Impressions: Runebound 3rd Ed.
Paul: No? Who are you? Get out of my house.
Quinns: That’s because it doesn’t exist! I played the 2nd edition of fantasy quest game Runebound back in 2011 and didn’t think it was vitally important to tell our readers about it.
Paul: That’s probably because it wasn’t vitally important. It wasn’t the most compelling fantasy quest game I’ve ever played, either. It was a bit stodgy, a bit brown, a bit turgid, a bit-
Quinns: BUT PAUL! Fantasy Flight are about to release a new, beautiful, 3rd edition of Runebound and we PLAYED IT HERE AT THEIR WORLDS EVENT!
Paul: YES I KNOW THIS WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME here we are all asweat with excitement right now, reporting LIVE FROM THE SCENE and completely surrounded by X-wings and Netrunner decks and people live-streaming who have been repeatedly told DON’T SWEAR ON THE STREAMS.
Quinns: And Paul, they’ve made some crazy changes! Combat is now decided by discs-
Paul: I KNOW.
Quinns: I get what you’re saying. You want to know about the basics of Runebound. So, this is a game where all the players are racing around Descent’s fantasy world of Terrinoth like medieval Supermarket Sweep contestants, filling their pantaloons with magical horns and tinkling potions, trying to defeat a great evil before anyone else. It’s a lot like Talisman, if you’ve played that, except instead of doing sword-swinging laps of the board like a cross between a NASCAR driver and a murderer, you can go anywhere.
Paul: I am entirely aware of this basics as we quested our way through them together. We rolled those special movement dice to scuttle up and down the map, trying to match the terrains we rolled to the hexes we hauled ourselves across. We landed on little quest tokens that had us fighting orcs or scratching for treasure or, at one point, my character going to lunch with his aunt NO I AM NOT KIDDING.
Also the loot. I remember the loot. I remember sticking my milkshake straw into the purses of dead elves and using this proboscis to suck out the gold I needed to buy spiked armour and winged boots, because this was just TWO HOURS AGO.
Quinns: Oh yes! You were there. Maybe I forgot you were playing Runebound with me because there’s not a great deal of player interaction, and that seems to be where a lot of the effort went with this edition.
Story cards affect the entire table. One quest we got let a hero “learn” from another hero playing the game, so long as they could catch up with them, resulting in a hilarious circumstance where everyone started edging away from them. And most importantly, whenever you fight a monster using the new disc-based combat, the players to your left controls that monster, trying to do the most harm.
And I’m happy to say that these new discs are fun! As if you were doing battle using a handful of loose change, you gather up all of your character’s discs, and those of their equipment, and cast them across the table. Different faces might mean you can go first, or hit the monster, or (wait for it!) re-toss some of their coins, as if you were frantically re-arranging a salad until all the damage-olives were on the bottom.
Paul: Yep, there’s a tremendous amount to do in this game, that’s for sure, but hardly any of it actually involves any of the other players, meaning this way of conducting combat felt almost like a compensatory measure. Sure, the board is peppered with adventure, and thick, heavy decks of cards are full of scores of quests and monsters and magic items. However, there’s almost no opportunity for you to either cooperate or compete with anyone. As you stride about the land, bashing ogres, visiting fortresses or exploring mountain passes, you’re having extremely solitary experiences. Everyone else could pretty much leave the table while you have your turn.
Quinns: Yeah. And sadly, for all of Runebound’s lovely cards and concepts, its solitary nature remains the end of the discussion for me. It’s a box from another time, like a sarcophagus or a fax machine. I cannot remember the last time I played a board game and was waiting for my turn!
Those turns were fantastic fun, especially when I bought a new piece of equipment and got the disc that came with it, or rolled the EXACT correct combination on the terrain dice to scoot up a mountain and down again in one smooth action. But in our four player game, I was only truly enjoying myself 25% of the time. If I was ever going to play it again, it would totally be as a 2 player game to bump that ratio up to 50%.
Paul: Right. I liked getting stuff. I found gradually gaining skills and gold and gear to be extremely satisfying, especially after I grabbed a suit of armour which gave me an extra combat token to toss, making me far better in a fight. It really made me feel much more of a threat, which made me fantastically proud, but it took a while for me to earn a lot of the things that I won and this meant a great deal of questing, of tramping back and forth, of repeating basically the same formula of fighting and looting and shopping, but also even more watching other people do this entirely independent of me. I didn’t like that bit nearly as much.
Quinns: Can I say that I also got really annoyed when I did badly? Does that reflect badly on me? I ended up feeling like Charlie Brown for half of our game. Early on I got beaten up by a faerie and woke up in a bush, then a friend of ours rocketed up to my tile and snatched the adventure I was STANDING ON, and then I got beaten up by a sorceror and woke up in a bush. Again.
So help me god, I’m going to give a compliment to Talisman: At least in Talisman when terrible stuff happens to you, like you’re turned into a frog who is then arrested, you can laugh because heinous crap is going to happen to your friends, too. In Runebound, I felt like I was hitting speedbumps and my friends were accelerating away. That’s a special kind of sadness.
Paul: I thought it was way better than Talisman, giving you more freedom, better balance and progression, particularly with monsters gradually getting more powerful and a final boss appearing who, if you don’t challenge them in time, ends the game. But it was still a long experience, too long for my liking. What lovely cards. What exciting magic items. What monsters. What a lot of grinding. What a lot of repetition. I’m glad that the Lord of the Rings films are so long, because lots of different and exciting things happen. I can’t say the same for Runebound.
Quinns: Yep! It’s big improvement to Runebound 2nd edition, and the best magical questing game I’ve played (EXCEPT FOR MAGE KNIGHT thanks commenters), but I’m still not sure it’s for us.