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Subject: Runewars - More runes than wars rss

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Emivaldo Sousa
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Runewars is not what I expected it to be. Maybe fooled by the title, I was kind of hoping it was a wargame, or, at least a more conventional wargame.

Well, it is, actually, a game of accumulating runes and although some of them you will win by getting your hands dirty, it is quite possible to win the game without winning a single battle against another player.

In fact, it is quite common to go through the first half of the game without any significant conflict among the players. The map is big, and unless the setup was really bad, you can easily get by with the resources around you, but I’m ahead of myself here, let’s talk a little bit about the game in some detail.

Components:
Everything in the box is FFG quality. The miniatures are definitely smaller than other offers from the publisher, but they are nice enough and the small scale makes it easier to find a table in which the game can actually be played.

Make no mistake, when everything is set up it still will occupy a lot of space, but this is no World of Warcraft - The Board Game for sure.

Rules and rulebook:
Well, the rules are online so I won’t get into details here. But basically, each player controls a race in the Runebound universe (Humans, Elfs, Undead and Demons). The rulebook is much better than other FFG products, and although the rules have a lot of details, it is quite easy to find everything.

However, this is the kind of game that will make you go back to the rulebook while playing, especially on the first sessions. And from time to time, you can expect to find yourself browsing a faq or BGG looking for some clarification.

The fate deck:
Everything in the game revolves around the fate deck - a bunch of cards that determines: combat results, diplomacy and hero quests.

I like the system, but it generates some drawbacks:

1. The combat is less intuitive: if you know your unit only hits on a 6 when rolling a die, you intuitively know the odds you are facing, and you can make quick decisions with that information. With the fate cards, you have to learn the odds before making quick, but sound tactical decisions. Not a dealbraker, but the game is not short, and these little time eaters might add up.

Also, I’ve seen a bunch of players relying too much on turtling, taking the easy way out and avoiding making odds assessment, but just venturing forth after making sure they have an army as big s possible, which also drags the game a little.

2. Diplomacy is limited: Diplomacy is really useful to make monsters run. The odds to make an alliance with the monsters are too low and the amount of influence you usually have to spend are almost always better used elsewhere.

Counting the cards on the deck works to a certain extent and it is quick if you are looking for just the four successes, but I guess it is more useful in the Hero quests, since most of them will be successful if you get a neutral result as well.

3. It is not as quick as rolling dice.

The gameplay:
When it works, it works beautifully. In fact, I think the whole system is quite neat with a lot of borrowed things from Twilight Imperium and Nexus Ops, but it will sometimes fail to feel epic, because:

1. Someone might win before any significant battle happens. It is not that common, but it can happen, and it is frustrating to see all those units prepared to fight coming back to the box, without a scratch on them.

The map offers a lot of space for the factions and most of those spaces are not really worth to fight for until later in the game. The cities offer nice bonuses, but if every player has one (which is often the case) the motivation to conquer another diminishes. After all, you don’t want to be unprepared when those runes start to show up.

Also, I just think the board has too many mountains and rivers/lakes, which further delays battle, making terrain hard to navigate.
Neutral units are a nice idea, but fighting them is almost all the time very easy. The idea of having them in your army is also great, but it rarely happens and, guess what: they also delay the fight among the players.

Heroes are OK. I like the way they are implemented (specially when using the exploration tokens), but they are yet another excuse to not get into a fight, as you can invest on them to get some runes without losing troops.

No wonder the Elves are so popular, as they have the means to grow quickly on the influence run, although they are not that good in direct confrontation.

This makes Runewars look like a bad game, but it is far from the truth. You see, all those things are random and may or may not happen considering the initial setup, group thinking, experience with the game, etc. So chances are, the more you play the game, the better you will enjoy it.

Runewars is not too complex, but will certainly benefit from the players experience, because I think the right mindset is key to enjoy it. Battle between the players won’t always be the focus of the experience, but once you are passed that, you will find a game that offers some nice tactical and strategic choices to make.
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Lukasz P
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You mentioned Warcraft BG - it's another FFG "war" game, in which (depending on the scenario) someone may win without fighting with other players. There are other similarities: neutrals, heroes, fragmented map.

I wonder if any compare review would have some sense.
 
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Good review.

I liked it a bit better than you, but still I agree with most of your points. I saw the game as a nice past-time with a winner determined at the end, however. It was like it didn't matter who got the most dragon runes at the end: they were there during the game, and everybody saw them, but besides that, nobody paid any attention to them. Victory was eventually determined by a difference of 3 influence points, mainly due to the influence-title.

The game has one of the most elaborate boards I've ever seen. Interesting build-up of the board and the mountains kinda blew my mind. Probably, relatively not the most expensive addition to this game, but it definitely added to the production value.
During the game, most of my time was spend fighting through a deadlock on one position (an other player had put a stronghold in reach of the heart of my territory, while he should have kept on his side of the 'river', claiming he did it to prevent ME from attacking HIM. While he could have grabbed 3 easy tokens very quickly and expaned from there. Aargh, his territory was one long bottleneck, why did he have to cross that river? Clearly, some people have no grasp of diplomacy or tactics)
Anyway, dragon tokens had no role in this game, we just played the game of 'expand your empire'.

First thing that came to mind, even before starting, was that the fate cards are the worst thing in this game. Yes, they make it little intuitive what your units are capable off. In fact, the whole game is one big "let's see what happens this time" and it is a bit difficult to decide on your tactics in detail the first time you play. And this is a game most players will play only once anyway, so most of the time it will be like this. But I don't see this as a flaw, it just generates a different kind of game. You manage your kingdom and hope your peons do what they do best.
Second thing about the fate cards, is that they are too small. For being the most important cards and most frequent handled cards in the game, you'd expect them to be bigger and more easily handleable. Smaller cards must be cheaper, but it's a weird spot to start saving on you printing costs, FF.

Yes, diplomacy doens't do very much. I had a lucky draw once, near the end of the game and as such my allies didn't do that much. If I had known, I wouldn't have spent 10 influence over the course of the game (mostly in the first turns) on this.
Yes, heroes aren't that useful. I immediatly saw them as a flavorful side-game that added to the epic atmosphere. Some other players went to length to do cool stuff with them, but compared between the two approaches, there was no real difference. We attacked even when there were no dragon runes present, so scouting wouldn't have made an impact on our plans anyway.
Yes, it's not as quick as rolling dices, but it doens't distract that much from the game, and it probably would be more of a hassle to use a different reference table for each of the unit types.

I think the last battle, decided between us who was first and who was second, so there's quite a random. But, like I said, nobody cared who had won two minutes after finishing.

The game also boiled a bit down to who had the most/right/best tactic cards, but they were quite flavorful and as long as you were not too much on the wrong side of them, you didn't care that much. It's not like the game was decided because of intricate tactical plans anyway. Maybe I would get more annoyed by them if I played this game more often, but considering the size and playing length of this, I guess this is a issue very few people will face.

One thing that bothered me, and that I haven't seen in other reviews, is about the amount of Decks and the lack of clear statement on which cards make out which Deck. First 15 minutes were literaly spent figuring out which one was Faith, Destiny, Quest, Season, Territory, Title, Objective, Tactic, Strategy, Order, Whatever...
Besides the needless and easily avoidable hassle, it felt a bit like the game itself was on 11 diferent kinds of life support to help it along through the 24 turns. This feeling quickly drifted away, but still... this is one of those games where the basic game is actually pretty boring and is kept fun by use of all its side-games.
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Alexey Bobrov
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Robin2 wrote:

One thing that bothered me, and that I haven't seen in other reviews, is about the amount of Decks and the lack of clear statement on which cards make out which Deck. First 15 minutes were literaly spent figuring out which one was Faith, Destiny, Quest, Season, Territory, Title, Objective, Tactic, Strategy, Order, Whatever...
B


On the first pages of the rulebook there is a very clear Component breakdown with all the tokens and cards pictured (two sides) and described.
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Emivaldo Sousa
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World of Warcraft the Boardgame also lacks confrontation, but the focus of the game is clearly on adventuring (you may or may not like that, but it is what it is).

I found that the large map and eventual lack of confrontation in Runewars much more frustrating.

in any case, both games have a very different feel from each other. I like World of Warcraft better, though, not for a rational reason, just a matter of preference...
 
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SeeM wrote:
You mentioned Warcraft BG - it's another FFG "war" game, in which (depending on the scenario) someone may win without fighting with other players. There are other similarities: neutrals, heroes, fragmented map.

I wonder if any compare review would have some sense.


My bad - in the review I ment to say World of Warcraft, and you are right to point out the similarities between both games. The whole presentation of Runewars does a lot for me, but I think both games are on an equal foot in terms of fun.
 
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They'd better put one there, or it would have been worse. What I was saying is that it wouldn't hurt the game if they had done a bit more effort to give a better oversight to this game. Like a storage board (Settlerssprings to mind) or adding titles to the cards. 11 decks ís a bit much to handle on intuition..

Also, a length review gets 0 thumbs and a thinly veiled remark that whoever explained the rules to us was either a bit visually or mentally challenged gets 3? I'm no thumbwhore, but that feels a bit harsh
 
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zinho73 wrote:
SeeM wrote:
You mentioned Warcraft BG - it's another FFG "war" game, in which (depending on the scenario) someone may win without fighting with other players. There are other similarities: neutrals, heroes, fragmented map.

I wonder if any compare review would have some sense.


My bad - in the review I ment to say World of Warcraft, and you are right to point out the similarities between both games. The whole presentation of Runewars does a lot for me, but I think both games are on an equal foot in terms of fun.


Well, IMO they both *suffer* from the same mechanic. In RTS this gets called "swamping tactics", I believe. It happens when an RTS provides an ample suply of resources and there is an absense of tactical complexity (not strategic), meaning that you can just as well push your units forward, instead of manouvering them. Anyway, the result is that every game ends up as a reverse tug-of-war, with each player shoving military units towards the enemy camp, pushing enemy units ever backwards in a very narrow line. All the way until the camp is destroyed. The first Total Annihilation was notorious (or at least a bit famous) this, but it was the bane of every other RTS ever since.

World of Warcraft was just like this. And Runewars would have ended the same, weren't it for the 11 decks that keep the game (pretty) interesting. Because of the abundance of stuff to do in this game, it got an 8 after first play. WoW got a 6 or 5 IIRC.
 
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David desJardins
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Robin2 wrote:
Well, IMO they both *suffer* from the same mechanic. In RTS this gets called "swamping tactics", I believe. It happens when an RTS provides an ample suply of resources and there is an absense of tactical complexity (not strategic), meaning that you can just as well push your units forward, instead of manouvering them.


I'd call that a strength. But then I'm not interested in micromanaging RPS confrontations all over the map.
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It's not my cup of tea (since it doens't scratch my tactical itch), but I'm actually glad this mechanic doesn't seem to bother a lot of the wargamers.

Anyway, what do you some of you think about the 'one rond of combat' battles in which the strong, expensive units never perform at all. It didn't bother me, since I didn't look at it as a tactical game (in fact, the game would play - but not feel - the same if you just calculated battles by substracting the majority from the minority and leave the remainder standing). But some people were bothered by it. Now I wonder, if you don't mind the tactical aspect is as straight forward as tug of war, what do you think of the battles?
Or is it just about the illusion or the feel of battles? Because that has very little to do with how good this game is itself.
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David desJardins
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Robin2 wrote:
Anyway, what do you some of you think about the 'one rond of combat' battles in which the strong, expensive units never perform at all.


I have no idea what you mean. Maybe you're playing something wrong? All of the units participate in battle. Are you talking about battles in which one side is so strong that they kill all of the enemy units with just some of their units? If the battle is one-sided, then it's one-sided. I don't see that as a problem. The multiple-hit units are still useful for absorbing damage, even if they aren't needed to inflict damage because the enemy is already dead.
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I'm talking about battles in which the expensive unit draws a dud. Most, if not all, battles end after the first round due to 1 army fleeing because of having less units.

Edit: anyway, I don't have a problem with it. Some have. The tactical choices (which units to take and which to leave) don't weigh very heavy in this game. You said it. If a battle is one sided, there is little you can do. That made me wonder what people liked about the battles in the first place, since the only tactic is to swamp the opponent until he leaves and gives up. Not exactly Desert fox-stuff.
 
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David desJardins
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Robin2 wrote:
I'm talking about battles in which the expensive unit draws a dud.


Hmm? The stronger units have better odds, but they aren't 100% of course. Who would want them to be? I don't think a deterministic combat system would improve the game.

Quote:
That made me wonder what people liked about the battles in the first place, since the only tactic is to swamp the opponent until he leaves and gives up. Not exactly Desert fox-stuff.


I am still not sure I understand your point. The tactics of the game include selecting orders, deciding where and when to attack, and so on. But sure, you certainly don't have much in the way of tactical choices like, "I'll build an army of pikemen because my opponent has lots of mounted troops.". I don't miss that one bit. The system, especially since the figures are limited, means that everyone is going to have a similar overall strength of forces, at least if they put a similar emphasis on building troops, and so the confrontations are going to be decided primarily by who chooses to fight where.
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Robin2 wrote:
I'm talking about battles in which the expensive unit draws a dud.


Hmm? The stronger units have better odds, but they aren't 100% of course. Who would want them to be? I don't think a deterministic combat system would improve the game.



I love it how any argument about the influence about random factors always get polarised. between the current position and pure determinism. It's almost like godwin's law of game design.
But you're probably right that a deterministic game system wouldn't do the game do any good, despite the fact that it wouldn't change the outcome of the game much. But it's about the "feeling" after all.
 
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Emivaldo Sousa
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I like the battles as they are, with two exceptions:

1. As I stated in my review, it is somewhat difficult to understand your odds, specially when you throw special powers in, when it will become clear that sometimes your most powerful option will not be the most "expensive" unit.

2. There's not enough combat. The game quite often ends right when everyone is ready to go at each other.
 
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Joseph LaClair
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Robin2 wrote:


I liked it a bit better than you


Hey! Just because you don't agree with him doesn't give you the right to insult him.

Nice review.
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David Jackman
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Good review!

I dont think i saw anyone mention this, so I will (Like i always do):

If you want more conflict: Epic Variant.
It isnt as epic as you might think, though it is admittedly a bit longer. Bumps the game from 3-4 hours to 4-5 hours. It is still possible to end with very little conflict, but highly unlikely.

I think you see more of the empires rising and falling (I remember one game where it went from the undead controlling half the map to controlling only 2 territories outside of their home) and just, in general, leads to a cooler, more narrative experience.

An extra hour or so? sure. But at this point epic is so much better for my groups' bloody playstyle that we either make time for epic or play something else.
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Everett Scheer
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I agree with the OP's perspective that this game is more rune than wars. That is the objective; control 6 dragon runes. I however don't have a problem with that... by the rules, there are multiple ways to get dragon runes. Warring is one way (last night the second place player took 2 dragon runes in an opponents home realm). Completing objectives (which often require combat) is another. Questing (or killing opposing heroes) is yet another. And lastly, influence bids. Coming into this game thinking it's a war game will disappoint you.

The fate deck is, well, a deck with odds. It is different than rolling dice (dependant vs independant), but not horribly. Somebody has made charts for each type of unit and what their miss/damage/rout/proc %'s are (based on a full deck). Maybe these would be helpful to hand out to players? I have no qualms with this random aspect of combat.

Waiting until you've amassed a large army will cause you to fall behind. IMO you need to call at least 2 (if not all) of the #1-3 orders a year. Turtleing is only an option once you have sufficient resources and land space.

I agree that diplomacy is limited (or moreso completely random). However it gives you something to do with mobilize. It gives a high risk/reward chance of getting units with influence rather than resources. I am not a fan of the s/n/f of the fate cards though.

With the way the game is, it can end before there's much combat, or there can be a lot of combat before it ends. It is dependant on many facotrs; the play group being one of the more important ones.

I like the rivers/mountains as it causes "paths" to manuever in. It can allow for strategic strongholds to block or attack, and IMO forces more combat than less.

Heroes are kind of a side game in and of itself. They themselves are a reason to get into duels, especially if they get a good weapon reward.

There are 2 parts that rub me the wrong way:
1) the quest/diplo success "lottery" can be annoying. Flip four fails, then the next allies units for 1. This *seems* to be considerably more variant than the way combat works.
2) Tactics cards can be extremely strong or weak. I had a huge boon first year in the last game where I played lost city on the 3 iron hex which was 3 spaces from my home stronghold. When compared with tactics like scorched earth, one could feel slighted.
 
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Emivaldo Sousa
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Thanks you all for the comments and observations. The game can sure play in a lot of varied ways. It can be good or it can be bad, depending on expectations and personal tastes.

Heroes can be just one more thing to do or vital to your strategy, variants like the exploration tokens and the epic version can also change the tune a little bit, etc.

I just think that sometimes the drive to push forward with your units is not there. More resources are nice, but unless you really need them, it is not very wise to thin your forces for that extra wood (it might be for two extra ore, though).
Also, you don't want to delve too much into enemy territory too early, as you are just painting a target on your head. It is almost always more effective to move your troops just for the kill, grabbing that last one or two runes needed for victory.

In Nexus Ops, if you win a combat, you gain 1 Victory Point. In Dust, you always have a Victory Point place to assault on your turn. In Starcraft, gaining territory is a matter of Victory Points and quite often survival (as resources are not so plenty).

I think that Runewars is definitely more slow paced than those offers. You can still call it war, I guess (Cold war is war, right?), but it is good to know beforehand that combat may not be the best path to victory in this one. I'm obviously not considering combat with the neutral units as it is mostly uneventful.

About the mountains and rivers: I like the tactical value of some obstacles, but it is unnervingly easy to make long corridors with the amount of impassible terrain provided. It can be prevented, but you really have to pay attention on the setup, and be prepared for weird terrain configuration in your first plays.


Best.
 
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David desJardins
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zinho73 wrote:
About the mountains and rivers: I like the tactical value of some obstacles, but it is unnervingly easy to make long corridors with the amount of impassible terrain provided.


But why is that bad? It seems all part of the map construction. It will be good for some players and bad for others, different players have different objectives and so of course they will push the map in different directions.
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Emivaldo Sousa
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DaviddesJ wrote:
zinho73 wrote:
About the mountains and rivers: I like the tactical value of some obstacles, but it is unnervingly easy to make long corridors with the amount of impassible terrain provided.


But why is that bad? It seems all part of the map construction. It will be good for some players and bad for others, different players have different objectives and so of course they will push the map in different directions.


For my tastes I would prefer a little bit less of impassible terrain, so I guess this is bad for me. But is not a bad thing in itself, as some players really like the setup mini-game.

I like it on Starcraft, because you have more control on where your base will be. On Runewars you really have to try to make things very balanced and the ammount of impassible terrain makes it very easy to isolate someone - that may or may not be you.

But I agree with you. This is a feature, not a failure. The added dificulty to place the terrain can be easily viewed as an interesting puzzle.
 
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David desJardins
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zinho73 wrote:
On Runewars you really have to try to make things very balanced and the ammount of impassible terrain makes it very easy to isolate someone - that may or may not be you.


Why do you have to try to make things balanced?? During setup, you know who is going to get first choice of location. That player, at least, does not want the map to be very balanced.
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
zinho73 wrote:
On Runewars you really have to try to make things very balanced and the ammount of impassible terrain makes it very easy to isolate someone - that may or may not be you.


Why do you have to try to make things balanced?? During setup, you know who is going to get first choice of location. That player, at least, does not want the map to be very balanced.


And he is probably the only one.

In any case, the fact remains that not even that player can know for sure where he is going to start untill the Home Realm setup markers are placed. So balance is a safe bet for everyone.

Of course, perfect balance is impossible and not even desirable on this kind of game, but a more or less even distribution of cities and resources would be nice. At least in my opinion.

In the end of the day, however, this is a minor thing. My point is that the isolation that sometimes comes from the setup is another thing that contributes to the slow pace of the game.

Best.
 
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zinho73 wrote:
In any case, the fact remains that not even that player can know for sure where he is going to start untill the Home Realm setup markers are placed.


He doesn't need to know where he's going to start. He just has to know that it's better for him if some starting positions are better than others, i.e., if the map is unbalanced.
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Peter Gousis
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zinho73 wrote:

2. There's not enough combat. The game quite often ends right when everyone is ready to go at each other.


The Epic Version solves this. I think the Epic Version playing to 7 stones with only 1 at the start is a much better game. And it really isn't that much longer either.
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