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Subject: 4 Way comparison of Return of the Heroes, Runebound, Talisman, and Prophecy! rss

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Jason Farris
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Citrus Heights
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
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Who doesn’t love fantasy adventure games? If you don’t, then stop reading now as this will waste your time. There are dungeon crawls, overland adventures, single character games, adventuring party games, maze games, and many others to choose from. Thus review focuses on overland, single character against the world, adventure games. In this category are such venerable titles as, Talisman and Runebound. Less heard of but with equally rabid fan bases, are Prophecy and Return of the Heros (ROTH). There are probably many others out there, but I chose these for comparison based on the fact that they are readily available, they are all popular in their own way, and most importantly because I have played all of them. Initially I planned to review RTOH by itself, but I decided it would help to compare it to these other titles. In all cases, the games compared are the English language version. Runebound is 2nd ed., Talisman 3rd Ed, and Prophecy is the first Altar Edition.

Bits:

Bits are the easiest to compare as they are not play dependent.

ROTH uses card stock character boards to represent each character in the game. You have 5 to choose from. Runebound uses character cards (the size and feel of normal playing cards without as good a plastic coating). Talisman uses card stock character boards. Prophecy uses character cards that are larger than playing cards but smaller than boards.


The character information in Runebound appears small and cramped compared with the others. While the art is good, it does not make up for the functional issue of being too small for all the counters that will end up piled on top of it. Prophecy, with the second smallest cards, has the fiddly requirement of moving tiny glass beads back and forth on either side of the flimsy card (The Z-man version has a better board but your are still moving cubes back and forth). Both Talisman and ROTH use character boards that are superior to the cards. The Talisman board is simple, bright, and colorful. It has an indicator for where cards should be placed relative to it, and it is easy to see what all players have. There is a picture of the actual player miniature (painted), so you know which figure is yours easily. ROTH has the largest character boards with plenty of space for life tokens, counters, and “experience” cubes. The portrait are decent, but come off somewhat plastic in appearance. They look more like airbrushed models than gritty fantasy heroes. They are identical to the picture on the hero piece. There is no need for more space to be taken up with cards next to the board or life counters off the card. So, while it has the largest footprint on the gaming table, the ROTH card will actually take up less space than the cards from the other games. Lastly, the ROTH card can be turned over to get the identical character in the opposite Gender. Thus, there are only 5 characters but 10 character tokens. ROTH has very efficient and well designed boards when compared to the other games.

Return of the Heroes Character Sheets

Talisman Character sheets (3rd Edition is the largest)

Prophecy Character cards (Altar version)

Runebound Character cards

Game pieces fall into 2 different categories. You get plastic miniatures with Runebound and Talisman (be aware that the most recent edition, Talisman 4th Ed., currently does not have minis, but FFG will rectify that, I’m sure). You get card stock standees with ROTH and Prophecy. Prophecy has the worst standees as they are square with lackluster art. Once again, the Z-Man edition has added more pizzazz to the standees but the basic art remains. ROTH has standees that are shaped to match the silhouette of the hero and the art is better, if somewhat too clean for my tastes (There was a set of miniatures that you could buy for the game but they are long out of print, but you could probably find some from Reaper minis that match well.) Both Talisman and Runebound have interesting miniatures that are well made for what they do. Talisman miniatures are somewhat larger and more comic. I actually like Talisman minis better because they are easier to paint and somewhat over the top which matches well with the game. The Runebound miniatures are very small and detail is sacrificed.

Monsters, quests, items and NPCs, are almost identical in Runebound, Prophecy, and Talisman. They all use cards of varying sizes to represent the baddies. Cards are randomized by shuffling and they are dealt out as needed. ROTH uses counters instead of cards and they are placed on the board or in a bag to be drawn from randomly during the game. For production value, the Talisman cards have the worst art which is very cartoonish and looks like something you would draw on your notebook in High School (4th Ed. Art is much better and more serious). The cards are also extra small and hard to shuffle. Prophecy comes in second worst with slightly (and I mean slightly) better art but worse cards which are difficult to randomize. I actually put ROTH counters as second best, but I have some caveats to this. The art appears to be CG, and is not always very good. Also the text must be brief due to their size. which makes it difficult to know exactly what each counter does The game has a manual explaining the tokens which helps immensely. You’ll need it the first few times you play but not thereafter. The advantage of counters is that they fit easily on your character sheet and the board. Some counters are coded to go on a particular board space when they are pulled from the bag which allows a set encounter with a random appearance time. Others have no code, and can be placed on any space to be a truly random encounter. They are also easy to draw from the bag and you don’t have to shuffle miniscule cards. The clear winner in this category, though, is Runebound with its full size cards that have art commensurate with most CCGs. They are easy to understand and you won’t need to squint while you read them or curse while you shuffle. The disadvantage is that they have poor lamination and show wear quickly. They can also chip, leaving obvious pieces of white on the black borders. My High lord Margath (the main villain) is obvious compared to the other red cards due to a white square missing from it. So much for a surprise. So, while I would say Runebound has the best cards, I don’t think any of the games are superior in this area. At least Runebound cards can be easily sleeved.

Tokens vary greatly with the different games. You get plastic gold coins, stacking cones, and various cardboard counters with Talisman. Prophecy has glass beads. ROTH has glass beads, wood cubes/discs, actual stones, and card board counters. Runebound has cardboard tokens. All of the games, have dice in one form or another. Prophecy probably has the least user friendly tokens. The beads are extremely small and roll easily. They are hard to pick up, and it is an exercise in frustration to tell the ones from the fives. The Z-man games version is vastly superior with cubes and cardboard chits. Talisman comes in next, but there is a large gap between it and Runebound. The plastic cones seem strange at first, but the stacking mechanic is nice. It is easier to see what other players have as well. Runebound has the nicest cardboard tokens, with red hearts for wounds, gem shaped tokens for experience, cardboard tokens to represent upgrades and yellow drops indicating exhaustion. All of these tokens are icons on grey backing and at times they can look cluttered in your player area. It can also be difficult to see what another player has due to tokens often being piled on the character or ally cards. ROTH has the most varied and best tokens in my opinion. Blue/green/red wooden cubes indicate experience counters, the real stones indicate precious stones that act as keys to the main villain’s tower, large glass beads are use to keep track of life, yellow/orange discs are used for money, wooden houses indicate where players start the game, and cardboard counters represent attack bonuses. All are different in shape, color, and even texture. I feel this makes it easy to distinguish counters at a glance and they functionally work well. Instead of the cluttered feeling of Runebound, you get an ordered approach in ROTH (some might see this as dry, but I prefer order to mess in my games). Each token has its onw place on the ROTH card.

Last and most importantly, there are the game boards. ROTH has a board made up of large tiles with roadways on them that leave each tile in the middle of each side. Talisman has a set game board where players proceed around in a rectangle with a second track inside that one. Prophecy has a loosely star shaped board that players travel around along a roughly circular path. Runebound has a fixed map board made up of hexes (like a war game) with all the encounter areas pre-marked. I think both the Talisman and prophecy board are a wash for the least impressive board. Talisman has the high school notebook art all over it (4th Ed. Has a much nicer board which I would put above prophecy and it also has a third ring to run around) and moving along it can be boring after awhile. I find it to be a bit claustrophobic, but it is functional. The Prophecy board is entirely uninspired artwork. It is clean and functional (having places for all the cards) but little else. Due to the method of movement in Prophecy, you will not always feel you are going around in circles, so it is somewhat less tedious to travel than the Talisman board. Runebound has an attractive board with storage space for many of the cards. Cities are clearly marked and there are even spaces for town items on it. It is a set board and does not change during game play except as encounters re-spawn. IF you purchase multiple expansions to the game you can get different board insets that grant you different static maps but you cannot do this out of the box. The tile system with ROTH is the best of both worlds, in my opinion. Each tile is lettered so you can set up a static map every time, or you can place them randomly. The tiles are one sided so you can even have a fog of war effect and have all tiles face down initially. Each tile follows a theme and has pathways in unique patterns. There is a castle tile, a town tile, a mountain tile, an elven forest tile, etc. All the tiles are very busy and you might think it would be difficult to figure out where you are going, but the paths are almost all light tan with numbered spaces, this makes it easy to figure out how to get from tile A to tile M. Also, many of the counters pulled from the bag match geographical features on the board. For example, if you have a quest that requires you to defeat some giant bees, you only need to look at the map tiles until you find the one with the bee hive. When drawn from the bag, the bees will be placed on the space next to the hive. Not all counters will match obvious board features (i.e. many of the trainers live in houses, and there are several different houses throughout the tiles) but most do.


Return of the Heroes Bits

Talisman 3rd Edition Bits

Prophecy, Altar Edition Bits

Runebound Bits



Characters:

The heart of every adventure game is the characters. Characters are more or less detailed depending on which game you play. Talisman and Prophecy have the least “different” characters. Prophecy has all human characters, and Talisman has a mixture of humans and other races (e.g. minotaur, goblin, etc.). Due to their relative simplicity, all the characters are variations on a theme. Both have red “physical” attack values and blue “crafl/psychic” attack values. They both have life totals (which is the same as the physical attack value in Prophecy). Prophecy differentiates the characters by allowing them to buy skills cheaper in specific guilds listed on their cards and through somewhat different blue and red stats. Each character has two guilds that they specialize in and there is overlap between characters. Talisman has a set of special abilities for each character and has an alignment for each which matters occasionally in the game. In both games characters collect money and experience to be spent on market items and on upgrading ability scores. In Both it is simply buying higher red/blue scores with Talisman having a separate life score that can be upgraded.


Runebound and ROTH have somewhat more complexity in their hero designs. Both have stats for life, “ranged” attack, melee attack, and magic attack. Each stat. has a corresponding damage value after it that only applies to that type of combat. Runebound also has an additional stat for fatigue. ROTH has additional stats for starting money and movement. Runebound heroes have their stats double as skill points and each character (with one exception) has a set of bonus skills. For example, if you are trying to use diplomacy, you add you magic skill plus any bonuses for jump on your character card to the die roll you make. Also, in Runebound, you use your experience to upgrade your skills, your life, or your fatigue values. However, whenever you upgrade your life, you can no longer take on the lowest level of encounter, (then next lowest, etc.). As there are 4 levels of encounters, you can never get more than 3 extra life as you must be able to fight the main villain to win. In ROTH, experience is used to increase the number if dice you roll in combat (you always pick the 2 best no matter how many you roll). Also, there are opportunities to train up the actual skill stats by visiting certain nonplayer characters (NPCs) on the map. There is no way to improve life or movement through experience. Like Talisman and Prophecy, both games allow you to buy items at the town/market. You will find that items are much cheaper in ROTH but gold is also much more dear in the game. ROTH has very archetypal characters including a human fighter, human cleric, human mage, elven archer, and dwarf. Runebound has much more diverse characters including elves, orcs, humans, and undead. It also has the most characters to choose from of any of the games. However, even these tend to fit into archetypes like ranger, fighter, mage, fighter/mage, etc.

I do have two beefs with the characters in all 4 games. All the humans/humanoids are Caucasian. Also with a few exceptions, all the female characters are the “+2 breastplate,” and no other armor type of heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I think that a fully multi-cultural strike force is as unrealistic as the all Caucasian one, but there could at least have been some token attempt to pretend that the world was not all Caucasian. This will bother some and not others.

Gameplay:

Rather than do side-by-side comparisons of game play, I’ll detail each game individually where appropriate and summarize at the End. They all have some traits in common. No matter what they appear to be initially, all these games are fantasy themed race games. He/she who gets the right equipment/stats and gets to the villain first will likely win the game. In that vein you are always on a time clock which is set by the other players. If you don’t like this, then none of these games are for you. They all also have various ways to get items/artifacts/spells that will help you win the game (usually with some type of stat boost). In each one, there is a main villain that must be hunted down and killed (in Prophecy there are multiple villains). All 4 games have a combat engine for fighting encounters that gives you a reward for succeeding and punishes you for failing. All have some type of market for purchasing items. All have some limited type of player interaction, usually combat, that hinders you more often than it helps (basically, it’s an act of desperation). So, these will be mentioned, but I will focus on how they all differ and/or excel at what they do.

Set up requires varying degrees of effort with all four games. ROTH is probably the slowest of the four games to set up initially. You have to lay out the tiles, and pick whether to have them random, set, or turned face down. You also have to make sure the right counters end up in the bag, and the rest are put in piles along with cubes, money, life beads, stones, and ability increase tokens. Luckily there is an excellent insert that can keep things organized any way you want so your ability to set up the game will sped up over repeated plays. Runebound is probably the third longest to set up. There are many decks to shuffle. There is much placing of experience tokens on every like colored hex , doling out of item cards to each town and organizing of all the other counters. The second easiest is probably prophecy. It would not be difficult except for the large number of tiny card piles that you shuffle at the start of the game. They then have to be placed on their respective areas of the board. And then there’s the microscopic beads. Also, you do a drafting approach for getting your hero which may be quick after several plays but will likely be slow initially. Once all the skill cards and item cards and chance cards and any other cards are placed, the game is ready to go. Talisman sets up the quickest due to the limited amount of card decks involved. Only three need to be shuffled despite what the rules say, as the toad and talisman deck are all the same cards. All players have their starting stats listed on their cards and their starting location. It just a matter of a few quick shuffles, handing out some cones, and placing miniatures.

Talisman

Talisman is a roll and move game. You roll one die and must move the number of squares either left or right. Encounters are determined by the space you land on. Some spaces have pre-set encounters that are determined randomly by die roll and some require you to draw up to two adventure cards and put them on the space. This means that you will always encounter something at random the first time you land on an adventure card space. Shopping is done at the city gates buy items. Also, Some spaces allow you to pay for healing or certain effects. All encounter cards are resolved by initiative number. This is a clever mechanic that allows treasure and monsters to be drawn from the same deck, but the monsters must always be fought before you get the treasure. When you encounter a creature card you must fight it in combat. You roll a die for yourself and one for the monster. You add these dice to the corresponding stat (i.e. strength/red if the monster has strength and craft/blue if the monster has it instead) and see which one is higher after taking into account modifiers from allies and equipment. The higher total wins the fight. If there are two monsters on one space with the same color stat, they are added together and they fight as one (including an extra die rolled for the monster). If the monster wins, the player loses one life and his/her turn ends. If the player wins, they get something good and the monster is discarded. If they tie, nothing happens and both still occupy the space. You get experience equal to the stat of the monster (i.e. a 10 strength monster would give you 10 experience and this experience is used purely to buy higher stats (or gold if you need it) at a 7:1 ratio. In player vs. player battles: You fight in the same way as a monster fight, but the winner gets to steal one of the losers items, or one gold, or make them lose a life. If you die, your character is removed from the game and you are given a new one at random from those not chosen. This character also inherits all of the old character’s equipment and followers. Your ultimate goal is to go to the Wizard’s tower and fight the Dragon King. After going through several traps (one makes you lose lives, one followers, and one objects/items), you face the dragon king and can use either craft or strength to fight it. Whoever defeats the dragon king wins the game.

Prophecy

Prophecy, in contrast to Talisman is not a roll and move game. You can move one space for free, or pay one gold to take a horse which allows you to move two spaces. If you are on a space with a port, you can pay one gold to move to the next closest port in either direction (generally 4-5 spaces skipping those in between). Finally, if you are on a space with a magic gate, you can move to any other magic gate on the board for 2 gold. Thus, your movement options are good considering your base move is only one but it is highly dependent on the amount of gold you have. Prophecy populates the board with encounters based on chance cards that are drawn by each player every turn. uses a different system. Each chance card lists locations that encounters appear on. When adventure cards are placed on a space, the first one is always face up and the second (if any) is face down. Thus, a player could draw a chance card that places potential encounters in several spaces on the board other than the one they are on. This can cause a race to a location in future turns. Also, dome chance cards restock the town shops and guild halls which allow players to buy items with gold and abilities with experience (respectively). This system prevents you from getting walloped by a tough monster on the first turn unless you happen to be on the space that gets an adventure card. Chance cards can also have other effects which don’t put cards out (such as lose half your gold). Combat is very similar to Talisman. You roll a die for yourself and one for the monster. You add these dice to the corresponding stat (i.e. strength (red) if the monster has strength and willpower (blue) if the monster has it) and see which one is higher after all modifiers for equipment, treasure, etc. The higher total wins the fight. You must fight each encounter with the corresponding stat (red/blue) unless you encounter a creature with both. In this case you can choose to fight it with either. Unfortunately, choosing to fight a creature with willpower actually lowers your chances of beating it as you must pay 2 willpower just to fight it this way. You always fight monsters one at a time and some monsters have multiple lives requiring multiple attacks to kill them. If the monster(s) wins, the player loses one life and his/her turn ends. If they tie, nothing happens and both still occupy the space. If you win, you get the experience indicated on the card and additional treasures listed on the card. . You spend experience (and sometimes gold) to buy an ability. Some of these increase stats but most have other effects. Each is priced differently as well. Spells are a subtype of ability.
You must fight each encounter with the corresponding stat (red/blue) unless you encounter a creature with both. In this case you can choose to fight it with either. Unfortunately, choosing to fight a creature with willpower actually lowers your chances of beating it as you must pay 2 willpower just to fight it this way. In Prophecy, your health and strength are combined as are you willpower and magic. Casting a spell in Prophecy costs you magic which lowers your willpower. Getting health damaged lowers your strength similarly. Being almost dead in Prophecy means your ability to fight is severely hampered as compared to the other games reviewed where you are at 100% combat capability until the moment you die. PvP is resolved the same as in Talisman except that the loser chooses whether they lose one life or allow the winner to take an item of their choice. You win the game by claiming 4 of 5 artifacts. Claiming each artifact requires that you move to the appropriate space, fight a minor boss monster, fight a major boss monster, and then you get the artifact. Once all the artifacts have been claimed, the fight becomes player vs. player until one has 4 of the 5 artifacts. During the fight to steal artifacts, player vs. player battles end with the losing player being forced to give up an artifact. Also, during this stage of the game, if you do not have an artifact, you are eliminated from the game. If you ever die in the game, your character is removed and you are given a new one at random from those not chosen and you start at baseline.

Runebound

Runebound has many similarities to Talisman and Prophecy in that you goal is to, move, fight, get money, buy items, increase stats, and then challenge the main bad guy. How you do it, though, is much different. Each turn you “refresh” all of your items that are exhausted. This means that 1 use per turn items are usable again. Then you roll a set of up to 5 dice with little symbols on them (3 on each). These symbols represent various terrain types. For each die less than your max that you roll, you remove one exhaustion counter (to a maximum of 4 per turn). This means that each character can potentially move from 1-5 spaces every turn. Unfortunately you are limited by what you roll. Town spaces are wild and any die can be used to move to or through a town. All other spaces are either swamp, forest, plains, mountains, rivers or hills. You must spend a die with the appropriate symbol to move onto a space with the terrain type. There are less forests and mountains than other types and it can be almost impossible to cross mountains if you are unlucky. You always get the option of not rolling dice and just moving one space. All characters start in the town of Tamelir and branch out from there. Thus, the first round looks like a mass exodus in a star pattern as everyone scrambles to get to the easy encounters first. I always get this vision of the land grab in “Far and Away” (a not very good movie btw) where everyone is lined up and then races to various land parcels to stake their claim. After movement, the characters interact with whatever space they are on. They can buy healing , restore fatigue, and/or buy equipment/allies in town. If they are on a space with an experience counter, a card is drawn from the stack of the same color. Green counters give you one experience for defeating the encounter, yellow = 2, blue = 3, and Red = 4. Encounters get much more difficult as you move up the colors. These encounters can be a world affecting event, an encounter, or a challenge (challenge=combat). You always draw until you get a challenge card. Thus you continue to draw and resolve events/encounters until you get to a combat card. Events affect everyone in the game and stay in play until another of equal or higher color is played. They also act as a refresh clock and whenever one comes out, new experience counters are added to any space with a sun symbol on it. Some help the players and others make things worse. The encounter cards are basically personal events. They may have a mini combat in them or require a player to test one or more of their skills (e.g. jump, diplomacy, etc.). Testing requires a player to roll 2 dice and add their character’s skill bonus to the appropriate stat for the skill. If it equals or beats the number on the card, then the player succeeds. Sometimes they grant the a player something or act as a FedEx quest (i.e. keep the card and when you go to the correct place on the map/fulfill the conditions on the card, you get a reward). Once all of these are resolved in order the player must face the combat card.

Combat is resolved in a set order. First, pre-combat abilities/effects are used. The monsters always go first and then the players can resolve their character’s affects. Many of these and other combat effects require players to take exhaustion tokens. If a plyer ever has exhaustion tokens = to his/her stamina score then all further exhaustion becomes wounds. For example, a player may have to test swim in order to battle an underwater creature or take exhaustion/damage before combat even begins. Once these are resolved, then combat begins. First ranged combat is completed, then melee, and finally magic. A character can only fight in one of these phases and must defend in all others. Combat works the same way as skill testing. Roll 2 dice AND add the appropriate stat and any bonus you have for that stat. If this equals or exceeds the same stat on the monster card, then the player succeeds. Success means the character takes no damage while defending and deals damage equal to their damage value for that stat (plus any bonuses from items) when attacking. Failure means the character takes damage equal to the monster’s damage value for that stat. After magic combat, another round of combat starts with ranged again. If a character has an ally (an NPC purchased like items cards at a town), the may ally take the place of the character in one type of combat. A player can only have two allies, but this hypothetically allows his/her character and both allies to attack (one in each phase of combat). Realistically, this will only happen at lower levels as most allies have poor stats and they are often used for their special abilities instead and sometimes you just need a human shield to soak up some damage while you kill the monster in another attack phase. At the beginning of combat a character can attempt to flee by testing their ranged combat value and getting a cumulative +1 for each failed attempt to escape. Each failed attempt also cause a character to take 1 wound. If a character reaches 0 or less wounds, they are knocked out and placed on the nearest town space. The monster mugs the character for ½ his/her gold and one ally or item card. The character is then restored to full health. A successful combat nets the experience token on the space and usually gives the player gold and/or items as well. Sometimes the player gets the combat card itself to use as a one use item (that is not subject to item carrying limits).

As the game progresses, characters will spend their experience tokens to increase their stats (but never damage values) and will challenge higher level creatures. The game has some item balance in that there are very few good ranged items and there are many great magic items. This is needed as a character must withstand 2 phases of attacks before finally getting to unleash magic on the opponent. There are very few items that increase damage and it can be difficult to kill higher level bad guys if the right items do not show up in the market. Certain characters have an advantage over others based on their ability to deal damage in pre-combat phase or even up their damage through gaining exhaustion tokens. Other characters can be much harder to play. The final villain, the dragon Margath, requires 8 wounds to kill and most characters deal 5 total if they were allowed to attack in every phase of combat (i.e. most have damage values of 1or 2 in their stats). Also, no ally will even net you a 50/50 chance to deal damage to the main villain, so they will likely be fodder to keep your character alive. Players must be very creative to figure out how to get their stats up enough to defeat the dragon. In most games I have played, someone figures out how to take on the blue encounters and wipes out all but the most remote ones (there are far less blue than yellow or green), leaving very few for other players. This gives him/her a huge experience advantage while starving the other players and preventing catch up. This is one race mechanic you do not want to get caught behind in. It takes two turns and two combats to equal one blue experience token (i.e. a green and a yellow or two yellow). Once there are almost no encounters left, it can get very ugly fighting over what is left. There are a plethora of items and the item/ally deck is about equivalent to 2½ decks of normal playing cards. There are dozens of ways to customize your character with weapons, armor, allies, potions, and miscellaneous magic items. However, it’s important to remember that the game is a race and you will not often be able to buy all you need.

Return of the Heroes

Return of the Heroes plays somewhat like prophecy in regard to movement and somewhat like Runebound in the counters being on the map. In the initial set up, there are 2 counters placed face down on each map tile equidistant from each other and the ones on other map tiles. Movement is done by moving along board spaces up to a character’s full movement value. All the spaces on a map are numbered so you can tell where tiles pulled from the bag get placed. As each tile has a different road layout, they also have different numbers of spaces. There is no terrain penalty as all paths are roads, except when they are not. There are hidden paths that connect the normal roads and these paths cannot be crossed unless you have the correct character or can roll equal to or under the number shown on the path, with two dice. For example The Elf special ability is that he/she can find forest paths and the dwarf can find ones in the mountains without rolling. However, the elf would have to roll for mountain passes and the Dwarf would do so in the forest. . The first failure ends the players turn. If they try again the next turn and fail, then they move onto the hidden path anyway, but the turn ends again. This may not seem like a huge problem but some tiles will not allow you to get to the other side unless you cross a hidden path and some quests (discussed later) require you to go to an area with a hidden path. Rather than have to take a long detour, it can be tempting to try for the hidden path but it is a gamble. You could essentially spend two turns of full movement to go one space. So how is it like prophecy? Rather than rolling dice, your movement is a non-random and can be modified by differing modes of transportation. Boots grant you +1 movement, a horse +2, and the single cart in the game brings your movement up to 6. Each turn the character must temporarily stop when he/she lands on a token (upside down or right side up). If it is a quest (a blue bordered counter), they can pick it up (a player may only have 4 active quests at any one time) and end their turn or keep moving and leave it there. If it is an encounter (a green bordered counter) they can do the encounter and end their turn or keep moving. If it s a creature (red border), then it must be fought and the player’s turn ends regardless of the outcome.

Quests are generally of the FedEx variety. Either go to space XY (where x is a Map tile letter and Y is a numbered space on that tile) and get a reward, or got to space XY to get an item and take it to space AB to get a greater reward. Multi-stage quests usually give you one gold for completing the first half and usually a powerful item for the second half. Single stage quests give you gold and/or experience cubes. The game follows a standard replenishment mechanism of adding a counter from the bag when a counter is removed from the board. For quests this means that one is added when a quest is picked up and another is added when the quest is completed.

Encounters vary greatly and offer many options for players. There is a fountain token that heals 1-6 wounds. There is a teleporter that can send a player to different map squares. There is a trainer for each skill that you can use to try to improve your skill values. There is also a tile that allows you to peak at the Villain. These counters stay on the board and any player may access them. There are also 2 market counters that open up when they are drawn from the bag. These sell a variety of items. Anyone who goes to the market can first sell items there to any of the other players (collecting a one gold commission for each item sold) and then buy any items he/she wants. The markets sells horses, boots, single use spell scrolls, weapons that give bonuses to a particular combat type, armor (which is the only way to get extra wounds in the game), and potions for healing.

Combat is very simple, but definitely has some strategy to it. Initially all the counters available are face down on the board, and you will probably face your first combat unprepared. Each creature counter lists what type of combat can be used against it and any modifiers it applies to that combat type. The creature also lists how many wounds it takes to kill it and any special effects it might have. As these are abbreviated, you may be required to look them up in the glossary. The reward for the creature is listed at the bottom of the token in gold and/or experience cubes and some creatures give you an item when defeated. If this is so, it will be on the opposite side of the token. For example, the red knight gives you a shield when you defeat it which is printed on its other side. Some monsters can only be attacked with one type of attack but most can be hit by two or more. Each round of combat, the player selects which combat type to fight with. The player then rolls the number of dice indicated by their experience in that combat type and take the two that are best as his/her roll. If this equals or is lower than the character’s skill in that area, then the creature takes one wound. Most creatures are defeated after one wound but some require multiple wounds to defeat. You continue attacking until you have dealt the requisite number of wounds or you lose a round. If you lose a round, then you lose one wound off your card and your turn is over. If you win, then you get the reward indicated, the defeated creature goes into the bag, and a new counter is pulled from the bag and placed n the space indicated on it. If there is no space indicated (i.e. it’s a defeated monster from those placed face down at the start of the game), then you can place it anywhere you want. You turn then ends.

Combat Example: the elf has a melee of 2, magic of 4, and ranged of 7 with 2 experience cubes in ranged which allows the elf to roll 3 dice in ranged combat and take the lowest two. He comes up against wolves that have a green circle with a 0 on it, a red circle with 0 on it, and a blue circle with a 0 on it. The elf may attack the wolves in melee and try to get a 2 or less on two dice (as he has no melee cubes at this time), in magic with 4 or less on 2 duce, or he can attack it at 7 or less and roll 3 dice. He rolls, 6,2,5. The elf chooses 5 and 2 for his roll and deals one wound to the wolves

The goal of the game is to defeat the “Nameless” in combat. It is called the nameless as a random villain is selected at the beginning of the game and, unless you seek out the blind mice encounter counter, you cannot peek at it until you fight it in the last battle. However, you first have to complete one large quest before you can even fight the nameless. It is like any of the smaller quests except it has its own card and does not count toward your 4 quest limit. It also requires 3 stages to complete. First, the counters you will need to complete the quest need to be on the board. Luckily these counters are invisible to anyone not pursing that quest so other players cannot take you quest items when they show. Usually there is a combat in the quest at some point, and then the player ultimately must return to his starting space to collect a stone (representing a precious stone) that will allow the player to take on the Nameless. An example is:

defeat the bees at XX, take their honey (the other side of the bee token) to the bear at YY. Give the honey to the bear and receive the ring (the opposite side of the bear token). Bring this family relic back home (the player’s home space) and receive a precious stone.

Once the first player completes the first part of a major quest, the nameless counter and some of his minions are placed in the bag. Others are randomly chose and placed on the map coordinate listed for each one. These minions are some of the toughest fights in the game but they usually reward you with two experience cubes. After the quest is completed, the player can go take on the nameless. However, he/she cannot do this until the nameless counter is drawn from the bag. Once it is drawn, it is placed on the tower tile and guardians are also placed on all entrances to the tower. A player who goes to fight the nameless must first defeat a tower guard. Tower guards are never removed from the board and return to play after being defeated. After defeating the tower guard, the player’s character takes on the Nameless the following turn. The character must defeat the nameless in one of the three combat types. Each nameless has a different amount of wounds and different special abilities. 3 of the nameless cannot be combated in one type of combat unless the character obtained the magic weapon for that type. Also, generally there are hefty penalties for combating the nameless (usually a -3 to the skill used). If the player manages to win enough battles to deal the nameless a full compliment of wounds, then that player wins the game. There is no retreating and if the nameless wins enough battles to kill the player’s character, the player gets to start over with only one item (it can be the precious stone), and starting stats.


Game play Summary

So how do these 4 stack up in game play. While all are games of power up my character and race to stomp the boss monster, each plays differently. Prophecy is all about card flopping and getting more cards and better cards than your opponent, with a few surprises thrown in. It can take a long time and can easily become a grind mid-game instead of feeling like a race toward the finish. Also you do not want to own the Altar version of the games. The poorly coated cards and small beads will drive you mad. In many ways Talisman is similar in that you spend much time flopping cards. There are some very entertaining things you can do to other players and you need more of a political bent as players can gang up on the leader easily. However, people who know the game can play it in a decent amount of time. I think talisman would be a much better game if it adopted something similar to the Prophecy movement system. This takes dice out of the equation and reduces “roll and move” frustration. When you come to the last two games, it is apparent that a huge step up has been taken in adventure gaming (both complexity and depth). Runebound is a much more complex game and offers more options and paths to victory. Unfortunately that open enededness tends to disappear mid-game and options decrease sharply after that. You want to be positioned well then, or you could spend the remainder of the game knowing you are out with nothing that can effectively be done. ROTH, I feel, has as much depth as Runebound without as much complexity. I like having two ways to tweak my combat values through raising my stats and also adding dice. I also like how much ROTH feels like a race and you can end up counting the spaces you need to get the jump on someone else. There is plenty of replay value which is a blessing and a curse. You never quite know when something will show up, just where. This can be frustrating if someone is about to take on the nameless and you still need to complete the last part of your quest. However, you don’t have to just sit there. There are always other quests to complete while waiting for yours to show and each one completed adds another draw. There is even an encounter that allows you to select a counter out of the bag instead of pulling it randomly so this luck can be mediated. My game play ratings are as follows:

A word on Editions and Expansions:

While this review is not focused on expansions, I think it is important to take them into consideration when you buy a game.

Talisman probably has the most confusing sets editions and expansions. The third ed., reviewed here, had a town expansion, a dungeon expansion, and the dragon’s tower expansion. All of them added another set of boards to the game with the dragon’s tower being the most impressive. It created a 3D tower board that players climbed to fight the dragon at the top. I cannot honestly evaluate how good the expansions are as they are prohibitively expensive now (they have been out of print for many years). Thus, a buyer of this edition should be very careful. The expansions can run you into the hundreds of dollars. The second edition is also very expensive and it has numerous expansions with the most sought after being the dragon expansion. Again, I cannot comment on these. Probably the most economical choice for a new player is the 4th edition which is not radically different from 3rd edition except for the end game. However, even this edition has another edition. FFG purchased the rights to publish Talisman 4th edition and will ad miniatures back into the game instead of standees. Also, there are expansions planned for it but none have been released as of this writing. IF you like the basic concepts behind talisman you, might want to invest in the forthcoming FFG, version and you can still readily get the 3rd edition if you absolutely must have the exact edition I described.

Prophecy only has two versions that I am aware of, the Version produced by Altar and that produced by Z-Man Games. The Z-Man games version is vastly superior with cubes instead of beads, counters for money/experience, and cards that are somewhat higher quality than the first edition. It has two expansions as of this writing, but neither has been imported yet. They would be very expensive to buy. Z-Man will be releasing these expansions when they are available. I cannot comment on either expansion as I have not played them. At this point, Prophecy is like Talisman 4th Edition. There is plenty of room to expand, but you may be waiting awhile for them to show up.

Return of the Heroes has a total of 3 expansions, of which only one has been released in the states. Under the Shadow of the dragon is the only English language expansion and it is really nice to have. It adds another villain (the dragon), and allows for 5-6 players which gives you the option of playing the Orc, Halfling, or the Paladin. You also get the remaining tiles of the alphabet to create a 26 tile board. This thing is huge but still very fun to play on. You can play the expansion as its own mini game, but it’s not the same as ROTH. You can buy the other expansions for a hefty premium, as they will need to be imported, and you will also have to wade through German language counters. However, I am not convinced these expansions are necessary. The first offers some new characters and counters to create an ROTH game based on Arthurian legend. The second is effectively its own game that you can play and have it affect the main game if you like. It is an underworld expansion and adds alignment to characters and gives you the option of joining the dark side. It appears to be very fun, but is not really necessary for ROTH. So, while the others would be fine additions, I only recommend the Dragon expansion to play a longer game with more players.

Runebound only has two editions so far. I would not recommend the first edition as it used a 20 sided die instead of 2 tens (which tends to minimize very high and very low rolls also) which messes up challenge stats and makes it incompatible with the second edition expansions. While second edition is superior in my opinion, I feel it has become a cash cow for FFG and they keep cranking out decks of cards and new boards for the game at a never-ending pace. You would need to be a real Runebound fanatic to own everything. I think your best value for you money would be to purchase the 3 expansions that come with boards, new heroes, and decks. All the separate decks do is add more creatures, items, encounters, and allies. The character decks are the one exception as they are not just more monsters. These decks add a whole new layer of rules to the game to increase player interaction. While this appears to be a noble aim, it can really slow the game down even more. For a game that becomes somewhat unwieldy with more than 4 players, this is a problem. The other issue I have with character decks is that you have to have one for every player. You can’t just play them out of the box. Everyone needs enough cards to play their character. That means 6 decks if you want to have a full complement. Runebound is a fun game that could probably use streamlining over rules expansion. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend any expansions until you truly tire of the main game. And then I would not create bigger decks, but swap cards in and out instead.

Summary:

All four of the games reviewed offer different play options for different people. ROTH was reviewed the most in depth as I think it is the best of the lot, and this is the forum I’m putting the review in. However, each of the other games have merit, and picking one may be more of finding the right fit for you then on there being an absolute best game. Here I will try to summarize what I feel are the major strengths and weaknesses of each game.

Let’s talk about my ratings underdog first. Prophecy has received many glowing reviews and I initially thought it would be the Talisman killer. It excels with its simple movement mechanic that allows more choice of where to go. Also the generic characters streamline many aspects of the game. Characters get fleshed out by the skills throughout play. Combat is straightforward as are items. The game has two expansions which she should be available soon (which is a year or two in the gaming world) and they may add more novel game play.

Unfortunately it ultimately disappointed me. Like Talisman, the game can run long and feel repetitive. If you get into a position without money, your travel options are greatly reduced and it can be a slog to get where you want to go. The generic characters can also be a minus. I prefer my characters more distinguished in some way. All the characters will likely appear similar at the end of the game. This game is abut card flopping. You will flop hundreds of cards in a full game. Also, the end game will leave many with a bad taste in their mouths. Having to defeat 5 villains and then go into player vs. player combat to take relics from others almost feels anti-climactic and forced. The artwork is not particularly great on the cards. However, I am sure there are many who think it is great. The bits are terrible in the altar version, and the Z-man version is the only version you probably want to get. Now that it is readily available in the US, I think can give older versions of Talisman a runs for its money.

Talisman is the most venerable of all the games reviewed. It has been around, in one iteration or another, forever, or at least as long as I’ve been playing games. I reviewed the 3rd edition of the game. Why Haven’t I reviewed the 4th ed.? Because I’ve never played it. The third Edition is a fine game for what it is, a roll and move board game. I’ll probably get the 4th edition if they come out with an expansion that looks interesting (read, if a 3-D tower is released for it). The board changes based on the cards that come out which adds to replay, and the miniatures can be painted if you like that sort of thing. Also, The game has many of the simple combat mechanisms of prophecy (or more accurately, Prophecy borrowed them from Talisman). I see the major differences between Talisman 3rd Ed. and prophecy to be one of personality. Talisman has such endearing components as toad counters and even has alignment considerations. The ability to get turned into a toad is a nice game mechanic. It doesn’t make the game, but it adds that “personality.” Miniatures also make the game visually more pleasing. The game play is very similar to Prophecy except that movement is better in Prophecy and the end game is more streamlined in Talisman. I have heard of Talisman slug-a-thons that become a grind, but if people are really intent on winning, they can finish the game in a reasonable 2-3 hours.

Talisman’s disadvantages mirror some of Prophecy’s. The game can get repetitive, especially when you need to land on a particular square and cant’ get the roll you need. There is less card flopping. But it is still the same mechanic for resolving encounters. If you don’t like painting miniatures, you end up with gray pawns that are not very attractive. Laughing at someone else getting turned into a toad is fun. Being a toad yourself can really suck. The artwork looks like it belongs to an 80’s heavy metal band. The expansions appear cool, but I’ll never know as they are hideously expensive and can generally only be had on e-bay. Some of these problems could be solved with the 4th edition remake by FFG depending on how the miniatures look and what kind of expansions they make, but that is a big unknown. If they provide expansions to the board and a tower expansion, I’m betting this game will have better legs then Prophecy.

As noted earlier, I think Runebound is a big step up from both prophecy and Talisman. They share the same basic theme and mechanics, but Runebound adds many more rules and options. This increases decision-making which is the heart of most games. You will be making decisions about how to use the movement dice, which attack value to use as you have 3 instead of 2, which level of encounter to fight, and when to go to town. I think the core game is complex but not beyond most gamers. The art is good and the card flopping is high, without being overwhelming. The plethora of counters are easy to understand with no real ambiguity. It has a definite feel of a hero advancing and gaining power. Also the game has more expansions than most people could ever play with in one lifetime. The art is consistently good and has a great fantasy flavor to it.

The disadvantages of this game come from it feeling overly arbitrary at times. For a game with more complex rules and strategy, I want to feel like my decisions matter. The way the dice work, you can have the same frustration as you get from talisman if you can’t roll the terrain you need. I’ve also wondered if they are even necessary or were just put in to give another random element to the game. Movement points would work fine with penalties for moving over difficult terrain. The equipment adds a large amount of randomness. 1 or 2 great items will show up, and it will go to whoever just happens to have the right amount of money and is closest at the time. Some of the items are so powerful that they can single handedly move a floundering player into a run for the win. I would call that a catch up mechanism except that the closest player with money could also be the player who is ahead. The tempo of the game also seems somewhat off. There is a good build up and jockeying for position up to the midpoint and then someone often pulls ahead and eats all the higher level encounters, leaving the other players farther and farther behind. This can leave you with about a quarter of the game to go and the winner already known. Sure all the other players can try to gang the leader, but it is highly likely that the leader will be able to take on the others. This also prevents the other players from advancing and winning themselves. I feels this is more of a problem as the number of players goes up. Also, the more players you have, the longer the game takes. The character’s are not well balanced and some are much more effective than others. I feel the sheer number of expansions works against the game despite the new choices and options they open up. My experience with most board games is that the more expansions you have, the less likely it is to get the game to the table. Rather than spending their time honing and balancing Runebound, I get the feeling that FFG just releases more expansion so the original imbalances get drowned under a bunch of new imbalances.

Return of the Heroes, I feel, is more kindred to Runebound than Talisman or Prophecy. You get the added complexity without suffering from serious balance issues. You get the same feeling of powering up and the need to race to get to the nameless. However, you cannot be directly hindered by other players (they cannot interact with your quest objects), and there is no opportunity for a player to create a scarcity of encounters due to the one pulled off, one put back mechanic. The race always seems close and multiple players can be on the brink of victory at the same time. Unless players are very timid, a game will not last more than 3 hours. ROTH is also the only game to apply set encounters on an open map. In that way it is more similar to Prophecy or Talisman. Runebound only has set encounters when a player fails and is ko’d and these will always by combat encounters. ROTH is also the only game to not only allow you to increase your combat values but also to add dice to your rolls as a way to mediate bad rolls. It is also the only game where the main villain is truly unknown. In all the other games, you will know what the villains are like after playing the game once. ROTH villains are truly different and can be nasty surprises (which can still be mediated).

ROTH is not without its warts. The counters are small and the information is heavily iconized requiring you to have the glossary near for the first few games. It can be hard for players to wrap their heads around the concepts of increased dice vs. raising ones stats. I still sometimes wonder which would be more efficient at any given time. The art work is hit or miss with the board tiles looking nice and the heroes being well done while many of the counters are ugly. It has cardboard standees for the heroes and anyone who is a bits fiend (such as me) will have to find suitable miniatures to replace them. The game is very unforgiving if you die but this will only hurt badly if you do it late in the game. Early in the game it is more like a teleport back home. Limited player interaction could also be seen as a negative point if you want more conflict in your games. The game can take a longer time to set up than most and will require a good knowledge of the rules due to the rulebook not being very accessible.

Overall, I feel Return of the Heroes is the superior choice. You get good depth of play with some randomness but not enough to feel like your choices aren’t important. The game appears well balanced and you will sometimes need to plan your game around your character draw (i.e. the dwarf needs a movement booster badly). There are no overwhelming items. The monsters appear to be a good mixture but can be very difficult to defeat until a player gets more experience. Runebound offers many of the same options but does not appear as well balanced, can play long, and sometimes feels more random which is not always the best in a long game. I think it will work better for those who want the highest quality of bits and can tolerate lack of play balance. Talisman is much more like a traditional board game. It can be fun if you can handle movement determined by dice and get past the tedium of running around in circles. Prophecy will work better for those interested in a light adventure game that has a heavy player vs. player element in the end. You also needed to be able to tolerate a large amount of card flipping and will need to figure out an effective system of organizing cards on the board.

If you made it this far, you should be commended. There is no easy way to compare 4 games and have it come out brief. Even so, I’m sure there are parts of each game that others will think are crucial and I dropped in the interest of some brevity. If you want to read even more, I refer you to my more in-depth reviews completed for Prophecy/Talisman and a forthcoming review for Runebound.

Prophecy vs. Talisman reviews:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/126448
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/136746

Runebound review:
TBA

Edited to add urls for my previous reviews.
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David Anderson
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How funny. My wife and I just finished a game of Return of the Heroes and I was on my way to log our play when I saw your review.

I for one love Return of the Heroes! I own Return of the Heroes and two of it's expansions: Under the Shadow of the Dragon and Die Rückkehr der Helden: Die Gralssuche(the 4th expansion ( Helden in der Unterwelt has been hard for me to find). I also own Talisman (Revised 4th Edition)(I am looking forward to purchasing the FFG Miniatures and future expansions), and Runebound (Second Edition) with about a dozen of the smaller expansions. I have not played Prophecy, so my comments do not reference this game in any way (though it is a game that is on my radar).

Obviously I think all of these games have merit. They all relatively scratch the same itch. Here are the things that I think are important in a game of this genre:

Does it play well with two as most of my games are with my wife?
In order Runebound (Second Edition) (drags a lot with more than two), Return of the Heroes (drags a bit with more than two),Talisman (Revised 4th Edition)(more fun with 3 to 4).

Length of play with two players.
Return of the Heroes, Talisman (Revised 4th Edition), Runebound (Second Edition).
(usually a shorter game is better so Return of the Heroes edges out the other two (about two hours), Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) can also be finished in one setting (1-1/2 to 3 hours), Runebound (Second Edition) usually takes us two nights to play (3 to 4 hours).

Re-playability?
None of these games have worn out their welcome. If I had to predict an order for when they might get old it would be: Return of the Heroes, Talisman (Revised 4th Edition), and Runebound (Second Edition).

Why would this be? Return of the Heroes always has the same quests (though how you carry them out could be very different), Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) has more player interaction, Runebound (Second Edition) has more player interaction, an innovative movement system and more adaptability (you can form a party instead of a solo hero like in the other two games).

Generally we will play these games with these caveats: Return of the Heroes If we want a two hour adventure romp, Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) if we want a less mentally demanding game or if we want an adventure game for more than two, Runebound (Second Edition) if we want to scratch a deeper role-playing adventure party itch, knowing full well it might take more than one session.

I very much appreciate your analysis of these games. They are all quality games (the graphics in Return of the Heroes do take some getting used to, but the other bits in this game make up for the ugly CG graphics though) All of these games are worth owning IMHO.

Edit: corrected the name for the last RoTH expansion. Mistakenly put some Lord of the Rings game instead of "Helden in der Unterwelt". It's German to me.



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Simon Lundström
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To add my cents:
I've played Talisman (countless times), Runebound (once), Return of the Heroes (some 5 times) and World of Warcraft the Adventure game (about 10 times).

My view is that the worst fate for a fantasy adventure game is NOT to be unbalanced. It's being boring, i.e. not surprising often enough. I don't see these games as finely tuned race games, but that these games are supposed to create "stories", meaning a silly combination of events that causes an atmosphere. For that view, downtime, is a big no-no, especially combined with "not really being able to follow what the other guys are up to".

Runebound was actually the game I liked the least, though of course it was just a small glance. Just like you, I felt the race was "over" pretty soon, and the downtime between turns was a killer. It felt like they did Talisman and tried to do it "better" and they did, only forgetting that what made Talisman playable was that rolling die, moving pawn, drawing card was so fast that downtime was less.

Talisman (2nd edition, which by the was is next to indentical to the 4 edition) is still a hit for me. You can start out, and the first card draw a dragon that kills you. That's HILARIOUS. The game is never balanced, it's just a card-flop festa of doom. I have laughed so many times over Talisman, and I still remember many of the funny moments from years ago. Like, when someone drew a card that let him draw three more cards, and the cards he drew was like dragon, demon and Mephistofeles. His face at that moment was priceless, and the pictures on the cards in combination were so funny I literaly started crying of laughter.
Talisman's biggest drawback is that there is no timer of doom, so people tend to run around forever just grinding stuff, as it's much more fun drawing cards than winning.

Return of the Heroes is what I believe is the most best-tuned of these games. Actually, mostly because the downtime is next to none. If your turn takes more than 20 seconds, you're doing something wrong. Sometimes, your turn can take 5. I also love the way the random encounters get slowly taken away, and the board slowly populated with different stuff. I like that there is much more incentive to travel than in other games; it's not jut monsters like in Runebound. I like the fact that you draw stuff from a bag instead of a deck of cards; this means that new chits can easily be shuffled in without having to re-shuffle a deck all the time. Which means, that the game is set up so stuff really changes when certain chits are drawn, and then some new, dangerous chits can be added to the draw bag, sort of "scripting" the story of the game.
I'd love for Pegasus Spiele to just put out simple expansions with new chits. It's a pity the modular board limits this a little (as some of the stuff is actually part of the illustrations on the board). But it's the most interesting and tantalizing game system of them all. Unfortunately, I absolutely hate the art.

World of Warcraft the Adventure game I find is a RotH made a bit complex without nexessarily increasing downtime that much. Like in Roth, the quests you have to solve in order to win is mostly travelling across the board (or fighting a special type of monster) but all the while, you're encountering fights all the time, that can land you some nice equipment. All characters have a deck of cards with special abilities, that they draw cards from now and then. I found that system strange at first but nice after a while.
One of the drawback with WoW:tag is that you have to take care for the game not to drag, I actually find that some people don't want to end their turn… they pore over their cards desperately for "isn't there something else I can do, too?" instead of just handing the dice to the next person. Another drawback is that the map graphics is a bit… sad. It doesn't look like a map, and that is actually more a drawback than it may sound, in my eyes. And a third drawback is that I often find the end-game be a bit anti-climatic. You can defeat some bosses to land you many victory points, and it's often that you find that "OK, I have four points, I can reach boss X and then I have a 33% chance to win, and else I'll have to go back and heal and…" which is rather… boring. I like these bosses, but I think the rules should have made those fights a little more special, taking a little more time and being a little more than just one single die roll (after playing cards). After all, a boss fight in WoW:tag will take place once, perhaps twice in a whole game so even if such a fight takes 5 minutes, it's not bad, especially not if the other players can watch.

So it's a tie between RotH and WoW:tag for me. I scored WoW:tag higher, because I can also enjoy recognizing stuff from the online game, and the art is much better. Had the art in RotH been better, and if they had skipped having pre-printed stuff on the board, thus more easily changing the story by just adding new counter chits, it would have been a 10 that one too.
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Volker Hirscher
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Wow, finally someone who thinks the same as I do! I also prefer RotH by far - I did not like the permanent fighting in Runebound, and I think the quests in RotH are by far more interesting. I also did not like the dice-roll-frustration in Talisman.

I always thought I am the only one who prefers Roth - good to know I am not
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Thanks all for the comparisons and commentary.

This would just about be the first post that has allowed me to eliminate some games from my Wanted List.

I have Talisman 4th Ed. and am happy that FFG will likely breath new life into it.

Prophecy and Runebound are not needed in my collection.

RoTH though looks neat and I'll be happy to pick it up in the next year.
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Gunther Schmidl
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turtleback wrote:
(the 4th expansion (Der Herr der Ringe: Die Rückkehr des Königs has been hard for me to find).


I think you may mean Helden in der Unterwelt, since the one you mentioned is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

I find that this "expansion" isn't really one: to make it work with the main game is a pain, and to play it on its own is not interesting.

One of the mechanics is "dark cubes" that you can collect instead of the normal colored cubes, which prevent you from gaining more colored cubes until you get rid of them. However, if you choose to join the dark side, they work almost as normal

And unfortunately the rules assume that you don't join the dark side because you're a hero. Except I bet someone will. And then they'll win, because it's much, much easier. Thanks to that fundamental flaw, we played it once, then I sold it on.
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Quote:
the 4th expansion (Der Herr der Ringe: Die Rückkehr des Königs has been hard for me to find

Well, I hope that's not because you're looking for the wrong game there. Since the 3rd expansion is actually called "Helden in der Unterwelt". No relation to Tolkiens work. It is still available on amazon.de.
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Zimeon wrote:

My view is that the worst fate for a fantasy adventure game is NOT to be unbalanced. It's being boring, i.e. not surprising often enough. I don't see these games as finely tuned race games, but that these games are supposed to create "stories", meaning a silly combination of events that causes an atmosphere. For that view, downtime, is a big no-no, especially combined with "not really being able to follow what the other guys are up to".


I'm not sure we mean the same thing by balanced/imbalanced.

I do see what you are talking about and I think the criticisms leveled against ROTH about being "dry" come from people who may feel it is too balanced in the way your are talking. Although, it's still easy for your first encounter to be a creature that you can't fight with your best combat ability. Then its just as good as encountering a dragon. You lose.

However, when I talk about balance, I'm referring to what I perceive as "features" of the game that create problems with how it plays. I was specifically referring to Runebound in that department as it has enough cards and options for killer combos to rise up in a game. While, I think this was intended, one player can easily end up leaving everyone else in the dust. While this is fine in a short game such as Magic: the Gathering. It is not nearly as exciting in a long game such as Runebound.

I'll use the example of Battlemage Jaes Vs. Bogrun. The Battlemage is one of the few characters in Runebound that has a built in method of upping his damage. If he can find an item that helps him with exhaustion, then he sails through encounters. Bogrun has the special ability of fleeing combat for free. This does not help him defeat encounters like Jaes' ability does. Which does nto give experience, which does not help him level up. He's stuck trying to find ways to up his damage and get the other survival equipment While the Battlemage does not have to worry about increasing damage. Thus, in a long game, Jaes can be trashing the place while Bogrun is still low level. To me that is an imbalance. It would be fine if we played for twenty-30 minutes, one player lost and then everyone switched characters. I think it is the kiss of death in a 3+ hour game.

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I'm the odd one out on these games, RotH being my least favorite. I suppose part of it is because, due to the bag draws, it seems someone who could win, always loses because a specific token is not drawn. In fact, it seems the winner typically is the one who has their needed tokens drawn first, which was a BIG thing which would lower it for us. For us, RotH wasn't balanced overall in that way, because it was completely luck based on who won. Who ever got their token drawn first...wins!

But GREAT review. Each of us have different preferences, and different things we enjoy. I like Runebound the best, but I like reviews which go in depth, which yours does.

Glad you prefer RotH, it is still a nice game. Nice review and thanks for writing it.
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gschmidl wrote:
turtleback wrote:
(the 4th expansion (Der Herr der Ringe: Die Rückkehr des Königs has been hard for me to find).


I think you may mean Helden in der Unterwelt, since the one you mentioned is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.



Right you are. Thanks.
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I just recently bought RotH and have yet to play. I must say the rules are simply atrocious in their layout and presentation of needed information. With that said, I have Under the Shadow of the Dragon en route and it should arrive Tuesday (9/16).

Once I figure these rules out it looks to be an enjoyable game; one which I am looking forward to playing.
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Great comparison/review. My wife and I love playing both ROTH and Prophecy. We usually speed up ROTH a little by drawing again if you draw an heroic quest chit that no one needs. When we play Prophecy, we play the variant that the first to claim 2 artifacts is the winner. But right now, I think I like Return of the Heroes the best, despite the horrid old-generation computer art on the markers. I like the randomness of the map and the big baddie, and also the fact that the character boards are large enough to keep all your stuff organized.

as far as:
Faithful wrote:
... the rules are simply atrocious in their layout and presentation of needed information.


I agree. Check the ROTH page here in the files section, and you'll find a simplified, organized version of the rules. It helps a lot.
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Well done! I love ROTH. I have yet to play Prophecy. I like Runebound but not as much as ROTH for similar reasons.
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Faithful wrote:
I just recently bought RotH and have yet to play. I must say the rules are simply atrocious in their layout and presentation of needed information.


Sorry I didn't include a rules review, but they are the worst of the lot. If I had to rate them it would probably be Talisman (due to simplicity), Prophecy, Runebound, and last would be ROTH.
 
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Cheers, for the write-up. I've played a couple of these and have wondered what the others offer and this gives me that information easily. I don't play any of these games too competitively as I don't think that is theri purpose, and find Talisman is still good because of its rules for attacking other players. However I do find this and Runebound can take too long so RotH may enter my collection at some stage.
 
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Excellent review! My impression is very similar to yours. Having played Talisman, Prophecy and ROTH, I like the last one the best. I never picked up Runebound due to the greater complexity of the rules but especially due to the duration and issues with downtime.

Talisman is an ok game but the roll and move and the whole game feel very dated.

Prophecy is a decent game and may have the most elegant rules but the duration is prohibitive for us. Furthermore, for the type of play these games provide, they should only last so long.

Return of the Heroes is our favorite. Perfect duration, random map, simple rules, good balance between battle-type and pick up and delivery-type of quests. I would like to see more variety in the combat encounters. In the end, this is the only of these games that we still play.
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Merric Blackman
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Good review, although it's a pity you reviewed Talisman 3e rather than one of the others. 1e, 2e and 4e are the same game. Talisman 3e is a different game with some mechanics the same.

Cheers,
Merric
 
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MerricB wrote:
Good review, although it's a pity you reviewed Talisman 3e rather than one of the others. 1e, 2e and 4e are the same game. Talisman 3e is a different game with some mechanics the same.

Cheers,
Merric


As far as Talisman goes, from the rules and duration standpoint, I like the 3rd edition. The game is end as soon as the Dragon is defeated and the Crown captured, preventing the game from dragging even longer. Although, I like that 4th edition included some variants to speed the game up a bit.
 
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Faithful wrote:
I just recently bought RotH and have yet to play. I must say the rules are simply atrocious in their layout and presentation of needed information. With that said, I have Under the Shadow of the Dragon en route and it should arrive Tuesday (9/16).

Once I figure these rules out it looks to be an enjoyable game; one which I am looking forward to playing.


I'm with you. I've played all four of the games under discussion, and the rules for RotH are a complete disaster.

Adding in the expansion, which I also did, makes it even worse. There's no proper organization of data at all, and with the expansion, now there's two books to page through, which includes potential errata/addenda modifying the basic rules.

I'm with the original reviewer, though. I strongly agree that RotH is the best of the lot. I just can't get myself to pull it out again and wade through all that garbage.

Unless I (or someone else) comes up with a total rules clarification and reorganization.
 
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rumble wrote:
Unless I (or someone else) comes up with a total rules clarification and reorganization.


Many people like this file:

http://files.boardgamegeek.com/geekfile_view.php?fileid=2823...

Or, you can try my favorite:

http://files.boardgamegeek.com/geekfile_view.php?fileid=1833...
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MerricB wrote:
Good review, although it's a pity you reviewed Talisman 3e rather than one of the others. 1e, 2e and 4e are the same game. Talisman 3e is a different game with some mechanics the same.

Cheers,
Merric



I personally have misgivings about the endgame in the 4th edition. It seems like it could drag for a long time. the Third is is really not dramatically different except for the simplified "Fight the dragon king to win" end game. The fact that it is faster, is a good thing in my books.
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I've just got back into fantasy boardgames and was looking for something similar but different from the Talisman I used to play.

I managed to get a good deal on Ebay for Runebound and some of the expansions and I have to say that my friends and I really enjoy it. We use some of the variant rules from this site and take the step of rolling the movement dice as the last player is finishing their move to cut down on downtime.

I'm interested in RotH though, so I might pick it up at some point.
 
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This is a great review! I haven't played RotH but once, but I do have a complete copy of Talisman 2nd.

The one time I played, several of us noticed that it seemed very similar to Magic Realm. Since we only played it the once, I'm not sure how true that really is, but I certainly thought the comparison was apt.
 
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As someone else said before me: "WOW!" I mean Jason you may have won the coveted "Longest Review on BGG" award without knowing it. Holy Cr*p.

There's so much in your review that I can't imagine actually attempting to respond to even a majority of the points. But I'm definitely going to "thumbs up" this review and if I can geek-gold you for all that effort, I will.

I've played all 4 games and own 3 with some of the expansions. I don't own Talisman but I might if FFG publishes it without some of the errors that littered the 4th edition.

Viva la Gaming and bgeeks like Jason!
 
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This is a terrific review!

For what its worth, I've only ever played Talisman 2nd edition and ROTH... and I HATED ROTH.

One thing the review didn't seem to cover (intentionally?) was clarity of rules and tokens. That was the one thing about ROTH I absolutely loathed - they were the worst set of rules I've ever encountered. And the other thing that got me about ROTH was the lack of involvement with the characters - it just seemed a long, drawn out, move here-get that-move somewhere-else exercise. Boring.

I'm not saying Talisman is without flaws - but it wins over ROTH every time.

But a thumbs up for a great review

 
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