Happy Tabletop Day, everybody!
I’m very excited today, as I finally got round to playing the new edition of Runebound that was released back in November. Having bought it at the time, I was still unconvinced by the changes from second edition, which remains one of my all-time favourite games. However, the announcement of expansions had gotten me interested, and so in the spirit of the day, I’ve given it a whirl! And it was amazing.
While this new edition of the game is still set in Terrinoth, and follows some old favourite heroes on a very familiar map, the game feels a lot different to the old version, almost to the extent that you’re pretty much playing through a new experience. I was learning the game as I went, so it took me over 2 hours to play through (solo), and I didn’t read any of the lore on the cards as I was making sure I was getting the mechanics right, but I have to say, the experience is really smooth, and you get the gist of it really quickly, thanks in part to the new method of writing rulebooks.
The game is no longer merely a ‘level-up until you can destroy the bad guy’, but a scenario-driven game that uses a timer somewhat reminiscent of the doom track ideas from the previous iteration. The time track is run through twice, first comes Act One, then Act Two, which interacts with the scenario in some way. Each scenario has a set of ten story cards, which are drawn at set points on this timer track, and most of them have a Quest effect that usually benefits you in some way, though the picture above is a bit of a hindrance as well.
This benefit often takes the form of giving Lore tokens, which have some way to interact with the scenario: I was playing the Ascendance of Margath scenario, and Lore tokens here give you the boon of reducing the big dragon’s health when you eventually fight him.
On your turn, your hero has three actions to choose from among moving, resting, training (gaining skill cards, more on this shortly), adventuring, and shopping. You no longer throw all five dice all the time, but have a speed that denotes how many dice you can throw. Movement is also different insofar as many of the hexes have rivers running along their edges, and you need to expend the water side of a die in order to cross it (rather than choosing to spend, say, a forest side to move into a forest space). This does present some interesting options, though there is also a wild symbol that can be used for any terrain type. There are only four Free Cities on the new board, but a multitude of smaller features, such as strongholds and shrines, which you can often interact with in a manner similar to cities (healing and trading, for instance).
Skill cards are gained through training, though you do start with a basic hand of them. When you train, you draw three cards, then discard down to your hand size, so this can be a useful way of cycling through unwanted cards. Whenever you test an attribute, rather than rolling a d10, you instead draw a number of cards off the Skills deck and, for every card with a starburst icon on the top-right, you score a success. This means the deck is going to cycle through a few times during a game, especially with more people playing.
The attributes are body, mind and magic, much like second edition, though a major difference here is how you level-up. When you complete adventures, you don’t take the adventure jewel token from the board, but instead you take the card. You then use these cards to essentially “buy” skill cards – the icons along the top of the cards show how many adventure cards you need to discard in order to buy them. I find this really interesting as, not only does it mean you can level up after potentially only completing one adventure, but you actually get useful skills to use in the game, rather than just buffing your stats in a specific category.
Adventures come in three types: combat (orange), social (purple) and exploration (green). These three decks have all types of cards within each but, as a rule, the green deck will have more quests – requiring you to interact with a specific hex on the board to gain benefits – while the social deck will have more events – cards where you can essentially choose what happens – and the orange deck obviously has more enemies. Rather than going through progressively more difficult colours of enemies, the orange deck will have enemies of all levels for you to face.
Combat is where the biggest (to my mind) change comes, and one of the most controversial changes, at that: combat tokens. Instead of d10s, each hero starts with three combat tokens specific to that hero, and has the option of buying items at market in order to gain more tokens to add to the pool. Enemy cards always start with five combat tokens, and when Act 2 hits, a sixth token is added. Final boss monsters also add a seventh token to the mix specific to that monster.
These tokens have various symbols on them, such as shields for defending wounds, axes for hero damage, skulls for monster damage, the lightning-bolt icon (“surge” for you Descent fans) to trigger a character ability, etc. There’s also a double-up icon, that one roughly in the centre in the above photo, which allows you to place another token on top of it in order to double the effect, and a feather-icon that allows you to flip one of your tokens after casting if you don’t like the result (the smaller circle on each token tells you what’s on the reverse). Lastly, there’s a kind of splatter-type of symbol that represents magical damage specifically.
During a combat round, you take your token pool and “randomize” them, before casting them either like dice, or flipping them like coins. I treated mine essentially like dice, though tried to do a bit of a flourish as if I were casting runes or something! Simple things. Some icons are golden on the tokens – the person with the most gold icons has initiative and goes first. In the case of a tie, the monster goes first.
The rules state that another player takes control of the monster when you fight, and decides the order of battle etc, but I was playing solo in order to get to grips with the rules, so just cast them all at once, and always chose the most beneficial act for the monster. It wasn’t as complicated as it might seem, and I actually got knocked out a couple of times as a result of dealing double damage to myself… At any rate, Runebound 3 appears to be a pretty decent solo experience, much like the second edition.
I actually really enjoyed the combat tokens aspect of the game, which surprised me because it was the aspect I was most unsure about. The fact the dice are blank plastic cubes that you put stickers on kinda put me off, but the tokens felt like the worst part to me. The fact that FFG have actually released duplicate tokens struck me as a lack of faith in their durability, however the cardboard is the usual FFG stock, and I’m usually real careful with my games, so I hope they’ll be okay for a long while yet.
The scenario I was playing, Ascendance of Margath, was a lot of fun. Once Act 1 ends, Margath is spawned on the board by means of a token, six or seven hexes outside of Tamalir. Once Act 2 is over, at the end of each round you roll all five dice and move him one hex for every wild space rolled – if he gets to Tamalir, it’s game over. The first couple of times, I either rolled none or 1 wild side, so felt a little cocky and tried to keep going in my adventure, which I’m glad I did because it allowed me to gain one final skill before the final battle on the outskirts of the city!
I was playing as Elder Mok, who has this really useful “surge” ability that allows you to test your Magic attribute +1, and deal magical damage equal to the number of successes you draw. When doing attribute tests like this, there’s a useful rule that lets you “exert” by discarding an unused skill card to draw another – as it turned out, this was exactly what I needed to do enough damage (plus those Lore tokens!) to destroy the big dragon and win freedom for Terrinoth!
I really enjoyed this game. I think I surprised myself just how much I enjoyed it, seeing as how I like the second edition so much that I was not entirely convinced this would be a good successor. Sure, when it was first announced, I was pumped, but once I got it in my hot little hands, I felt a little sad about things like the dice and the tokens. However, now that it’s spent some time on the table, I have to say, I’m sold. The game is re-implemented so well, I’m really looking forward to a long future with this side-by-side with the second edition.