Runebound


Fantasy Flight Games, 2004, 2-6 players, ages 12 and up. Runebound is a fantasy game that borrows heavily from some of the giants of the genre- most notably Talisman and Magic: The Gathering. Players choose a character from one of the twelve supplied with the game. Each character has different special abilities and stats that differentiate it from the others (ala Talisman). Players attempt to build up their power by increasing their stats and purchasing items and allies. To earn gold and experience points, players try their hands at "adventures". Adventures come in four different levels of difficulty (color-coded green, yellow, blue and red). There are a finite number of adventure chits placed on the board at the beginning of the game and each turn players attempt to land their character marker on one of them. This is accomplished through a rather clever (and unique) method of die rolling. Each hex on the map is a specific type of terrain (plains, road, river, hills, mountain, swamp) and these terrain types are represented on the special dice supplied with the game. To get from point A to point B, you have to be able to match the terrain type of the hexes you want to move through with the corresponding terrain symbol on the dice you rolled. If you want to move through a river hex and didn't roll a die with the river symbol on it, then you ain't going to move through that hex this turn. Once you get to a hex with an adventure chit, you draw a card from the appropriate adventure card stack and deal with it. This usually involves fighting a monster. Combat is pretty simple, with four distinct phases (escape, ranged, melee and magic), preceded by one "before combat" phase. You decide for each phase whether you want to fight or defend (your allies can also fight). Your "hero" and each of your allies can fight once during a round of combat. Your combat rolls are modified by the corresponding stat-derived bonus (your "mind" stat for ranged, "body" stat for melee, and "spirit" stat for magic) and can also be modified by items you possess. Assuming you don't want to try to escape you move on to the three phases of combat. Once you figure out all your bonuses for a given phase, you roll to see if you beat the corresponding mind, body or spirit stat of your target. If you did, you do your damage to the target. If not, they do some damage to you. If everybody is still alive, you continue on with another round of combat. If you killed the monster, you get some kind of reward (usually gold). If you died, you lose a few things and get shipped off to the nearest town.

Items and Allies are particularly useful in this game. You basically need to acquire more and better items and allies to be able to take on tougher adventures (eventually leading up to the red ones, by which you win the game). These are acquired by going to town spaces, drawing from the market deck and purchasing the cards that are available in the item market of the town you currently occupy. The items are very remindful of Magic cards insofar as they are usable once per turn (we even "tap" them to indicate an item has been used). Anyway, basically, you spend your time beating up monsters, collecting money, purchasing items and allies, eventually building yourself up to the point where you can take on the red adventures. Then, if you complete the requisite red adventures, you win.

This game is pretty fun, although it does get to be a bit of a drag with more than 3 players. There isn't a great deal of player interaction, so when it's not your turn you just sit there and stare. I'd say it's ideal for 2 or 3 players. The rules cover everything in excruciating detail, with numerous examples (to the point of overkill), so they do take a good long to read through the first time. Still, all of that detail does pay off in the end. Ultimately, the game is pretty simple and once we got the gist of things we rarely had to re-reference the rules (which is always a very nice thing). The board, cards and counters are all very nice, almost justifying the price tag (around $40). I don't know that Runebound will ever displace Talisman, but if they come out with new cards every once in a while to keep it fresh I think it'll have some staying power.

Update:
Fantasy Flight released a 29 card expansion for Runebound in late '04 called "Shadows of Margath". In addition to adding "more of the same", they also added some cards that make it possible to mess around with other players. Pretty sweet, because my only real complaint with the game is that once somebody gets on the fast track to winning, there's not a whole lot the other players can do about (until now). And for a measly $6, you really can't go wrong.

Update:
A second edition of Runebound is now available. It plays basically like the first version, but with subtle alterations to make the game more difficult and take longer. Frankly, I think the changes work pretty well. Although entertaining, the first edition was a bit too easy. This new edition requires a bit more thought and strategy.

Yet another update:
OK, FFG is now (circa 2007) spewing Runebound add-ons, updates, and expansions at an alarming rate. I'm not going to even bother trying to keep up with them here. Suffice it to say that some of them are good and some of them aren't. You're on your own.



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