Here I will review the 4 small challenge and market deck expansions for Runebound 2nd edition: The Dark Forest, Terrors of the Tomb, Relics of Legend, and Artifacts & Allies. Since these expansions have many characteristics in common and since most people who own Runebound would probably choose to buy all of them at once, it makes sense to me to review them together.
First a general comment on all of these decks. Almost all of the new cards add some new mechanic or aspect to the game. So rather than just selling more of the same types of cards already found in the basic game, FFG has put out something that will, in various subtle ways, modify the feel of the game. This aspect alone makes the expansions a worthy buy.
I’ll start with the two challenge deck expansions: The Dark Forest and Terrors of the Tomb. As the names suggest, the former adds forest creatures and encounters, while the latter adds undead. First of all, the cards in both decks use skill checks much more heavily than the basic game. This is a welcome change, since skills were really underused in the base game. Next, a number of cards in both decks encourage player interaction – either by hurting the other player in some way, stealing their stuff, sending a monster after them, or hindering their movement. One fun card is “Toll Collector” from TDF, which make all other heroes pay you 2 gold if they fail a Sneak check on a road space with a green jewel. Note that none of the cards in these two expansions encourage direct PvP conflict (the two Market deck expansions described below do however), but more of a “take that” kind of interaction. Both decks also add challenges that are either immune to certain types of damage, get bonuses in certain phases, or can only be hurt by certain types of items, thereby discouraging the players from focusing on only one of their attributes to the detriment of others. Good examples of this are the “Dire Ferrox” from TDF which will attack in multiple melee phases in a single round, “Needle Wight”, also from TDF, which automatically inflicts a wound when attacked in melee, “Shadow Ferrox” from TotT which can only be hurt by magical damage, and “Legion of the Dead” from TotT who ignore the first 2 damage from any attack not done with an “Explosive” item. TotT especially has a pretty large number of card of that type. Each deck also adds one “Transformation” type card (“Primal Transformation” in TDF and “Unnatural Transformation” in TotT) which give you a choice to transform into a half-plant creature in one case and an undead in the other. It’s a little disappointing that the two cards, aside from their name, are basically identical (you get +2 in all your stats, but can’t take fatigue damage for the rest of the game). It would have been nice if there were some different aspects to being a plant vs. being undead. These two cards may also be a bit overpowered, since you essentially gain 3 levels, and the downside of not being able to take fatigue damage, while preventing you from using the character’s special abilities, also protects you from challenges that deal fatigue damage. Another two red cards that are essentially identical in the two sets are “Heart of Margath” and “Skeleton of Margath”. Both of these, once defeated, allow you to immediately fight Margath himself. These are fun cards, but it would have been nice if there were some unique aspects to each of them.
The Dark Forest by itself adds a few unique mechanics. One is cards that “Reward” the player with advantages or disadvantages when fighting on forest and swamp spaces. As an example, “Avatar of the Woods”, a blue challenge, gives you a -3 penalty to all rolls on forest and swamp spaces until you defeat a red challenge on one of these type of terrain, after which point you get a +3 to all rolls on swamp and forest. There are also similar green and yellow cards. Another interesting new aspect is cards that give you a weapon, armor, or relic as a reward. Some of these are green challenges, which give you a basic weapon or armor, which can be extremely useful in the early phase of the game.
The one interesting mechanic in Terrors of the Tomb are cards that “resurrect” unused heroes (“A hero of Old Awakens”), allowing you to control them and use them to harass the other players.
One thing missing in both of the above expansions are new event cards. These would have added some variety to the game, however, their omission in these packs is understandable since events in Runebound are generally tied to a certain scenario (i.e. Margath in the base game, Giants in the Kyros expansion, etc.), and the designers apparently wanted to keep these expansions relatively generic. In fact only one non-red card’s flavor text mentions anything related to the any scenario (“Vorakesh” in this case), and I’m guessing that was probably an oversight.
Now on to the two Market deck expansions – Artifacts & Allies and Relics of Legend. Each of these expansions provide new items and allies for the market deck. As with the challenge expansions, most of items & allies bring some new and generally fun mechanic to the game.
Artifacts & Allies once again introduces cards that encourage player interaction – some in non-confrontational ways such as borrowing an ally or trading items (ex. “Cloak of Useful Items”, “Cloak of Time and Space”), others in direct PvP confrontational ones (for example the ally “Sister of Vengeance” becomes stronger every time you defeat another player, but there’s also a counterparts “Sister of Mercy” ally that gets stronger every time her hero is attacked). There are also cards that allow you some control over how the adventure cards are revealed. For example, “Lantern of Revealing” allows you to keep a green or yellow adventure card you draw instead of resolving it and then replace a later green or yellow challenge with it. The other new mechanic introduced in A&A is Familiars. They are basically like allies, except the first one you get doesn’t count towards your ally limit of two, and they are generally not strong in combat but rather have some useful ability. For example, “Healing Toad” takes wounds for you, “Fetch Imp” can fetch items from a nearby town market effectively allowing you to do a Market phase even when not in town). Some familiar are definitely more useful than others though, so some (like the “Demonic Cat”) would probably rarely be bought. The other allies in this expansion do things like get and give bonuses on certain types of terrain or against certain color challenges, or allow you use an additional weapon or armor. The combat items in this set give you both an offensive and defensive capability (and cost more to compensate).
Relics of Legend introduces Banners to the game. These are items that are “charged” by certain actions (defeating a challenge on specific terrain type, inflicting high damage, defeating another hero, etc.), and for each “charge” token you use from these cards you get a certain bonus (receive +2 bonus on “Before Combat” roll, swap your experience counters, prevent discarding of an item or ally when knocked out, etc.). Most banners also give you some additional boon when they’re charged with at least two tokens. There are also some interesting weapons and allies in this deck, which, while not really changing the game mechanics, generally have some interesting effects. For example “Sword of Frostgate” reduces all of the opponents attributes by 1 for every inflicted wound, “Longbow of Tamalir” inflicts +3 damage for each previous round in which your hero did not attack. Although one particular item, “Waraxe of Dawnsmoor” seems somewhat useless – it allows you to defeat a challenge by passing 3 consecutive Body checks, but doesn’t give you the reward. Since you really need the reward most of the time, it seems like you would really only want to use this item against Margath in the endgame, and since it occupies a weapon slot, it’s really not worth buying it just for that.
Overall, each of these expansion adds something new to the game, and in a game like Runebound variety is the spice of life. It makes the game more exciting, adds more player interaction, thereby reducing the “downtime” complaint some people have with this game, and generally enhances the game experience. With their price being in the $4-6 range per expansion, I don’t see any reason for anyone who likes the base Runebound game to not get them all.
Re: Review of the 4 small item, ally, and challenge expansio
Well done review!
I like the expansions too - but I would strongly recommend to play without those Lantern- and Banner-Items. They both make the game a lot to easy. With the first ones you are able to avoid most of the deadly challenges - and slow the game a bit down since often players take time to decide if they want to pack some adventure under their item or not. There´s no real surprise any more and it´s no "thrill" to travel on challenges... I don´t know the exact name of one item but it lets you look at each (!) challenge - even when another player draws it - and then you may decide first, if you want to put it under your item. Next time on your turn you may now initiate that challange instead of moving. That´s really ... unbalanced. You won´t travel any more onto dangerous colors - your simply wait until someone draws one that you are able to solve. Voilá - you get it, your opponent has to draw another one (which is most often more deadly) and you have nothing to do than to slay your challenge on your turn. That´s very unfair and makes runebound VERY easy (far to easy). The banners are a bit unbalanced too. Especially that one that lets you purchase experience counters for one point less which is really game-breaking and a BIG disadvantage for all other players. This banner of the boar is so frustrating for the others since it is only of medium costs (6 gold) and has such a hard effect on game play. Since the banners slow down the game too (because after most actions players have to put counters on these banners and often they have to read the complicate text on it while acting to remind them on the effect of the banner `cause of the complicate nature "when x counters than y on spaces of type z...") - we decided to remove them from our games.