Friday, July 6, 2012

Crappy Game Review - Rune Age

An open letter to Fantasy Flight Games:

Are you even trying any more? Have you given up trying to make original games, and just devoted all your time to reprinting stuff that you already know will be popular? Are your game designers even showing up for work? Have you started handing out heroin at company picnics?

I ask because I recently played Rune Age, and it is a very sloppy piece of work. It is wonderfully illustrated, of course, but I'm pretty sure you just got the art from other games - which would not be hard, since this game is based in the same world as Runebound, Descent and Rune Wars. It even has a few neat ideas in it, but it looks like you gave the designer four days to whip up a deckbuilding game so that you could have one of your own, and then set him to work coming up with new ways to use non-standard dice before he ever got to actually play his creation.

I can appreciate that you gave us four different ways to play. In theory, it is pretty cool that I could use the same game to play a cooperative exercise, a bloodthirsty kill-fest, a Euro-style shopping spree and a competitive co-op. I like where your head is at, but without a whole lot more effort, a game this ambitious is going to fail. It will be just like the time you tried to date three women in one night without telling any of them about the others, and ended up wearing your tux jacket with no shirt and trying to explain to the drive-thru lady why you needed seventeen tacos with no shells.

I even like that there are different resources provided by different cards, so that I have to decide if I want something that can do some violence, or if I need to add some income to my deck. Should I attack my opponent's home, or try to steal one of his cities? It would seem like there are lots of options and things to do, but if you thought this, you would be largely disappointed.

I've played all the scenarios. Some I even played twice. And I can say that your bold approach shows courage, even if you failed to make any of the four scenarios fun to play. There are neat abilities on some of the cards, but the main theme of this deckbuilding game seems to be not being able to build a deck. Every time it starts to look like I might be able to have a discard pile for more than one turn, all my cards get destroyed and then I end up having to draw three times.

You've got some of it right. For instance, you shouldn't be able to buy the best things on your first turn. That works fine. You should have to buy cards that improve your chances of buying things, which Rune Age makes me do, so at least that is working. But once I do get that big hand of buying power, I need to have something to buy. When there are only a small handful of the coolest cards available, they tend to go pretty fast, and then I have to decide if I would like to cram my deck with a bunch of gold just so I have more than eight cards (because God knows I won't be buying anything but the starter cards that keep getting destroyed). It's just sad that more care was not taken. You could have kept the game interesting right up to the end, but instead you rushed the game out the door so you could cash in on the deckbuilding craze.

Speaking of deckbuilding, have you even played any of the other games out there? If you had, you probably would have noticed a common trend. Every other deckbuilding game I've played gives you enough cards in your starting deck that you don't see your first-round purchases until your third turn. But you've got eight-card decks and five-card hands, which means that after your first turn (and possibly sooner, thanks to some wildly irritating event cards), you'll be playing with the same cards twice. That is just sloppy. It's an obvious, easily-spotted error that you could have fixed with just a little more time and effort.

And while we're discussing not having enough cards, why do you keep making me throw away the ones I've already got? I don't have enough to start, and then every time I turn around, they're leaving my deck. This is very frustrating! When I finish the game with fewer cards than I had when I started, something is not working right. And that non-working something would be the part of the game where I build my deck. In a deckbuilding game. If this were a deckscrewing game, you would have got it just right. But it's not, and you didn't.

I wanted to love Rune Age. I like Runebound a lot, even if it does move slower than immigration reform, and I thought Rune Wars was a ton of fun. I can even sign off on the bland, generic fantasy setting, mostly because you've always got really good art and I'm a sucker for an elf chick in a thong. But I won't be playing Rune Age again, and it's kind of sad, because you had some great ideas working there, and you just screwed them up because you didn't take the time to finish the game.

I know the market demands that you publish more games to stay afloat. I get that, and I can't blame you for an aggressive publishing schedule. Hell, I'm looking forward to the Descent reboot, especially if I don't have to start flipping through the manual every time a new monster walks in the room. But I think it is somewhat telling that the Fantasy Flight games I have enjoyed recently were mostly reprints.

In fact, I'm starting to think that Fantasy Flight doesn't have any respect for the people who buy your games. This is such a lackluster effort that it seems like you just really don't care if you make good stuff, because you think we'll gobble it up like a six-year-old on a bag of ice cream dots at the zoo. This isn't just lazy. It's a cheap attempt to cash in on a trend. A company that really cared about providing quality games would have taken the time to make this one work, or they wouldn't make it at all.

Take your time. You have some very good designers. You could do a lot better than this. Rune Age was a throwaway effort, an attempt to compete with Nightfall and Dominion and Eminent Domain. The difference, you'll probably see, is that those games were designed by people who took the job seriously. Those games were tweaked and tested and played and scrapped and scrubbed and spindled and folded, until they are well-oiled machines of card-buying frenzy. Rune Age, by comparison, is the rusty clunker I bought for 500 bucks when I was in college. The one with the gas gauge that always read empty and the windows that only rolled down if I took off the door panel. The game might be a deckbuilding game, but it's a sloppy, unfinished mess.

I know you can do better than this. I've seen it. I've played dozens of your games that I really loved, but if you keep making copycat games that look like you slapped dog poop on a Xerox machine, that could change. You're the industry giant, but being big is no reason to get sloppy.

Unless you're Andre the Giant. He really couldn't talk any better than that.


2-4 players

Some interesting ideas, like an event deck that affects all the players, every round
Great art, which mostly came from other games

An obviously flawed attempt to ride the coattails of better games
Not much fun to play a deckbuilding game that keeps me from building a deck
Sloppy and unfinished
Design that says Fantasy Flight has no respect for its fans

If you want to buy a copy of Rune Age - well, don't. It sucks. I'm not giving you a link. I'm pissed that I played it, and I'm not telling you where to get your own.


Eirikre said...

I really liked that this game didn't play like other deckbuilding games. Many of the things you pointed out as flaws I saw as strengths. I did feel there wasn`t enough cards to create the kind of variety I would want in a game of that type but I think that I, like you, was falling into the trap of `Dominion = deck building so if Dominion has it any good deck building game needs it too`. The four factions that play completely differently along with the different scenarios and game types makes for a fair amount of variety and now that there is an expansion we have even more.
All that being said I don`t own Rune Age and I don`t plan to. It`s good but not great and there are so many games.

Wiz-War said...

This game is a true stinker. But I did play Infiltration and had a surprisingly good blast playing it. The only detraction that I saw (besides it being tough as hell) is the random scoring of the bits at the end. Reminds me of Survive when scoring and I never play with that random scoring rule.

So I think FFG can still make great original games. It's just sad that the quality of their original games is rarer nowadays.

I think nerd fame has gotten to Corey's head. Hopefully he can pull it out of his butt long enough to make a decent game again.

Wiz-War said...

I just remembered that Infiltration is designed by Vaccarino.

Nevermind what I said about in house FFG games being occasionally good.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Strange... we love Rune Age (with the expansion) Its a great game IMHO.