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Subject: [Review] Runebound, 2nd Edition rss

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Tom Vasel
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I'm a big fan of fantasy role-playing style games; and so when I heard about Runebound (Fantasy Flight Games, 2004 - Martin Wallace), I was intrigued for several reasons. For one, it was designed by one of my favorite game designers - Mr. Wallace, who has produced the incredible Age of Steam, Liberte, and more. Also, Fantasy Flight games are all about fantastic themes and components, so I had high expectations. I didn't get around to getting it for various reasons, so by the time I got Runebound, it was the Second Edition, newly published in 2005.

After one game, I was hooked. I immediately wanted to play another game and even had an enjoyable time playing a solo version. After several plays, I pronounce the game extremely fun and look forward to playing it again. I'm not sure I'll want to play the game again with four or more players, but it's extremely fun with two or three, and even playable with one. With various ways to upgrade each character, and interesting, thematic events - Runebound has quickly become one of my favorite games of this genre, and I'd be eager to play it often.

Each player chooses one of twelve character cards, each with a different set of statistics. Characters have hit points, ranging from four to six; stamina, ranging from two to four; Mind, Body, and Spirit values, ranging from zero to five; Ranged, Melee, and Magic damage, ranging from one to two; and a special ability or two. Each player receives three gold, and the rest of the gold, along with piles of wound, exhaustion, and experience counters, are placed in piles near the board. On the board, adventure counters in colors blue, green, red, and yellow, are placed in corresponding spots all over the board. Piles of challenge cards (one for each adventure color) are shuffled and placed by the board, as well as a "Market" deck. One card from the market deck is placed face up in a card space that corresponds to each city on the board. One player is chosen to go first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.

On a player's turn, they will be moving a plastic piece that corresponds to their character around the board - starting from a central city, Tamalir. To move, a player rolls five movement dice (unless they have any wounds or exhaustion - in which case they roll four dice). Players may opt to roll fewer dice, removing one exhaustion counter for each die not rolled. When moving, a player can move their figure through different terrain hexes, as long as they use a die that shows a matching terrain type. A player can use any die face to move into a town or may elect not to throw any dice at all and simply move one space in any direction.

If a player lands on a town, they enter the market phase. During this phase, players draw the top market card and add it to the market stack that corresponds to the town they are in. Players then may buy any of the available items, or hire an ally, if they have enough money. Players may also sell items back to the bank at half price or may buy healing (discarding one wound for one gold). The different items that can be bought have different abilities and help the hero do better in adventures. A player can only carry two weapons and one armor and may have only two allies. Any item/ally discarded or sold is placed at the bottom of the market deck.

If a player lands on an adventure, they turn over the top card of the corresponding adventure deck. If the card is an event, the event is placed next to the board, and the corresponding actions occur. Events show a number on them (from I to IV), and are discarded if they are lower than the current event in play. Encounters are similar to events, but only happen to the current player, who must accomplish a task or test to win a reward, etc. After a player resolves an event or encounter, they draw another card, until they get a challenge card. Once players have defeated the challenge, they take the adventure counter off the board and place it face up in front of them. Each adventure counter is worth experience points from one to four. Some adventure counters on the board (marked by sunburst spaces) are replenished whenever an event card is drawn.

When facing a challenge, players must fight the enemy depicted on the card. Some challenges require the player to make a test. A player, when making a test, rolls two ten-sided dice and adds the corresponding value on their card (body, mind, or spirit). They also add the skill modifier if they have it (ex. Ronan of the Wild adds two to climbing, hiding, and swimming tests). If a player rolls equal or higher than the number on the card, they pass the test, and take rewards / avoid penalties. The player then has the choice as to whether or not they wish to escape combat. They do this by making an escape test, using their mind skill vs. the mind value on the challenge card. If they are successful, they move away, and the enemy card is marked so that players know what space it's on. A failure to escape results in the player losing one hit point, and combat continuing (they can try to escape again, or simply start fighting.) Fighting occurs in three combat rounds - ranged, melee, and magic - in that order. A player must choose whether to defend or attack in each phase, but they can only attack in one of the three phases. If a player has an ally card, they can use the allies' stats and attack in one additional round with that ally. In each phase, the player rolls the two ten-sided dice and adds their combat value of that phase to the roll. If they roll equal to or higher than the number on the challenge card, nothing happens if they are defending. If attacking, they deal hit points equal to the damage they do in that skill. If they roll less than the number on the challenge card, they take the damage shown on the enemy's card, whether attacking or defending. Some enemies deal no damage in one or two of the phases. Hit points are applied after each phase, and the battle occurs until the challenge is defeated, the hero is "knocked out", or the hero runs away.

After defeating a challenge, the player discards the adventure card and takes the reward mentioned on it - usually treasure, but sometimes other things. Players also receive the adventure counter, worth experience points. Once a player reaches a determined number of experience points (determined by number of players) - they trade them in for an experience counter, which adds two to a player's mind, body, spirit, or stamina, or one to their hit points. If a player is "knocked out", they discard all of their wounds and exhaustion, lose their best item or ally, and go back to the nearest town.

Play continues until one player defeats the "High Lord Margath" (which is one of the red challenge cards), or collects three Dragon Runes (defeating three other red challenge cards). That player then wins the game!

There are a lot of other little rules that I didn't mention. Rules such as the way weapons and allies affect combat, combat between heroes, etc. Most of them are rather intuitive and can be picked up during the game.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: There are piles of tiles in the game, of various types and sizes. Fortunately, all of them are double sided, are different colors and designs and generally are easy to sort. I did have to put them all in plastic bags, to keep them from getting into a big mess in the box, which has a plastic insert that is basically useless except to hold the cards. The plastic figures of the heroes, which are just begging to be painted, look great and match the poses on the cards exactly. Speaking of which, the artwork for the game, done by a team of artists, is really exceptional. It's very thematic, and the monsters especially are very menacing and look rather threatening. The cards are of good quality and fit well on the spaces on the board. The board is very beautiful, and the terrain is put to good use. The movement dice are six-sided dice with symbols on them to match each terrain type. My only problem with them was that the symbols are in black and white, and the symbols for forest and mountains looked awfully similar, and for us were a bit difficult to tell apart. I colored on the trees with a green marker; but because the sticker on the die was laminated, it rubbed right off. I might find another way to color the dice, though, just to make them easier to distinguish. Besides this minor quibble, though, the components were excellent, fitting in a large square box.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is twelve pages of full-colored rules with a LOT of information on them, including terms, definitions, and diagrams. There is one example of a complete combat round with a challenge, which helps explain the combat much better than the rules can. I found that the game takes a while to explain, especially combat, but all in all, it's very intuitive, especially to those who've played role playing games before. The only thing that people have problems understanding, I found, was the fact that they can only attack in one phase. Once that's down, allies and weapons just work naturally.

3.) Difficulty: I think it's really neat how the game scales the difficulty. At first, the green challenges seem rather hard, and players struggle to defeat even the most basic of monsters. Soon, however, a player slowly accumulates experience and weapons, and they advance onto the yellow monsters, etc. The red monsters are hideously difficult, and only a warrior who is completely decked out with decent allies has a chance at them. Defeating the final enemy is VERY satisfying - it's not as hard as the final enemy in Return of the Heroes, but the buildup is better than that game. When you beat the final enemy, you've finished a long, satisfying journey.

4.) Downtime and Interaction: The two biggest complaints that are leveled against Runebound are that there is too much player downtime, and that the players don't interact. To the second problem, I say who cares; the lack of player interaction makes the game more enjoyable for me. Player vs. Player combat only hurts both players involved and seems pretty pointless. If I want to play a game where I can attack other players, I'll play a different game. As to downtime, it can be a bit of a problem, especially with more than four players. Personally, I enjoy watching others play on their turns and seeing how their "story" unfolds. The downtime in the game doesn't come from players dawdling on their turns, trying to decide what to do next, but rather from extended combat situations. And these I find exciting to watch, but I do realize that mileage may vary.

5.) Combat: I enjoy the combat system; it allows a player to make meaningful choices, while at the same time adding a healthy dose of luck. Should I attack with the skill in which the enemy is weakest or the one in which I deal the most damage? Should my ally attack, giving me a chance to hit the enemy an extra time, but at the same time possibly killing the ally. For me, I found the allies good "speed bumps", cheap friends that I could throw to the enemy as a bone while I hit them again.

6.) Experience: Gaining experience is critical to a player succeeding in the game. Having a "+9" in melee combat is much better than a "+3" and will certainly give a player confidence. Should a player take hit points, combat bonuses, or exhaustion bonuses? Either way, players start with a customized character, and slowly make them even more customized, which allows a player to try the game again in a different way.

7.) Items and Allies: Some of the items are extremely powerful, although fairly expensive. If a player can save up and get a powerful item early, it can make their life easier for a while. For me, "Touch of Death" became a very friendly card in one game, and I feared dying - not because of the loss of gold, but because I didn't want to lose this powerful item. There are a TON of items and allies included with the game, and I doubt a player could get the same configuration on a character in two different games.

8.) Expansions: If a player DID want more variety to the game (and I could see the monsters getting old after a while), there are several small expansions (which add different types of cards) and at least one large expansion - the Island of Dread, which will keep the replayability of the game going for a long while. Make no mistake, I am perfectly content with the base system, but I enjoy it so much that I would love to play these expansions and add to the experience.

9.) Fun Factor: For me, the fun of Runebound was taking a weak hero and making them more powerful, using experience, items and allies. It's more about the journey than the destination, to use an old cliché. The game evokes so much theme through the flavor text, the use of weapons and allies, that I just have a blast every time I play.

Except for Twilight Imperium, I think that Runebound is my current favorite of the Fantasy Flight big box line. I enjoy fantasy roleplaying games, and this one is just an excellent one that keeps me thinking about it long after the game is over. A game like this, where you transform into a hero who saves the land from the Dragonlords and gain cool weapons and friends along the way is one that I am always willing to play. Players seeking a confrontational game in which they can constantly effect what their neighbor does may be disappointed, but those seeking an RPG experience in a board game will likely have a good time.

Tom Vasel
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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I was just thinking about buying thisone. Now I'm not anymore
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Brad Miller
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How could one of Tom's nearly-always-glowing reviews make you decide NOT to buy a game? Or was that sarcasm? I just bought it, and think it will be decent fun, though I'm looking at it as being better than Talisman, which I just got and played and found dull, dull, dull, and not another Age of Steam...
 
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Hey, I said I'm not THINKING about buying it anymore, I'm now sure I will
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Roland Wood
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violentzen wrote:
Excellent review Tom.

Last edited by violentzen on Tue Nov 1,2005 03:23 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)


Two edits for that? Okay, what did you miss after the first edit
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Kyle Johnstone
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What's the difference between the new version and the 2004 version? besides a character sheet. Anyone know?
 
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kljman wrote:
What's the difference between the new version and the 2004 version? besides a character sheet. Anyone know?

Minatures, for one
 
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Steve Zamborsky
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kljman wrote:
What's the difference between the new version and the 2004 version? besides a character sheet. Anyone know?


There were some balance issues with the First Edition, especially concerning the number of Allies available to a Hero and some of the strengths of the Encounters. In addition, some of the extra stuff from the First Edition is recommended for use in Second (including the Doom track which sets a built-in time limit on the game, as well as possible random encounters out in the wilderness). Finally, Second Edition rules expound upon the Hero vs. Hero combat.

After playing both, I'd say that Second Edition is a definitely-needed upgrade.
 
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Jon Dockter
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kljman wrote:
What's the difference between the new version and the 2004 version? besides a character sheet. Anyone know?


One of the biggest changes is that you now roll 2d10 instead of 1d20. I'm not much on statistics, but it seems much harder this way. Other big changes include gaining +2 to your stats when you level instead of +1 to compensate for the large monster stat boosts. You can also raise health and stamina now. Items are more expensive and they are now limited as to when you can use them. New monsters that were not in 1st Ed. Overall the game is much more difficult, but also much more balanced.
 
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Phil Moore

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regarding 1d20 versus 2d10. In 1d20, every number has an equal chance of happening. In 2d10, the numbers at the extreme are far less likely and the numbers in the middle are far more likely. Also, you can't get a 1 on 2d10.
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Ragnar Iceblood
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Why does the fun detracts with more than 4 players?
 
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Victor Torres
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I just played a 4 player game yesterday and it took us 3 hours just to get to the yellow cards (level 2 cards). Now all the players except myself were newbies at Runebound, but all of us are avid rpg'ers. it just takes a long time going around the table battling baddies. I agree with Tom in that I enjoy watching other people play. As a matter of fact, I sort of played the DM for the battles. After the player picked a card that they had to fight, I would hold the card and ask if they were attacking or defending and let them roll away, letting them know if they succeeded or not. I found it to be a lot of fun... but long. We never did finish the game last night.
 
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J. P.
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warlin wrote:
Why does the fun detracts with more than 4 players?

When its not your turn you have to wait! I don't have a problem with it, cause I'm interested in the development of other players and of course you have to control the rolls and using of the cards of that players...
but if you don't like this, it could be boring. Except for a very small amount of cards and the PvP you can't do anything on another players turn.
I'm looking forward to the class decks too.

 
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Tim Thorp
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Just bought the Isle of Dread and Midnight expansions. I love this game, and the 2nd edition made it even better.
 
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Christopher Brackett
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First, I had to buy Twilight Imperium. Then I had to buy Runebound. I blame Tom Vasel. shake

Seriously, though, this is another great, thorough review. Keep up the good work, Tom. (Even though it's costing me $$$. )

Zen
 
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James Burns
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I bought Runebound on a fluke and I really like it. I do play with my finance alot so therefore the game doesn't take that long. As for the non player interaction I don't care for we both have fun in it. If I started to pick on my sweety I would be sleeping on the couch.

The only problems I have is that once you play the base set over and over again it gets stale. I did buy alot of the card expansions ,which did add alot to the game. Some of the adventure variants like Runebound: The Cataclysm really change it up ,but again get stale after awhile.
 
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