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RuneWars - A review by Nigel Buckle

I won’t detail the mechanics of Runewars, you can look at the rules for that First impressions are this is a lavish game with a price tag to match, huge colourful box and expectation of lots of great components. That’s where the disappointment hits, opening the box to find the major element is air - you get a massive insert used to hold the large punchboards, with the pre-bagged minatures in protective cardboard ‘sleeves’ to the side along with the card decks. Once you’ve opened it all out you’ll discover a misprint for the elves and the cities has been fixed and an additional punchboard included. Read the punchboards before punching and make sure you keep the right bits. Then once you’ve punched it all out you’ll realise the huge box is unnecessary and the insert completely useless as you’ll struggle to get all the bits back in the box unless you turn it over or throw it away. However that’s the main disappointment for me - the huge box, both in terms of expectation of it being full to the brim with cardboard and plastic, and in terms of storing and transporting the game. Really it could have come in a Runebound sized box with no problem. Game wise there is quite a bit going on with various sub-systems all driven by a card flip mechanic, no dice here. The map is made up of geometric hexes, so each game will be a bit different, and most of the hexes are populated with neutral units that you can try to get to join your side (good luck with that) or attack. Each player controls a race, and they are all subtly different, which is nice. Each has unique units and resources, giving each a unique feel without having a pile of special rules. There are a bunch of heroes, all with their own unique power too. The game last 6 years (4 seasons per year) maximum and once you know what you are doing you can finish the game surprisingly quickly. Unlike other conflict games of this type the combat system is very straightforward and very quick, just fight 5 rounds (one per unit shape, often you’ll only resolve 2 or 3) and then see what units are left standing, side with the most wins. Central mechanic is all players simultaneously pick an action card for the season and they activate in order. This helps reduce downtime and increase tension - will your opponents be attacking, recruiting, or harvesting? In the early games it is easy to lose sight of the requirements to win - you need 6 runes and you start with 2. Heroes can find more by questing, winter will often bring 1 or more additional rune into play and you can take them from your opponents. Once everyone understands the pacing of the game things get quite tense as you have to optimise your actions, units and heroes - the game plays so fast it is hard to recover from a major disaster (such as losing a fight to a neutral you expected to win). For some people looking for a Leader/Personality dominated game where Heroes run around as the main focus this game will be a disappointment - you need your armies to win and most of your actions will centre around them and your empire. The heroes are a bit of a sideshow, but an important one - the runes they can collect are often what you need to win. What you have is an area control game with planning. You can only fight with your armies once a year (you activate an area, place a token in it and move units into the area - and they are then stuck there until spring comes along), meaning there are hard choices about when and where you attack and can you defend a counter attack back? What I like: Games will be different - at least for a while, the sides are different, the map is variable, the seasons have different effects, the heroes are different - and you can add in encounters as a variant adding more variety (or chaos, depending on your viewpoint). Combat feels epic, despite the fast resolution - do you use fast units that aren’t very good, or spell casters, or your big guns that might get routed before they even get a chance to fight? The card mechanic works well, and combat is over in a very short time. Deep game play without huge amounts of downtime - most of the ‘planning’ side of the game is done simultaneously with everyone thinking about card play at the same time. Then actual turns roll along fairly quickly. Simple mechanics - for all the elements the game includes: Different unit types, resources, strongholds, development, heroes, quests, duels, etc the actual rules and mechanics are remarkably simple. You will not need a pile of reference sheets and help cards to learn and play this game, but you will need a few games to learn what works and what doesn’t, how many units you probably need to win that battle etc. Objective cards - each player gets one and they are coded by alignment (half the sides are ‘good’ and half ‘evil’, the objective cards encourage you down one of those paths, do the objective get an oh so important rune as a reward. It is fun - early on you are beating up neutrals and building your empire, in the last couple of years you’ll be bumping into your opponents and possibly fighting over crucial territory. No long slow build up, if anything the game ends too quickly - but if you find that is the case the designer has included an ‘epic’ version which lasts 8 years and has you starting with less runes. There are multiple approaches to victory - build your influence and win that way (dominate the influence bids, grab the role cards, even use diplomacy to get neutral allies), concentrate on heroes, grab items, find runes, duel (and kill) your opponents heroes, concentrate on tactics cards for sneaky tricks, or just flood the map with units and grab territory. What I don’t: Box size and that the winning condition is just dragon runes, I would have liked to see more race and alignment specific victory conditions - the objectives go part of the way there, but more would be nice. The game is screaming out for expansions - if nothing else to help fill the huge box. You’ll get through most of the quest deck in a single game (as most of it is not used, you only include quests for the map tiles you are playing) and most are very similar, go to hex X, take an ability test (flip cards = the relevant attribute) look for successes. Multi-part quests etc would add variety. You’ll get through most of the season cards, and some effects are repeated, again I’d like to see more variety, even to the extent each player gets a subset of cards and picks which are included (so you know some of the possibilites and can adapt your strategy). More heroes, more races. For the hefty price tag I would have hoped for just a bit more in the original game. Overall, if you want a fast playing epic feeling fantasy conflict game you won’t go far wrong investing in Runewars - but if you are looking for a game where heroes are the main focus with armies in the background you probably need to look elsewhere.

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