It’s Tuesday, so it’s Game Day here at spalanz.com! Aw, yeah, time for a look at another boardgame this week, as I turn to the mythic expansion for Runebound 2nd Edition – it’s time to enter the Age of Shadow, with Runebound: Midnight!
This game is mythic for a couple of reasons, I think foremost among them being just how rare this thing is nowadays. Heck, even when I bought it back in a second age of shadow, it cost me €100 on ebay. It was published in 2006 by Fantasy Flight Games as the second big-box expansion to the second edition of Runebound, in an attempt to crossover from the world of Terrinoth into Eredane, that of the Midnight RPG setting. While I find this setting completely irresistible, I get the feeling that the crossover wasn’t all that successful, and Midnight appears to have had a very short print-run, and then quietly dusted under the carpet, leading to ebay prices getting huge.
The setting is the land of Eredane, or “the land under the shadow”. Basically, it is a fantasy land where evil has triumphed, and we’re now having to eke out a living in the wilds, away from the gaze of Izrador and his Night Kings. It’s just something that really speaks to me, somehow. I mean, take Star Wars for example. We haven’t really had a look at this yet, but the period between episodes III and IV is just so intriguing to me, because evil has won, and the good people are forced into the sidelines. Sure, there have been some incursions such as Dark Times, but we haven’t really had a chance to explore what it’s like to live in these dark days. Midnight shows us a world that is conquered by evil, and much like sneaking around in Mordor, it’s up to the heroes of the game to exploit the weakness of the Night Kings by destroying a powerful magical artifact, the magic mirrors, to even give good a chance at eventual victory.
Much like Descent, Mansions of Madness, and the like, Midnight pits one player against the group, as one person takes on the role of a Night King. He or she will attempt to thwart the heroes and, if the threat level ever increases to 10, the heroes have no hope of victory. The heroes need to infiltrate the Night King’s strongholds to destroy the magic mirrors there; they need a total of 1 + the number of heroes in the game for a total victory.
Midnight isn’t like a normal game of Runebound, as several of the player steps are messed-with to create a wholly new experience. While other big-box expansions do this to some degree, none feels quite like the completely new game that Midnight is. The biggest change is the Night King step, for obvious reasons – let’s take a look.
The Night King’s turn always happens first, and involves a number of stages. First, the threat step, where he’s basically trying to increase the threat level to achieve his victory condition. He takes a doom counter and adds it to a pool, then rolls the two d10s – if the total is less than the current threat difficulty (which is set at the beginning of the game to 16), nothing happens, but if he equals or exceeds it, then all the starburst adventure jewels are replenished (there are no event cards in Midnight), the pool of doom counters is returned to zero, but the threat level increases by one. So right away, you can see that there is a chance to have the threat level increasing right out of the gate, but if you roll like me, you likely won’t be increasing it for several turns.
After that, comes the Patrol step. The Patrol is indicated by an undefeated challenge marker, and is moved much like a hero, rolling terrain dice and so forth. The Patrol is spawned at a Stronghold space, and can move to attack a hero, whereby the Night King player draws three cards from the deck corresponding to the hero’s level (level 1 is green, 2-3 is yellow, 4-5 is blue and 6+ is red) and chooses one to be the Patrol. An important thing to note here is that the hero cannot optionally engage the Patrol.
Finally, the Night King gains gold that he can spend to influence combat or spawn more patrols. He can also level up, by spending gold to increase his ‘shadow power’ – replacing the green jewel icon on his character card with a yellow one, and so forth. These shadow powers can be pretty debilitating to heroes as the game progresses.
But onwards to the heroes!
The heroes of Midnight are a disparate band of chaps trying to survive, and as such have been noted as being distinctly weaker when used in other Runebound games. At any rate, there are some pretty cool alterations made to the hero step, let’s take a look!
A hero still rolls five movement dice, but rather than just using these to move, they also have other abilities – for instance, you can spend one die to try to heal, rolling it and, if the terrain symbol matches what you’re currently on, you will heal as you find a healer sympathetic to the resistance. You can also use the dice to barter, which involves matching movement dice to the terrain you occupy, and drawing market cards every time you match that terrain.
The market deck is completely replaced in Midnight, which is also a really nice idea. The main game market deck is used as goods, because the economy has no real value since Izrador gained power. The Midnight market deck has got a lot of grungy stuff like the scavenged wargear and suchlike, it’s all really nice and thematic, I have to say!
Also thematic is moving into towns, which heroes now have to infiltrate – you make either a Sneak, Jump or Diplomacy test (so, the three basic attributes) at 10 + the cost of your highest-cost item. If you succeed, you can interact with the town as per the usual Runebound rules. This also applies to sneaking into Strongholds, though that will normally involve something far more ghastly!
During an Adventure, the Night King tries to influence the combat by rolling dice equal to the hero’s level, trying to match the terrain symbols to those on his character card – he can only choose one feat to influence, but for each matched terrain symbol rolled, he increases the toughness of the combat in that feat by 1. Someone like Sunulael has a good chance of doing this as all of his influence is in the hills, while Zardrix will increase the ranged value by 1 for each road rolled, but the other two feats rely on marshes being rolled. However, there’s an important rule in Midnight that has the potential to save the day here – there are no allies in Midnight, so a hero can attack in multiple phases if he has unspent experience counters: for every two counters, he can attack in one additional phase. This is potentially why the heroes have been seen as weak outside of Midnight, as they really shine with the additional rules of this particular expansion.
During the Experience step, you have the chance to upgrade your grungy Midnight market item into a Covenant item, by using one of your face-down goods cards as an upgrade. It’s something that sounds really amazing, but usually ends up (for me, at least) being a bit hit and miss, as the regular market item’s effect becomes a special effect of the Midnight market item – matching these things to create something truly epic happens exceptionally rarely, in my experience.
The goal of the game, for the heroes, is to destroy the magic mirrors, which are placed by the Night King at the start of the game. The players need to infiltrate the stronghold and defeat a red challenge in order to destroy the magic mirror, and can do so by teaming up. The Night King still attempts to influence the combat each round, and the red challenge itself also gains a bonus to its life equal to the number on the magic mirror counter. When going up against a magic mirror, a hero cannot use the attacking in multiple phases rule, unless the hero specifically has this ability anyway. When heroes gang up on the stronghold, they still act independently, so you need to go through all three phases before the next hero attempts the challenge. If defeated, the heroes gain 4 experience points and the magic mirror token, and once they’ve gained their victory number, it’s all over for Izrador!
This is actually a really fun game. It’s very different from normal Runebound, and not just mechanically. It feels like a completely new world but with a vague semblance of the normal Runebound rules. Something very obvious, there isn’t really any emphasis on magical abilities in Midnight – crucially, there are no runes in the game! I mentioned sneaking around Mordor earlier, and this is precisely what it feels like to me – you’re in an evil land, trying to avoid the notice of the bad guys while bringing about their doom.
In a normal game of Runebound, you have allies to hook up with, and magical abilities from the various runes that give the game its name. There is something of a high-fantasy feel to it as you play glamorous warriors or highly skilled mages, but in Midnight your armour is rusty, your robes are grimy, and you’re skulking in the shadows.
That can be absolutely amazing, and every time I’ve played with this expansion I’ve had a huge amount of fun. But it can be a bit wearing, you know? It’s a terrific theme, but it’s not a theme I like to return to again and again. Back in 2011, I rated this a 7 on boardgamegeek, and I think that still stands. It is a fantastic, thematic expansion, but of the big box expansions for this game, it certainly isn’t as good as some of the others.