Friday, May 16, 2008
Board Game Review - Runebound
Fantasy games aren't that tough to find. It seems there may be some nerd-related interest in the area of hitting things with sharp metal objects and occasionally lighting something on fire. The neat thing is, chicks often dig fantasy, too - at least, it's a heck of a lot easier to get a female to play a game with dragons in it than it would to get one playing a recreation of D-Day.
But even though there are plenty of games with a fantasy theme, it seems a few big players rise to the top, like cream on a bowl of fresh milk. And one of the best and biggest fantasy games out there is Runebound.
Runebound is not a squad-based military simulation. It's not a dungeon game. It's an adventure game, where you wander around a big countryside and get into trouble. Everyone picks a character, and this is one awesome part of the game, because it's really funny. The characters are cool, but some are really absurd.
Take Varikas the Dead - he's funny because he really is dead, and for some reason, is really good at jumping. Or Bogran the Shadow, a very creepy orc guy who wields a poisoned blade, and for some reason, wears a red S&M mask. And my personal favorite, Red Scorpion, who has boobs like watermelons and wears only a thong and some metal cereal bowls (and a cape, but it flows out behind her, and thus covers absolutely nothing, but will probably get her sucked into a jet engine one day).
If you play Descent and you're thinking, 'hey, that sounds familiar', it's because Descent and Runebound are placed in the same fake world with the same fake people. In fact, the similarity doesn't stop there. While Descent has a lot more stats on the cards, Runebound still shows health, fatigue, melee, range and magic. High stats in melee make you a meat shield, and high magic makes you a spellcaster. Easy enough.
So you get your plastic dude that vaguely resembles the picture on your character card, and take turns rolling movement dice and wandering around the countryside, looking to pick fights. There are all these locations, and you go there and draw a bad guy card and get in a rumble.
Fights are simple dice-off challenges. There's no maneuvering, though there is strategy because you have to choose the right phases to defend or attack, and you might have helpers who can pitch in here and there. If you win, you'll get experience and maybe treasure, and if you lose, you get dead, which sucks for you.
After a while, you'll trade in experience to get better stats, and you'll trade gold for better gear, and you'll hire helpers, and otherwise get tougher. The game gets tougher, too - the higher-level adventures are clearly marked, and you can really get your ass kicked by the real baddies. But you have to try, because the first person to take down the super-bad red dragon wins the game.
Runebound is really more about the theme than it is about the game, though the game is still a blast. Wandering the countryside, winning magic weapons, recruiting allies, saving the world from darkness - that's why you're here. It's not like you're going, 'wow, these play mechanics are astoundingly brilliant!' Instead, you'll say, 'take that, demonic whore! Ha! I rule!' (unless you die, and then you might say something completely different, and slightly less printable).
Runebound lacks one of the elements that Ameritrashers seem to love - player interaction. Yeah, you can ambush your fellow players and steal their crap, but the fact is, there's so little going on between the players that you can play it solo. That's not really a bad thing for me, because my wife and daughter vastly prefer games where we don't repeatedly try to whack each other, though when we make the pre-game agreement not to stab each other, my son always scowls. I think he just likes to hurt things. I may have to keep an eye on our pets.
But then, it's not like someone is going to mistake Runebound for a Euro. It's all about the story, the rules are kind of long for what it is, and there's a body count like a civil war. Euro games with fantasy themes tend to abstract all the blood-letting with bidding gimmicks and math. Runebound breaks out the pointy sticks and makes with the gore. And if that sex-mask orc meets up with the top-heavy gymnast chick, there may be more reasons you shouldn't let your kids watch you play this game.
Runebound is a hoot. It's a little long - like two or three hours, sometimes more - but the whole family can play, as long as the violence doesn't give you fits. And since there's a retarded amount of luck, there's even a chance the inattentive child might win, though those odds aren't good, because you still have to have the sense to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, among other important decisions.
Plus there are expansions. Lots and lots of expansions. In fact, I can't think of another board game that has as many expansions. There are replacement decks of cards to make you have completely different adventures, different boards, different treasures and more. You can play the bejeezus out of this game, and enjoy it for a really long time. This is one game that is a really great investment, because if you like fantasy games, you'll get a lot of play for your pay.
Heavy-chested dames in metal bikinis
Fun, story-based rules that let you have fun without tricks or gimmicks
A whole hell of a lot of luck
Not a lot of player interaction - almost like playing a solo game at the same time as everyone else
My family plays a lot of Runebound. It's one of our favorites. You can get it here:
Posted by Matt Drake at 3:07 PM