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Todd Chef
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Having just bought and played Runebound twice, I am of mixed opinion of the product. It seems overly complex for what it does and I'm not sure the payoff is worth a 3-4 hour investment of my time. While most of our group had a good time, there are reservations that prevent me from giving it the whole-hearted "must have" recommendation that others here on this website seem to have about it.

Rules: D
The inadequate rules are printed on a flimsy, bizarre double-sided fold-out (instead of a proper rulebook) that does nothing to make understanding of the game's rather steep initial learning curve easier. Several important questions are not answered, either in the rules or the online FAQ (these are recounted below in the appropriate sections). The rules seem a bit too complex for what the game is: an expensive updating and upgrade of TSR's old Dungeon boardgame. The rules are not easily or quickly learned and, in my experience, the game is not playable in anywhere near the 2 hours promised on the box. Instead, the game drags on for a minimum of 3-4 hours, and that was after the first 6 hour game where we slowly and painfully learned how to play as best we could from the unhelpful rules provided. We are all smart, experienced gamers (RPG and board) between the ages of 28-33, so I'd like to think that why we had such a hard time figuring this game out speaks more of the problems with the rules than with our mental faculties...

Gameplay: B-
Some of the heroes (Silhouette, Sir Validar, Varikath the Undead immediately spring to mind) seem overly powerful compared to their more balanced counterparts. Combined with high-powered allies like Cardinal Koth (who seems broken to me in terms of his special ability and his 6/2 magic attack vs. his 9 gold hiring cost). Combined with the right allies, these heroes are more or less invincible and subject to defeat only by bad dice rolling blunders.

There is just not enough player interaction for what is supposed to be an RPG boardgame. Player "interaction" consists solely of stealing other player's hard-earned stuff by the bully players who were clearly already superior. Cooperative or team play (even as options) would have been truer to the game's RPG inspirations. Losing a game that takes 3-4 hours to play does not make one feel particularly good. In both games we played, one player would quickly (through bad luck and bad dice rolls) end up being a TOTAL LOSER who could never hope to catch up to the other players and if you were this player, you HATED playing this game, because you were stuck sitting around for 2-3 more hours feeling powerless as everyone else got better and better and had fun. I was this "total loser" in the first game we played, but came in a clear (and far more gratifying) second place in the second game. This did nothing to correct the problem for the other player who gave up and went home. This needs to be fixed somehow, fairly and fast, so everyone has a chance to win.

The "High Lord Margath" scenario was cliche (a Forgotten Realms Cult of the Dragon rip-off I didn't like the first time around and don't like any better in another game). It did nothing to suck me into the game. What I found interesting instead were the frequent apearances of certain evil families, like Farrow and Vorakesh. I would have greatly preferred a scenario involving feuding noble houses rather than something "earth-shattering" that required you to "save the world." The sidequest "encounter" cards did a fair job of diverting you from the main goal and were more fun to me than the endgame.

Runebound's endgame is not only boring but frustrating, much like the endgame of Twilight Creations' otherwise entertaining Zombies. Suddenly, it's "capture the flag" and there will be one player uniquely qualified to do this (whoever is most powerful, at least in the games I played). That player wins, almost automatically, because no one else can stand up to the red challenges as well or as often. So if you're second or third best, you must hope to draw High Lord Margath and get lucky defeating him or else you will lose (unless you have the teleporter movement card; maybe you can win then because the reds are spaced so far apart). With only 7 hit points, Margath seems like a pushover by the time anyone draws him, however. I think I must dislike games that change focus at the end... I'm having fun building up my stuff and then suddenly I'm not and everything turns upside down (like in Zombies).

It is important to note that I quickly become bored with the whole Margath scenario and with the challenges and market items provided. Having doubles (a cost-cutting measure, to be sure) of so many cards is a mistake, IMO. It seems to me that having more cards than could be used in any one game would have greatly reduced this boredom factor. That way, you won't keep seeing the same exact things in every game... especially since the game forces you to see practically everything it has to offer in just the first sitting alone! Perhaps the expansion packs will address this concern. As it is, the game begins to grow stale after just two sessions, because you've seen absolutely everything the game has to offer and there are no more real surprises.

Components: B
The sturdy thickness and bright colors of the punch-out bits was extremely impressive. They felt good between my fingers and were easily differentiated from each other. Some extra adventure/experience point bits for each color would have been a good idea in case you lose any pieces (and they were flying all over the room as we furiously rushed to get them punched out as quickly as possible so we could hurry up and play).

The cards could have had a glossier coat and been a bit thicker, but were still very nice. Most of the art was uniformly decent, though some appeared clearly rushed, and it was obvious the cards were not proofread carefully before going to press. There were far too many typos for my taste. Some blank cards for each deck should have been included for custom use or if you lose a card.

I would have preferred 28-30mm plastic miniatures to represent the heroes on the board, even at an increase in price, but the thickness and nice artwork of the hero pieces included swayed me. One complaint is in FFG not providing twelve bases for the heroes so that we don't have to switch bases, adding wear and tear every time we want to play someone new. The quotes for the heroes were extremely cliche, poorly written and open to ridicule (for example, Bogran's claim he is a "deadly wind" elicited nothing but fart jokes all evening --- unfortunately, his player provided his own deadly wind to back it up --- not the kind of LARP I want to be involved in, LOL).

The terrain dice, while of high quality, bog down gameplay as each player has to (hopefully) memorize the symbols. We found ourselves constantly mixing up swamp for forest and forest for mountains. These symbols are too similar at a glance and create havoc on gameplay if misread and then caught after the player has started moving. The d20 should have been a different color (yet still easily seen if it falls on the floor or into a corner) to differentiate it from the terrain dice. Many times people would roll terrain dice and the d20 just because they couldn't tell which was which. The rule about only rolling four terrain dice outside the cities was constantly forgotten. The other rules about eliminating fatigue by rolling less movement dice were remembered and used frequently. One major problem in the game was getting "stuck" and being unable to move when in the rare terrain types. This cost me the second game I played, and virtually eliminated any chance of the third player from ever catching up to the rest of us in a million years. It's no fun to wait for your turn and then have to pass because you can't even move where you want (yes, I kow you can give up rolling to move one hex, but nobody does this because nobody wants to move only one hex). And when you get stuck, you tend to stay stuck, with the challenge you need right next to you, but just out of reach, or town just a few squares away, or even winning the game denied by whim of the terrain dice.

The mapboard feels slightly constrained; it is not expandable because it is bordered on all sides by the market stacks, decks, and undefeated challenges. The map itself is very hard to read and open to ambiguities. Dozens of times the question came up, "Is that a hill or a forest?" Hills should have been brown (not green) to easily tell them apart. The map art was boring (I prefer the oldschool style of the AD&D 1st Edition World of Greyhawk map to the fake "real world" style that's become prevalent with D&D3e). Different terrain types should never have appeared in the same hex; that's just asking for trouble. The hex directly outside of Tamarlin with a river and road makes everyone think other hexes are "mixed" terrains as well. River and plains, swamp and river, etc. The rulebook says nothing! I had to get the online FAQ the next day to clear that mess up, but that was after two games were played incorrectly. The cities, identified only by tiny heraldry, are frequently confused with each other, causing market stacks to mysteriously "switch places" if you don't keep an eye on what the other players are doing during the market phase(not intentionally cheating, just mixing up where to properly return the cards).

While I did great appreciate FFG's inclusion of a storage tray (something sadly lacking from AH's Axis & Allies Revised Edition), this tray is insufficiently deep to hold all the cards correctly. More compartments would have been better so that counters for gold, XP, fatigue and wounds could have been kept separately greatly expediting their use. The box lid fits too snugly, making it a pain to open and close, and a surefire candidate to become damaged faster than any game box I've ever owned. The actual texture of the box lid, however, is pleasing to the touch and unlike any game I've ever owned.

Final Analysis of Runebound: C+
I can't give this game a glowing review as is. With a better rulebook and map, and more cards (and tips on how to easily create your own custom scenarios), I would bump this up to a B.

Winning (or even succeeding) is entirely too dependent on the luck of the draw and the roll of the dice. There is just not enough strategy or interaction involved for my taste (each player seems to be playing alone against themselves). The Advanced Rules, which I've skimmed through, seem to offer some excellent ways to improve the game, but should have been included with the game itself (along with a FAQ --- or better yet, rules that addressed the questions posed above). Right now, I think Runebound needs to let players power up faster and end the game quicker... If I wanted to sit around for 3-4 hours, I'd play games that rely more on strategy than luck, so I feel like I've accomplished something when I'm done. Entirely luck-dependent games are best served up in 1-2 hour doses, so you can play them more than once and give everybody a chance to win.

I may end up buying the expansion packs if the game improves enough after trying some of the Advanced Rules. I am grateful that FFG is releasing multiple expansions; this has been my primary complaint with Avalon Hill, who have squandered every opportunity to expand and support their games (such as Axis & Allies and the Risk variants). Instead of supporting the games already in release, AH just come out with a "new" or "revised" $50 variant every few years, which I find a bit maddening!
 
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Mikko Karvonen
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Re:User Review
Iron_Chef (#53991),

Well written review with lots of well argued points. I'll give you some of them. I've personally never had any problems with the map, the movement dice or understanding the rules, but apparently many other people have, so they could have been clearer. We'll see what kinda maps there will be in the expansions.

And I kinda agree with you on the first adventure. It could have been more creative, tho' in a way, a very typical fantasy-romp suits this type of game nicely. Hunting an evil dragon is a cliché, but on the other hand, Runebound is trying to do exactly that: displaying clichés in an entertaining manner.

But there are few things I gotta wonder about.

The lenght of the game. Our longest game of Runebound took about 3½ hours and that included couple pauses for different reasons. Usually we can play the adventure in about 2½ hours. There are couple things that seem to make the game drag, tho'. Playing with more than 4 players seems not wise (the game was originally designed for 2-4 players. I'm still not clear, why they chose to claim that it could be played with 5 or 6.). And overly strategical people can take surprisingly long time with their turns, trying to optimize a game that is, by it's nature, quite random.

Becoming the total loser. This has really been an issue in our games only once. Most of the time almost everyone has been able to compete. Some better than others, but everyone has had a fair shot at winning. Some players might gain a headstart compared to others by getting a really good item or ally early on, but usually others will catch them later on. I don't know, if this is a matter of playing style, but that's the way it goes in our group. And we've played Runebound a lot. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we are really not into fights between player characters.

The rules. I like them. I like them a lot. I personally find them clear, easy to understand and logical. They actually work much better than for example the latest edition of D&D. And they are very easy to adapt and modify, if you feel like it.

I think these are the most important ones.

So... I understand your complaints and critique. I just though I'd offer a different perspective on some matters.

Personally, I'm not yet convinced that Runebound will be the ultimate fantasy adventure boardgame out there. This will largely depend on the expansion sets and the support the game will get. There is definitely lots of potential and I enjoy the game a lot the way it is, but ultimately it's fate is yet to be decided. We'll see.
 
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Tom Idleman
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Re:User Review
Gargoyle (#55122),

Personally, I'm not yet convinced that Runebound will be the ultimate fantasy adventure boardgame out there.

What would the other contenders be for the ultimate fantasy adventure boardgame, then?

Cheers,
Tom
 
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Todd Chef
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Re:User Review
I tried Runebound for the third time with the Unofficial "Amped" Rules (simplified version of Advanced Runebound without the Doom Track or wandering monsters, which appears complicated to the point of incomprehensibility to me after having tried several attempts to read it).

The "Amped" rules worked well. Gameplay was improved by being able to potentially "recycle" adventure areas, however, it was clear whether these bonus adventures should be drawn from the remaining fresh deck or from the discard pile for that color of adventure. As there are a limited number of fresh adventures directly tied to the number of adventure locations of each color, it was decided that bonus adventures be drawn only from the appropriate discard pile (reshuffled each time).

However, the "total loser" bug was still in full force for one unfortunate player who could not roll his way out of a paper bag and kept drawing monsters with pre-combat tests he could not pass. He was so far behind he had no chance of catching up to the other two players. However, since he was able to keep going after green adventures, he at least had something to do with his turn besides bitch and moan and die.

The "Amped" rules did nothing to shorten the game. I hate this needlessly complex "Doom Track" concept and yearn for something simpler to speed the game up that doesn't require a page of gobbledygook to explain how to implement. A timer, whoever has the most XP in a certain time, or anything that can be implemented and understood without adding to the complexity of the game would be appreciated.

Overall, my impression of Runebound the third time out (first time with the with "Amped" rules) was slightly improved, from a C+ to a B-.

I have just bought a copy of HeroQuest on eBay and am anticipating that to be a significantly superior fantasy adventure game over Runebound with much more flexibility.
 
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Ava Jarvis
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Re:User Review
Iron_Chef (#59022),

Heroquest versus Runebound is still very much apples and oranges; they're very different games.

As for Runebound, one concept someone else mentioned in another article was that of upkeep: at the end of every turn, you must spend one gold. This tends to hurry things up more at the beginning than at the end, so perhaps allies can make upkeep cost more; I haven't experimented with this much, save that this rule does seem to help games to move along with some tension in the beginning and middle.
 
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Todd Chef
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Re:User Review
BilboAtBagEnd (#59072),

Just played HeroQuest and LOVE IT! This is a game that is practically perfect in every way and serves as the ultimate gateway game to teaching young kids and newbies RPGs. No wonder it's so popular even after being out of print for well over a decade.

BTW: I noticed that Runebound has some extremely unbalanced, permanent power-up attack items that only cost 2 lousy gold vs. expensive one-shot items. Gee, which would you rather buy? Terrible design flaw, IMO.


 
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Todd Chef
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Re:User Review
Well, I just played three more games of Runebound this week (two using the Shadows of Margath Expansion pack, 29 new challenge cards for only $5.95!). I figured out we were playing certain aspects of the game incorrectly, due to the horrible and confusing way the rules are presented.

All those "activate to use" item cards it turns out are "activated" and placed face-down/out of play only for the rest of your turn. On your next turn, you just "refresh" them by flipping them back face-up and they are ready to go again. This makes a HUGE difference in their usefulness for the gold piece cost.

We also introduced random Hero selection (whoever rollls highest goes first and draws their Hero card first). If an extra game is played, previously played Heroes are not reshuffled back into the Hero deck. This way, everyone gets to try new Heroes. Also, due to their EXTREME suckiness, we throw out Carthos the Mad (wizard) and Ronan of the Wild (ranger). These guys both are total loser Heros nobody would be happy playing.

We house ruled that the previously unbalanced uber-weapons are now between 9 and 10 gold each to buy.

We also noted for the first time that you can only have two weapons and one armor on you at a time, LOL.

We house ruled that recycled challenges earn you XP as the Amped/Advanced Runebound Rules do not specify this. That makes a HUGE difference as well in making sure everyone keeps pace with each other. In fact, once we introduced this, we had our first balanced game ever --- it seemed to defeat the "total loser syndrome" one unlucky soul experienced in every game prior. At the end, we were all roughly equal and all had a slight chance of defeating Margath.

Anyway, despite the problems with this game, I still enjoy it well enough... Much more with these extra rules in force! I would also like to say that the game is greatly improved by the introduction of the Shadows of Margath expansion card pack (a good value at only $5.95). However, many of the challenges in the expansion are very HARD, while some are beneficial or malevolent new events or encounters. If you own Runebound, you'll want the Shadows of Margath!
 
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Ian Gill
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Re:User Review
Iron_Chef wrote:
We are all smart, experienced gamers (RPG and board) between the ages of 28-33, so I'd like to think that why we had such a hard time figuring this game out speaks more of the problems with the rules than with our mental faculties...


I'm sorry but I have to firmly disagree as I think your comments are very misleading.
In your later comment you point out that you missed the rules on the activation of cards and the limit on weapons and armour. It is only my opinion but I found the rules very easy to understand after just one read and its not as if the rules you omitted are obscure.

If I had read your review I might not have bought this game, which my family and I think it is excellent and we would have really missed out. I've added my own review which is, of course, no more valid than this one but I would hope does represent give an alternative view to provide some balance.
 
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