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Subject: Thoughts on the 2-player experience with Rune Age rss

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Merric Blackman
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Of the various boardgames that Fantasy Flight Games has set in Terrinoth, their fantasy setting, I'm most fond of Descent which, despite being long and just a bit tricky to transport, does end up being a really good game. Runewars is also pretty enjoyable and I haven't been able to play it as much as it deserves. Runebound, on the other hands, has a great solo system and is horrible and boring once you try to play it with someone else. FFG have great components, but their games tend to be a little inconsistent in quality of gameplay.

I was really looking forward to Rune Age, and jumped on it as soon as it came into my FLGS. Sarah was about, so we immediately played three games. We thought it was okay, but dull. On the weekend, I had another two games with Rich... and got the same reaction. The game isn't bad... but it's flat. Why is that?

Please note that this review is basically looking at the 2-player version of the game. This is important in view of the comments to the original review.

Rune Age basically sits within the deckbuilding genre of games: games where you start with a basic set of cards and then add cards to your deck and remove cards to make it better as the game progresses. The game certainly owes much to Dominion, but it alters the experience by having some cards remain permanently in play once bought/earned and by having an event deck which provides challenges for the players - either cards to gain or events to overcome.

Four scenarios (each with their own event deck) come with the game. Basically they boil down to a player vs. player (elimination) scenario, a co-operative scenario, a race (limited interaction) scenario, and a 'balanced' scenario that is both a race but features player elimination. Two of the scenarios can be played solo, all scenarios can be played with 2-4 players.

With Dominion, you buy everything with Gold. Rune Age has three currencies: Gold, Influence and Military Power. Most cards can only be "bought" with one of those currencies; a few can be bought with two. Each player has a set of cards (units and strongholds) that only they can buy and are distinct for each faction, and then there is a set of global cards in the centre of the table which anyone can earn: cities, 3 neutral cards, three Gold cards (1, 2 and 3 values) and any earnable cards from the event deck.

Cards that provide influence generally are permanent and sit in front of you. Cards that provide gold or military might sit in your deck. There's a tension between needing the two, which makes getting the right balance important.

In most games, you can attack the other player's holdings to gain control of them, at which point it becomes a battle between the military cards you hold and the cards they hold; at the end of the turn, both players will draw back up to a full hand, so in a multi-player game there isn't a disadvantage to the player attacked.

All of this works: you're making decisions about what cards to put in your deck, and trying to optimise everything properly. It plays differently than Dominion and Thunderstone (and Quarriors), but the gameplay works and it should be quite entertaining. We didn't find it so.

The trouble comes from the lack of variety in the game. Once you choose your scenario, the three neutral cards are determined by the scenario you're playing. The cities available might be random, but they're not particularly interesting in effect, just giving 1 or 2 influence each. There is discovery the first time you play a scenario as to how the cards interact, but after that you'll have a pretty good idea of what is needed to win. The four factions you can play do play differently, but there isn't *that* much different in how you play a faction from one scenario to the next.

Here's the big difference between Dominion and Rune Age: A large part of Dominion is identifying how each new game will work depending on the combination of cards available. Cards can interact in surprising manners. Admittedly, the basic set of Dominion doesn't have as many unusual combos as what came later, but even in the basic set there was a lot to explore and learn. It also helped that Dominion was the first: it could afford a simpler initial game, as people weren't familiar with the format.

Thunderstone took up the challenge with a more complex basic game, but with a similar level of variety in available cards. It also has a variant on the scenario idea of Rune Age with its dungeon deck of threats (and victory points). Where Thunderstone can fail is in its cards being too specific: there are many card combinations that don't interact at all, and leads to long, boring games. When it works, it works well, but there are games where the set-up doesn't work at all.

Rune Age makes the earning of cards more complicated still (three types of currency compared to Thunderstone's two), but slims down the available cards to a very small number. And here's where it fails, because although the game plays smoothly enough, there isn't really that much to explore. It's also notable that the card interactions aren't all that interesting: mostly you have obvious combinations between the faction troops (wound this troop with a second card to give a bonus), but the neutral cards don't interact with your faction troops in an interesting way, or often with each other. They're just powerful cards you want to earn - and the very limited number of each that are available makes them a minor force in your deck in any case. The majority of the game is in the set cards you have.

Rune Age as a 2-player game isn't a bad game. It works. It can be fun. However, the initial release doesn't have the depth of experience of either Dominion or Thunderstone. The decisions I made in the game didn't feel difficult. As it stands, I will probably play Rune Age a few times more to see if the play experience changes with other groups, but there are many, many other games I'm more likely to play than it.

As noted in the comments below, the game gets better with more players. At this point, the mechanics become more of an enabler for the interaction between players. At this stage I've not played enough multiplayer Rune Age games to comment on how it compares to other multiplayer games, but I'll attempt to address that in the near future.
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Alex Martinez
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
I keep hearing this complaint about a lack of "depth" or "variety". I won't disagree with it (or rather your opinion, which is valid), but I will say that I do find it strange that we've come to mistake a great variety of cards choices to equal a great variety of game.

More than pretty much any other deckbuilder, I find Rune Age to be the most engaging of them all. Possibly because it's not about a great variety of cards, but instead, a clever use of those cards. In most other deckbuilders, I feel like buying cards is everything. In Rune Age, I feel like how I use the cards is so much more important. Add to this that each faction has its own feel and each scenario basically gives players different ways to play (for different types of players) and I think it's a really solid game. It's just a shame that many people can't seem to appreciate that it does this without having to resort to having dozens of cards that will never be used. After all, every other deckbuilder runs into the strong card / weak card problem, where players will debate whether certain cards are too strong or weak to be used.

Still, a nicely written review. I may not agree with it, but doesn't mean I can't give you kudos for it.
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Alex Martinez
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
I think that's a great point, Jacob. Rune Age is technically a deckbuilding game, but it definitely doesn't fit the mold the other games of this type do. I can see why FFG chose to market it as such, but I can also see why it would confuse and disappoint so many.

On the other hand, I disagree a bit with your assessment of the scenarios. I do think Rune Wars is the strongest for exactly the reason you said, but I also really enjoy the Monuments scenario for almost the same reason, but without player elimination. The Dragon Lords is pretty fun too. I kind of enjoy the Cataclysm, but it's my least favorite.

But yes, I agree that it's a great wargame in card game format. Though I can see why some might be disappointed if they expect it to be like any other deckbuilder.
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Merric Blackman
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
Sadly, as a wargamer, I don't enjoy Rune Age for that element either.

Rune Age is correctly identified as a deck building game because the central element of the game is building an efficient deck which can exert the appropriate force at the appropriate time. This is no different to Dominion or Thunderstone.

Where it differs is in allowing player elimination, and much less choice as to deckbuilding.
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Merric Blackman
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
JonJacob wrote:
No other DBG allows that. It's also a Deck Destorying Game.. never heard that term before. It feels really thematic to have your troops decimated in such a way... and a little hopeless too.


Have a look at Sabotage in Dominion: Intrigue.

I take your point. I'll try a few more games of Rune Age and see how much better it plays 4-player.
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Alex Martinez
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
Well, it's perfectly fine to not like the game. I doubt you'll be won over by the four player game as it's not tremendously different.
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Robert Rossney
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
I don't think it's a deep game. But it's a wide game. Even if it only takes you two plays to figure out how you should play each race in each scenario, that's 32 games. And the scenarios are different enough that what works for a race in one scenario quite often doesn't work for it in another.

I'm not going to play it 300 times like I have Dominion. But it's getting a workout.
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Merric Blackman
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
JonJacob wrote:
Also, that the game is cheaper then all it's competitors.. odd for FFG eh?


Oh, you should see the prices of some of the FFG games in Australia. Especially if our dollar was weak at the time they came out...

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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
Wow, this confirms my suspicion. The small number of cards coupled with 4 game modes. I'll try it, nevertheless.
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Balint Weisz
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
Quote:
The trouble comes from the lack of variety in the game. Once you choose your scenario, the three neutral cards are determined by the scenario you're playing.


No they aren't. The three cards are the recommended set for your first game, but according to the optional rule on page 17 of the rulebook you can replace any or all neutral decks with another one that has the same price. That's 4x3x3=36 different combinations.

Also, I would recommend to simply shuffle together the same-cost neutral cards, and deal the required number for each neutral deck randomly. It doesn't break the game and adds even more variety.

(Note: for the most part of the Cataclysm scenario the PvP cards are useless, but they come in handy when Brother Against Brother event comes out.)

Quote:
The cities available might be random, but they're not particularly interesting in effect, just giving 1 or 2 influence each.


Or 3. And yes, they don't look very interesting at first, but it's always a difficult decision whether to take the 2(+2) or the 3(+0) city (for example). The former is much easier to protect, while the latter gives you access to the 6-cost neutral cards (or one 2-cost + one 4-cost, or three 2-cost at the same turn), provided that you also have your three strongholds, but it will be almost certainly taken away from you later.

Quote:
the neutral cards don't interact with your faction troops in an interesting way, or often with each other


It really depends on the situation. After several plays I've found lots of interesting tricks that involve both neutral and faction cards, that were not immediately obvious.
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Brian McCormick
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
Thanks for the review. It confirms for me that I wouldn't enjoy this game even though I enjoy other deckbuilders like Dominion and Thunderstone.

When reading the description of this game, it came off as an "everything plus the kitchen sink" sort of game, trying to do co-op, economy-building, and direct competition all in one box. I thought that if they managed to pull it off, this would be an AWESOME game, but from what I've read, it sounds like they didn't quite pull it off. If they re-release this game with twice as many cards, maybe then I'll think about getting it, but to me it seems that Rune Age is spread too thin over the various game modes.
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Kyle Meighan
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
Aurendrosl wrote:
Thanks for the review. It confirms for me that I wouldn't enjoy this game even though I enjoy other deckbuilders like Dominion and Thunderstone.

When reading the description of this game, it came off as an "everything plus the kitchen sink" sort of game, trying to do co-op, economy-building, and direct competition all in one box. I thought that if they managed to pull it off, this would be an AWESOME game, but from what I've read, it sounds like they didn't quite pull it off. If they re-release this game with twice as many cards, maybe then I'll think about getting it, but to me it seems that Rune Age is spread too thin over the various game modes.


They pulled it off. Here is the thing. If you like Dominion, where you have to race to individually decide what cards to obtain to build your deck so you can obtain more cards to build your deck to obtain more cards, etc . . . then you may NOT like Rune Age.

Rune Age is not about the variety of the deck building experience. It is about competing with the other players directly for the limited resources avaialable in order to overcome the objective (which varies depending upon the scenario) It utilizes a deckbulding mechanic, but deckbuilding is NOT what this game is about.

The problem comes from the countless comparisons to the Deckbuilding games that have been repeated since Dominion. What happened here is Rune Age borrowed a deckbuilding mechanic but created a new and exciting game, but many deckbuilding lovers can't see the forest through the trees, and seem to only want another deckbuilder like everything they already know set in Terrinoth.

I say, those games have already been done, and I don't need another one.

I am not saying anyone has to like this game. If you don't like it, I believe it is because you like Dominion and expected to see Dominion plus maybe something else. That is not this game, and thus it is understandable why you don't like it.

But if you are like me, and hate Dominion, or are just looking for something different, Rune Age is exactly that, something different.

-One Wolf

P.S. This post is not directed at any person, (I use the generic "you" meaning anyone) nor meant to offend. If it seems like it is, or if you find it offensive, I apologize, I do not mean it that way. I am merely voicing my opinion on a game I truly enjoy.
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
MerricB wrote:
Rune Age is correctly identified as a deck building game because the central element of the game is building an efficient deck which can exert the appropriate force at the appropriate time. This is no different to Dominion or Thunderstone.


BZZZT.

The central element of the game is multiplayer interaction. Dominion, Thunderstone, and, I dare say, most true hex-and-chit wargames lack multiplayer interaction -- and I'm not talking this passive aggressive crap like stealing someone's plowshare or taking the sex hut. I've played a good number of multiplayer direct interaction games, and the psychology, behavior, and trash talk among players easily overrides any other mechanic in the game. It's pretty sad that BGG doesn't like multiplayer direct interaction games ("Mommy, he's attacking meeeee!!!"), because the way *people* interact can be far more interesting than how *mechanics* behave. It's why games from Diplomacy, to Wiz War, to Cosmic Encounters make fantastic multiplayer games and terrible two-player ones.

Now I'm not clear if you played the game multiplayer, so if you did, let me know. If the game is lackluster as a two-player game, that's important to some BGG'ers ("Mommy, my wife's attacking meeee!!!"). But I pretty much play multiplayer so read the reviews for that sort of information.


EDIT: Thanks for the review. Hope the game works out multiplayer!
 
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Merric Blackman
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Re: A few thoughts on Rune Age
In that case, I'll alter the review. I've not played enough of the game multiplayer, that's true. (I'll try to amend that this weekend).
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Paul Beakley
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Having played a handful of 2p and 4p games (no 3p yet!), I'd agree that it's not awesome as a 2p game. The game is a billion times more interesting and fluid when you add more players.

I'm not sure that I'd lay that at the foot of variety, though. I know that when I first cracked the box I was expecting a more Dominion/Thunderstone-y experience, which Rune Age for sure is not.

I think I read in some other review that Rune Age is more correctly characterized as a "hand building game" than a deck-building game -- my plays so far support this! It's almost a shame that it's in the DBG category at all.
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