn is less than the gold you lose from needing to pay to heal your wounds. There's a real push-your-luck element to the beginning of the game, and judging your relative position. It's very unlikely you have smooth sailing –at some point you have to just accept defeat as a real possibility. If defeated, the penalties aren't outrageous, but in a rich get richer game, you'll feel pretty far behind unless it happens very early.

The problem I find in Runebound is the utter futility of the game. You roll lots of dice, and draw lots of cards, but the feeling that you are doing something strategic is almost completely lacking. Don't get me wrong, there are decisions to be made, but they are quite small compared to the luck factor.

With all the wild swings, there is at least some tendency for things to cancel each other out. The problem I have is that the luck dwarfs the strategic decisions, which are fairly limited. I've heard it said this is a rich get richer game, and that is the tendency. On top of that, the strongest party can also beat up other players in player versus player combat to take an item. The primary deterrent to this is that early parties tend not to have a decisive advantage, secondarily, your risk reward tends to be better with standard encounters, and tertiarilly, movement around the board can be time-consuming. However, as encounters get taken, there is temptation to look at other players inventory for your benefit. If you're close in strength and someone takes your best item, you can imagine how your feelings about your prospects change.

In closing, I should point out that my experience may have been on the unusual end of the luck scale. Still, I think a negative review can be useful for those who are deciding whether or not they might want to get into a game. I'd like to hear comments on the luck factor, or if others disagree on the strategic depth. I'm not seeing it as much more than a long dice & draw game.


Good review! I agree with your analysis of Runebound mechanics. But for me, after some house-rules, the thematic depth exceeds the lame parts where the worst are 'randomness' and 'runaway leader syndrome'.

As you said, there's only a small opportunity to make tactical decisions. However, there are certain house rules which can mitigate the randomness and add a bit more to the tactical layer. Here are some of my favorites:

** Softer knock-out penalties from escapes: to mitigate the-weak-get-weaker; to give more tactical choices during combat

** Market deck variant: to reduce the randomness of item draws

** Hiding rule (made by me, you can find it in the Variants or Files section ): to reduce the 'ganking' possibilities for the strongest characters; to give better chance to protect your most precious item.

** Ramping experience for leveling: to speed up early leveling and slow it down in the upper tier; to level players at the end game and to speed up the game overall.
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Mark Farr
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The first time I unpacked this game, my 7-year old son insisted we play immediately. Not one to turn down a game easily (or with my son at all), we proceeded to learn the rules as we went. The rules worked incredibly well for this approach and we didn't have any problems. My son did extremely well and was ahead of me. I cannot recall if we completed the game, but I think we probably did. In any event, he loved it and proclaimed it his very favourite game.

The next time I was in my FLGS I picked up the Isle of Dread expansion (on the strength of his professed love for the game). When we next played, he was not patient enough and rushed ahead to more difficult encounters, got defeated regularly, and lost interest. I realised at that point that I was not at all unhappy about that. I like the production, the art and the way the rules are presented. The only thing is, it doesn't captivate me. It is too light to have me churning over ideas/combinations/possibilities, yet it still makes substantial demands on your time and the amount of cards that need to be read/moved/processed and battles resolved.

When I think of Runebound, the main feature in my mind is turning over one encounter card after another, and that they start feeling very much the same. I am vaguely aware of moving at some point, and visiting towns, but they're always in the background. We never did play again, so the Isle of Dread expansion remains untried. I would like to try it someday, even if only to lessen the feeling of it being a wasted purchase. It remains a good looking game, and I have a feeling my son may be tempted to try it again, especially if I ever manage to stop buying new games.





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Charis
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Nice review Mark. I totally agree with what you said except you forgot to mention one thing: this game is looooong. It's not i don't like 3-hour games, it is that you have very few decisions to keep you interested in such a long time span: move, kill this monster, buy item, level up, and again move...
Did i also mention that this game is very long?
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Manos Velivassakis
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It isn't so long if players know how to play and have decided which will be their next quest during another's player turn. Also by using the Doom track rules (advanced rules for 1st edition) the game has a reasonable time limit.
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Ted Kowalczyk
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As far as the length of the game goes it gets much shorter after playing a few times. Also limiting the number of players to 3 helps alot. The reason the game gets shorter after playing (at least around here) is because you realize you don't have to MEGA level up to win the game, so the race between players to get to the point of trying red encounters gets more tense the more you play(IMHO).
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David desJardins
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ManOfSorrows wrote:
It isn't so long if players know how to play and have decided which will be their next quest during another's player turn.


I think you can't really decide, because often you don't get the movement rolls for your first choice of destination.
 
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Miguel de la Casa
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While I can see the merit in your points, I must say I enjoy Runebound a lot. On the one hand, it's true you have to live with a lot of luck in Runebound. On the other hand, there are a few things you can do to improve your experience with the game:

Quote:
1.Your starting character makes a big difference. Totally random. If you can avoid damage early because of an ability, you are in much better condition.


We always choose characters. In all games also in Mare Nostrum or Arkham Horror. I'm not to fond of basing that "decision" on a random pick. If such an open system doesn't work with your group you could always take a not so radical approach: choosing among three random characters or something like that.

Regarding the balance of the different characters, I think it's far from obvious. First, luck is more important than which character you play. Second, people seem to disagree on this matter. Some say Valadir is the weakest, some say the mind-oriented characters, other magic-oriented...

I think I'll start a poll just for fun...

Quote:
2.Your gold accumulation is dependent on the damage you take, which is totally at the mercy of the dice. There are some items that mitigate damage, but your odds of getting one early are fairly small, and in fact are just another random thing that puts someone at a sizable advantage.


Combat is random and you can take more (or less) damage than you'd expect. However, there's a very important advice that novice player don't usually follow: escape if the odds are against you. Some challenges will be simply too difficult for any given character. If you find one of those, just escape. Also the random nature of the game helps in that it's very common to see unexpect
ed come-backs. It's important to keep the faith in your character and keep trying even if it seems you're gonna loose from the very beginning.

Quote:
3.Item draws are totally random.


I totally agree on this one. That's why we play with a house rule here. Some cities have an smithy where you can buy only weapons and armors, others have a tavern where you can only hire allies and yet others have a bazaar where you can buy artifacts and runes. This makes more interesting. It also creates some unbalance at the same time, though (for instance, Red Scorpion gets stronger).

Quote:
4.Encounters within each band are a bit harsh. Here's a sample. Someone draws an event card as part of their draw. Card says take a random draw from the item deck and put it in a certain town. Whoever gets to that town first gets the item free. Now it could be the first turn, the next player might tromp off to get it, and that could be the best item in the game they just happened to pick up....from a level 1 encounter. On top of that, you might see an encounter that kills you (while someone else is getting the best item free)


I think this is quite an exaggeration. Rarely there are terribly unbalancing events. When it happens, it's usually not the leading player who profits, so it balances the game a bit.

Quote:
5.The starting encounters are brutal. It's not like you can choose a safe path with low rewards. You're forced into high-risk encounters from the get-go. It's not uncommon to have a reward of 1 or 2 gold, while taking damage that costs 3 or 4 gold to heal (if you survive).


I don't think green challenges are so frightening as you imply. It's true that you barely make any (money) profit, but early on the experience you get from them is very valuable. It's more critical, and a source of problems for newbies, to move ahead to yellow challenges in the right moment, not to early but not too late either.

Quote:
6.Even movement is random. Roll dice to see which direction you can head based on movement dice which determine the terrain options you'll get.


Yes it is random. However, you can see (or you miss) sometimes a way to move two, three or even four spaces more than you thought it was possible with that roll. The main problem for me it's that movement is slow and prone to too much analysis just because of that.


In summary, I see your point about too much luck. I understand that Runebound is not for everyone. On the other hand, I think you paint it too black. Runebound is just a light game with some interesting, if light, decisions, not so much about who wins but about the experience. It improves if you learn to retreat when the odds are against you and you keep believing in your chances for making it big even if you're loosing badly.

For me the major drawback that prevent Runebound from being THE game are down time (terrible with 4+ players) and that it just takes too long (something like 2.5 hours for two players?) for what it is.
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David desJardins
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aristarco wrote:
Combat is random and you can take more (or less) damage than you'd expect. However, there's a very important advice that novice player don't usually follow: escape if the odds are against you. Some challenges will be simply too difficult for any given character. If you find one of those, just escape.


But some characters are much better at escaping than others.
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Matthew M
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DaviddesJ wrote:
ManOfSorrows wrote:
It isn't so long if players know how to play and have decided which will be their next quest during another's player turn.


I think you can't really decide, because often you don't get the movement rolls for your first choice of destination.


There is little reason to not roll your movement dice while the player to your right is resolving his challenge.

-MMM
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David desJardins
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Octavian wrote:
There is little reason to not roll your movement dice while the player to your right is resolving his challenge.


Sometimes he doesn't have a challenge this turn, and sometimes it doesn't take very long. Extra sets of dice would certainly help some.

There's also the issue of lots of cards in the deck that other players can potentially use to interfere with your planned movement. So you can't just decide what to do and then do it.
 
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Matthew M
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Octavian wrote:
There is little reason to not roll your movement dice while the player to your right is resolving his challenge.


Sometimes he doesn't have a challenge this turn, and sometimes it doesn't take very long. Extra sets of dice would certainly help some.

There's also the issue of lots of cards in the deck that other players can potentially use to interfere with your planned movement. So you can't just decide what to do and then do it.


All true, however at worst you are going the same speed as if you didn't roll the dice until your own turn. You can only gain.

-MMM
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Roberto Arbelaez
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Yes, it's random. Yes, it's long. But it's fun if you play it right.

It's meant to be a very competitive game! So you should always be trying to start taking on next level encounters as soon as you think you can manage them, pressuring your opponents to do the same (wheter they're ready or not) or you'll leave them far behind!

And if you're the one left behind, this also means you might try to take on harder encounters before you're totally ready so you might catch up, and this involves taking lots of risks, but also the possibility of great rewards.

Playing aggressively and taking risks is what makes the game fun: you are always stressed out, walking on the edge, fighting against the odds.

This makes it exciting.

This also makes the game become shorter.

If you play too conservatively, the game will take forever, it'll feel repetitive and dull, and you'll fight opponents easily, without skipping a heartbeat.

Playing with a Doom Track and enforcing the mandatory end-of-game is a good way to ensure players will play aggressively, and you'll enjoy the game as it's meant to be played.
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Isaac Citrom
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Gamer_Dog wrote:
Still, I think a negative review can be useful for those who are deciding whether or not they might want to get into a game.


Yes, exactly. I have had my eye on Runebound for some time. An intellectually honest look as yours helps me to decide if the game is for me. Honest negtaive reviews do have a place.
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William Payne
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If this game is so random, then why does the same guy allways win!!!!!

LOL

My friend played in the Star Wars CCG championshoips and almost won, a long time ago, and with that type of player in this game, they are hard to beat.
 
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Collin
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rarbelaez and Tisander have it right. The important decisions do lie in determining when you are ready to take on the next level of difficulty. It is a race and can be very exciting if it is played as such.

And if the decisions don't really effect the outcome, then how have I earned a 5-1 record?

As others have mentioned it is important to never give up when behind, and sometimes in such a case it becomes necessary to go for the glory and attempt something much more difficult than you would normally feel comfortable trying, in order to give yourself a chance to catch up. And I have pulled off at least one uncanny come-from-behind victory.

It is important to keep the win conditions in perspective as well - it only takes three reds to win, and the first one is by far the hardest (several of the dragon runes will make it much easier to take on the reds). In addition, you do not necessarily have to be at a really high level in order to take them on i.e. with the right combo of allies and items you can give yourself a fighting chance at getting that first one (especially if you are able to get your hands on an alchemist's flash bomb, or whatever it's called)
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Alexander B.
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I went through the same phases with this game. At first, I enjoyed it, but after about 3 plays, it felt "solved". After that, what to do was obvious about 90% of the time. Of the 10% where there was a tough choice involved, it was usually due to wondering if the probabilities on some rolls were better one way or the other (because they were close). So, even in these cases, the roll is what really decided it more than my choice of how to proceed.

Sometimes buying an item can be a fun and tough choice, and sometimes with PvP and when to do it can be interesting. But in general, the game fell pretty stale for me after a few plays.

Bummer it didn't hold up over the longer term, but I got my money's worth out of it just solving it And, no, the expansions didn't help in any way to add more fun to the game: that is the only thing that I'd complain about. More content is not the problem here, the problem is that there are too few truly tough choices to make.
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Antigonus Monophthalmus
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Funny. I played it like a madman my first week. Solo, with 2, with 3, anything. Then I got bored with it. Then my girlfriend begged me to play again and I said "fine" and something clicked. Every encounter was an adventure, the game was such an exciting story, I began to dearly love the characters (I even bought Descent just because of my love for this game) and root for them, not just for winning. It's pretty luck driven, but there are some important decisions and a lot of fun little choices along the way. A lot of little choices that are all fun to make!

I think that's it, for me. I love the way the game engages you. Do I head north or south? When do I switch? Should I level up in this or that? Go for that item or that ally? Do I get my heart now? What if I need to fall back on green? Should I run away? Can I afford that? Does my ally fight in this round or go for a damage soak in the next round?

And best of all, being a race game, it's pretty self-balancing, which makes adding variant rules left and right easier. This helped clean up a lot of problems for me
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Bobb Beauchamp
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I think this review is pretty accurate...Runebound is a pretty boring game if you take the adventure/story theme out of it. What's left is just a series of dice-rolling challenges with little thought involved.

Then again, I think in the case of Runebound, the adventure/story theme is a big part of the draw. Runebound isn't just a game, it's a game portraying an adventure. To that end, there's a story being told, through the actions of the heroes, the events they uncover, the challenges they defeat. Look through some of the session reports, and you'll see that you can easily take a play of Runebound and you've got about 80% of a narrative story. If you totally ignore or eliminate this aspect of the experience, all you're left with is about 40% of the total package. It's no wonder a player would find this lacking after a few tries.

I don't really know what I'd suggest to the OP and those like-minded to make the game more accessible to them. To be honest, my first advice would be that maybe Runebound isn't the game for them. It depends too much on the thematic elements over gameplay, and certain types of players are just not going to buy into that.

As a comment on other issues, I also owned the first edition, and I use the movement dice from that version as an extra set when we play, so the next player can be at least planning their turn...whether to roll fewer dice to recover fatigue, rolling the dice to see what their movement options are, etc. It does speed things up a bit.
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Neil Carr
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Yeah, the randomness combined with the long downtime is a killer. I really liked it after just playing Return of the Heroes, because Runebound was much more straitforward it just finding conflict and being rewarded for it. However there is still a tedium to the game that I wish wasn't there.

Because of the downtime I got a second set of movement dice, just to cut down on the sheer amount of dice passing to add up time over the course of the game. We did start to use a system where the next player started their move soon after the active player had begun. This is the only way I could imagine playing the game with six again.

Unfortunately I have yet to see an adventure game that really minimized randomness and rewarded strategic gameplay, beyond massaging probabilities. If something could be made that handles six players, isn't a churning luckfest, and is under three hours of play time then it would deliver what is needed in the adventure category.
 
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David desJardins
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rarbelaez wrote:
If you play too conservatively, the game will take forever, it'll feel repetitive and dull, and you'll fight opponents easily, without skipping a heartbeat.


I dunno. I find that you take a sensible risk to try to get ahead, end up losing a battle that you had an 80-90% chance to win, and then you're so far behind for the rest of the game that it feels very repetitive and dull. It's hard to maintain interest in a long game when you're far behind.
 
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I've only once or twice had to spend lots of gold on healing at the beginning. Green's can be difficult, but many are very easy and tailored for new characters... if you took lots of damage and couldn't buy stuff, you just rolled badly.

Me, I love the game, especially the new expansion, Sands of Al-Kalim.
 
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Hector Flores
United States
Round Rock
Texas
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Tobold wrote:

When I think of Runebound, the main feature in my mind is turning over one encounter card after another, and that they start feeling very much the same. I am vaguely aware of moving at some point, and visiting towns, but they're always in the background.


This sums up the only 'problem' I have with Runebound. I like Runebound, but I wish there was time available to really "feel" the theme of a game. As it stands, we just don't take the time to read flavor text because we care too much about rules, item interations, combos, etc. That, and if we did take the time to read flavor text we'd be there for 10 hours.
 
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Sean D.
Canada
Langley
British Columbia
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Well, having just bought the game this week, played about 3 games, I could see how the randomness would bother someone. Citadels (for example) really bothered me because of the randomness of the cards and how the thief and assassin abilities were too random, but, I still play because of the 'flavour' it gives. I never get tired of hearing everyone say "Yes, your Excellency" when I have the ballroom in play.

The mechanics of Runebound are easily adaptable to any gaming group's play styles. We have hardcore RPers and hack-and-slasher (like myself) that enjoyed the game for different reasons. I think that a lot of the suggestions listed above would overcome the randomness that it has. Basically, any game that uses cards drawn randomly and dice to resolve combat can devolve into a random grind.
 
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