Updated: Jun 12, 2021
So I bought Runebound because I love fantasy, in particular D&D, but most of the fantasy boardgames we own are from my own childhood and are now either too dated or too simplistic for me to enjoy. To give you an example we own Dark World, Heroquest and Dungeon. I hoped that Runebound would offer a more strategic fantasy quest that would satisfy my appetite, without excluding the members of my family that cannot comprehend complex rules.
Runebound is a fantasy adventure where you take control of an ambiguously heroic character and attempt to stop Vorakesh from resurrecting the Dragon Margath. Each turn is like a session in D&D, while the game as a whole is comparable to a campaign.
The game, I think, is pretty simple. In fact I didn’t bother to explain the rules for the first game and just supplied the relevant information as we went through. Each character, monster and ally in the game has the same statistics, so once you can read one card you can read any of them. These statistics are Mind, Body and Spirit, however, as can be a little confusing, these also double up as Ranged, Melee and Magic combat. Each hero and ally also has stamina. As you power abilities or fail skill tests you will take exhaustion, if you have more exhaustion than stamina then you will start to take wound damage instead. All heroes, monsters and allies, have a number of wounds, if they take wounds equal to or exceeding their total they die, or are knocked out in the case of heroes.
The object of the game is to move about the board defeating challenges until you are powerful enough to defeat 3 dragon lords or Margath himself. You move by rolling 5 custom dice with different terrain symbols on them. If you or an ally is wounded you roll only 4 dice. The challenges themselves are colour coded based on how difficult they are. Green is easiest, followed by yellow, blue and then red.
Each deck of adventure cards contains 3 types of cards. Events, these affect everyone. Encounters, these are generally quests your hero can undertake, most give benefits for success, but some give a penalty for failure. And Challenges, these are monsters, sometimes with a skill challenge proceeding them. On your turn, if you end your turn on the same space as an adventure counter, you draw cards from the correct deck and resolve them until you resolve a challenge, then play passes to the next player.
You also have the option of visiting towns to get healed and buying items.
Combat in the game is pretty straight forward. You begin by resolving any “Before Combat” effects the challenge has, then any “Before Combat” abilities your heroes or allies wish to use. Then combat ensues. There are three phases to each combat round. Each challenge has a mind, body and spirit result. You roll 2 ten sided dice and add your appropriate stat in each phase, if you beat the challenge number for that phase you either defend or inflict damage, depending on whether you were defending or attacking in that phase. You may only attack in one of the three phases, so you must defend in the other two. Once you inflict enough damage you defeat the challenge and take the experience points for it. Experience points can then be exchanged for bonuses to mind, body, spirit, stamina or wounds.
Repeat until you defeat three dragon lords or Margath.
So far we’ve played twice and it wasn’t until after the second game that I thought to check the FAQ. Had I done so before the second game, I don’t think it would have been abandoned! After your hero is knocked out, despite what it says in the rulebook, you do not lose all your unspent experience points.
A Long Trek in the Wilderness
So, what did I think of the game? Well, technically I haven’t actually played it. In both games that were played I acted as a living rulebook, playing on my little brothers team to help him, but I still think I got enough of a feel for the game to pass judgement.
Firstly, it is long… too long! Our first game was over four hours but the second game ran to nearly six before it was abandoned (more on that next week). Depending on what you want from a game, I don't think this is a bad thing, but the way we play games as a family, it was just too long. However, there are ways to fix the length, check back next week to see what I intend to try. The game itself is enjoyable. I like the way the dice work, how you can opt to not roll to automatically move to the next square or roll fewer dice to recover your stamina. Combat is interesting because, unlike, for example, Talisman you can’t just boost one stat and hope because, in each fight, you have to fight in Ranged, Melee and Magic. I really like the event cards and how they affect the entire kingdom. I also like the encounters and the way they give you quests to make your travelling a little less aimless.
There a couple of things I didn’t like. The spread of monsters seems limited. I think, because there is no difference between which cards you draw in the mountains and the plains and forests I would have preferred a more diverse group of enemies, rather than just ferrox, undead and dragons. I realise that this is why there are so many expansions, but I just wish the core set had more variety. Also the gap in difficulty between the yellow cards and the blue cards seems too big, but that’s a minor gripe.
I have read a lot of complaints about things in Runebound. The characters for one thing. I personally have nothing against them, the art is nice, the cards are a good enough size, all the information is on them and they feel balanced and varied to me. However the major complaint people seem to have about this game is the fact that there is little interaction between players. To me this didn’t seem to be a problem. We play games as a family and there was plenty of chatter as we played and for the first few hours everyone was having fun. The game is certainly affected by having other players involved, as encounter gems disappear quickly and you are forced travel further afield.
The core game of Runebound contains:
12 Hero Cards
84 Adventure Cards (35 green, 25 yellow, 16 blue, 8 red)
84 Market Cards (29 Allies, 55 Items)
12 Plastic Heroes
60 Wound Counters
54 Exhaustion Counters
58 Adventure Counters (22 green, 16 yellow, 11 blue, 9 red)
60 Experience Counters
6 Undefeated Challenge Counters
50 Gold Counters (28 one-gold, 12 five-gold, 10 ten-gold)
8 Doom Counters
2 Ten-sided Dice
5 Movement Dice
1 Game Board
This is a reasonable amount of stuff, although I find it odd that the market deck is the same size as the adventure deck. I feel it could have been smaller with a more varied selection of adventure cards. The tokens are, as always, wonderful, thick, colourful and practical. The heroes are woefully poor when compared with other games, but as a miniature gamer maybe I’m just picky. The dice are great too, really nicely designed, they are a little big, but that’s nothing major. The board is beautiful and small enough to fit on most tables, with places for all the cards printed on it. The cards, too, are nice and thick, with great art and simple, easy to understand text that tells a great story.
Despite all the bad things, I really like this game and I can see a huge amount of potential in it. The components live up to FFG’s high standard. The amount of support this game has been given, in the form of expansions, is superb. The theme is great and I really enjoyed just watching the game unfold, can’t wait until everyone is comfortable enough with the rules for me to actually join in.