This entry is about Runebound 2nd Edition from Fantasy Flight Games.
Runebound is another game designed by Darrell Hardy and Martin Wallace. I’ve previously reviewed Railroad Tycoon, which is a Martin Wallace design. He’s also known for “Age of Steam”, a deep railroad strategy game. Fantasy Flight Games introduced Runebound 2nd edition last year.
Runebound is a highly themed strategy board game with elements of role playing and fantasy. The players take on the roles of heroes in the Runebound world, competing for artifacts and fighting evil creatures. The player’s character gains strength, experience, allies and weapons to make themselves more powerful as the game goes on. The creatures they need to battle are increasingly difficult to defeat. The winner defeats the most powerful dragon lord or dies trying. It’s an adventure game, as your hero explores the world and has encounters and visits towns where he can purchase tools and other goodies, and maybe even an ally to help in combat. The players are competing, and it is permissible by the rules to attack fellow hero players to gain advantages.
On Fantasy Flight Games Runebound home page, they offer the following additional description:
The heart of Runebound is the adventure. The adventure determines the object of your quest, and what wonders and obstacles you will encounter along the way.
The adventure included in the base Runebound set is “Rise of the Dragon Lords.” In this adventure, the vile necromancer Vorakesh is trying to find the ancient Dragon Runes and use them to resurrect Margath, the long-dead High Lord of the evil dragons. As a Hero of the land, it is your duty to stop Vorakesh from carrying out his mad designs.
Runebound is for 1 to 6 players and is officially estimated to take around 2 hours. My own experience has been that you can play a solo game in less than 90 minutes, but with a group of 3 or more the game easily lasts between 2 and 3 hours.
What’s in the box?
This is a high quality production from Fantasy Flight Games. There are numerous cardboard chits you need to punch out before first play.
The game has a very attractive board with a linen surface mounted hardboard.
It has a collection of unique unpainted gray plastic miniatures.
Some interesting dice used for movement.
And lots of cards. Here’s an example of a few.
The artwork on these cards is outstanding.
At the beginning of the game each player chooses one of the heroes, finds that hero’s card and plastic figure and places it on the table before them. There’s a lot of variance between the heros, although they all seem well balanced in the game. Each hero has strengths in an area and weakness in others.
Qualities about characters in the game are expressed using icons and numeric values written on their card. For the example hero card above, “Ronan of the Wild”, the red heart with a 4 next to it, in the north-east corner of the card, represents the relative toughness of the character. He would take 4 wounds to kill him. A stamina or endurance value of 4 is shown directly below that icon. The drawing for your hero will help you find him or her in the collection of plastic figures that come with the game. The details of the plastics figures are really well mapped to the hero card drawings. The text in the middle of the card describes unique “rule-breaking” features the character may possess. He also has +2 skill levels for hiding, climbing and swimming. Along the bottom row of the hero card is a sequence of numbers and icons that tell a lot about how this hero will perform in battles.
There’s a “mind” rating of 3/2, a “body” rating of 2/1, and a “spirit” rating of 2/1. Higher numbers are always good here. Some heros have 0 ratings in categories but really high ratings in others. The card above for “Sister Celia” is an ally card. You can see her “mind” rating is 0/1 but her “spirit” rating is 5/1. The pairs assigned for each category specify the relative strength in that category in the first number of the “fraction”. The second value of the “fraction” is the combat damage level applied if the hero succeeds in a combat in that category.
In turn order, each player begins the adventure in a town called “Tamalir”. It’s about in the center of the board, providing lots of options for where to have the hero go explore. In this picture the lone hero has just left town.
The colorful board has many features in the hex grid imposed on the map. There are roads, forests, swamps, hills, mountains and rivers. And there are a handful of towns. When it’s your hero’s turn to move, you roll the 5 special movement dice. Each die face has 2 or 3 symbols representing board features you may use when you move.
The symbols map out as follows:
You get used to reading the dice quickly. The player then uses these movement choices and moves their hero up to that distance.
Places on the board can have a cardboard adventure marker in one of 4 colors.
These adventure markers mean that the specific place on the board has not been explored by a hero yet and there is an adventure awaiting. The color indicates the difficulty rating for the adventure. Green is the least difficult and red is the worst. It is highly recommended that your hero starts out choosing only green adventures until they build up strength, and or allies and weapons. The red ones are really tough and are usually chosen near the end of the game.
When a hero has an adventure/encounter, you draw the top card from that colored deck along the side of the board.
The player reads aloud whatever the card says and then has to deal with it. Usually, it’s a nasty evil character or demon that must be defeated in combat. Sometimes it’s an environment card that changes something about the whole game for everyone (maybe the forests are now on fire and this presents problems for heros trying to navigate through forests). Or sometimes the event has a specific impact to the hero.
The encounters where you need to do combat are resolved by rolling another set of dice and comparing your rating values against the enemy ratings. There’s a whole combat scenario you need to walk through a couple of times to get the hang of it, but after that it’s easy to know how to do the combat cycle.
If the hero is defeated, his bloody body is carried to the nearest town where he is rejuvenated. However, all his gold and special weapons are gone. If the demon is defeated the hero gets experience points which are later very useful when upgrading. You almost always get gold when you defeat a demon too.
When you visit a town, except for when you were defeated and involuntarily brought there, you may purchase goods from an existing stock at that town. These cards are placed in a special place on the board for each town to hold the inventory of available goods. New goods are added as drawn from the red deck having a sword and shield on the card backs. Weapons, armor, artifacts and allies may all become available in towns as the game progresses.
Here are 2 photographs of a game in progress at our home. One of the enhancements I made to the game was to swap out the colored cardboard exploration chits on the game board with colored glass gems. It doesn’t change how the game is played. It just looks better.
Variants and Expansions
Fantasy Flight Games offers quite a few expansions for this game. And I’ll admit we love the game so much that I bought them all.
There are also some variants published to help speed up the game.
There are two kinds of expansions available for the game from Fantasy Flight Games. One type is sets of new cards to add or replace in your game The other type are big box expansions. There are quite a few of those new packs of cards available now. This is not a collectible card came (CCG). When you purchase one of these card expansion boxes you know exactly which cards are included. Here are 3 of the boxes shown.
These expansions are the simplest to add to a game. Just add the cards to the respective decks in the game; randomly shuffle them in. These cards add new weapons, artifacts, relics, allies and demons. We really enjoy the extra variety these provide. The cards from an expansion pack are all marked with a unique icon (on the card face) which identifies the pack it belongs to, if you want to later take them back out of the game set.
There are also replacement cards for the red deck of adventure cards. These are a wholesale replacement and completely change the goals of the game. For example, the base game sets a goal of finding and defeating the high dragon lord in the red deck. This can be changed by using a new red deck with another game ending goal.
There are also large box expansions. The two expansions currently available actually re-use the basic game engine but swap out or augment the plastic characters and card sets. Both large box expansions come with a new board which overlays a part of the basic main game board.
“The Island of Dread” expansion adds water and island navigation elements to the game.
Here’s a shot showing the expansion board neatly overlaying the base game board.
The “Midnight” big box expansion also adds characters cards and a new board overlay.
I have this expansion but we haven’t played it yet so I’m not inclined to spend too much time talking about it here other than to say it’s available, and I’ll show the box and board.
Truth is, we’re still having a lot of fun playing the base game with the card expansions and still have these 2 larger box expansions to look forward to.
There are some variants that have been developed by Runebound enthusiasts, as well as by Fantasy Flight Games, to address game speed-up concerns. I have found that the use of the optional Doom Track variant does a lot to speed up the game. We have also established some house rules, including:
- everyone starts with more gold
- we pay extra gold for all rewards
- the town market stocks begin with more cards
- when a player gets knocked out in combat they only lose their gold
- an ally never dies but is knocked out; however both the ally and hero immediately go to town
- no player-to-player fighting allowed
- I purchased extra sets of movement dice, one set for each player
- For fun, I also purchased extra pairs of combat dice in unique colors for each player.
The extra movement dice are cheap. Fantasy Flight Games sells them through their web site for $1 a set. Having a set of movement dice for each player allows the players to roll their movement dice in advance and begin planning their move before it’s actually their turn.
The game Runebound is very different from the other Euro-style strategy games my family plays. It’s a little like a role playing game, a little like a war game. The game stirs the imagination. Our entire family enjoys playing it. I would not want Runebound to be a steady board game diet. But it is a lot of fun. And when our family gets in the frame of mind for this one, we end up playing more than once a day.
The only real downside is the amount of time it takes to play. This is longer than Power Grid. Way longer than a game like Ticket To Ride. There are variants that improve overall game play time. I’ve played a game with 5 people once and we never finished after 3 hours. However, with some of the variants you can get this down to a 2.5 hour or less game.