If you had said two years ago, that I would stand on a battlefield against my own brother, I would laugh at you. That fool, who gave his life away to serve God, did not have any ambition. But people change. And man, who was used only to holding his hands crossed and silently moving his lips, became a great leader. Opportunity came his way, when last general of Daqan units died in gates of his cathedral. He came to ask for forgiveness and he has received it. And from his ashes rose a new phoenix. My brother, who I have chased from one battle to another ever since.
And this is just one of great stories, that could happen in the world of Terrinoth. They are all told by board game Rune Wars, which was first published in 2010. Acclaimed designer named Corey Konieczka stands behind it, under protection hand of Christian T. Petersen. Illustration were provided for by Fantasy Flight Games (publisher) by many authors, among them Andrew Navaro and Brian Schomburg.
Quite high square box will not let you relax for a while. Just like the battle scene with a terrifying war stallion on the lid of the box. However, everything is possible inside and it starts flooding you with cardboard sheets. Players get primarily pile of map segments, which consist of a variable number of hexagonal arrays. But there are also some damage counters, defeat, development, exploration, influence or training tokens, all waiting to be used.
Runes, activation and fortress are still not the last and even then, each token has its own shape. At the very end of the line stand arrows, which players will use to decorate (using plastic connecting pieces) their big faction cards. They represent material scales, that will be the trio of arrows watching for each nation. Cards are in there in a much larger representation (than factions), whether as small fortune, objectives or tactics, or bigger orders and tasks. Total of ten different species offers a wide range of options for the whole game.
At the start of every game, players must first build the map. Together, they develop plan with help of setup cards (which will allow them to use some map segments) and create their world of variously sized pieces. Those then will still be accompanied by home pieces (made of three hexagons), that are given to each faction. But players do not receive only these locations. They also acquire nation card in their color, command deck, tokens and pieces of fortresses and development. Map is then equipped with rune tokens and cities, and spaces also are given their initial occupiers (neutral units).
But this is yet far from over. First, each party gets one hero and starting raw materials (arrows set on indicators), but also a pair of quests and supply of influence and tactic cards according to number on board of his nation. Fight is now pretty close, because players use their raw materials and recruit units. We have concealed presence of miniatures to you in previous text, but pictures already he betrayed this mystery long ago. Players deploy forces along with fortress on their home territory. All other cards and tokens create decks / stacks close at hand.
Game is divided into a finite number of rounds (up to seven), each season has its own four time periods. Events form each part of the year, forcing players to always reveal event card related to that particular time of year. Its guidelines always have to be evaluated. After that, players will begin action and choose commands from one of eight cards in hand. Offer is same for everyone.
This secretly played cards are then revealed and evaluated in order from starting player forward. Here is heart of the whole match and place, where you can win or lose everything. Players have choice of a pile of different activities that start with simple movement and battle, but also include construction of fortresses, production of raw materials, recruiting new units, gain cards or influence. Most of it is aimed at strengthening influence of the player on the map and preparing himself for battle in the following rounds.
But any such played card sadly remains on the table until next spring. Players, therefore, always use up four of their eight cards before they have unlimited choice again. Each such command has also a unique number. This forces players take actions progressively depending on action’s power, while trying to save strongest for end of year. Why? Because any time someone plays a card, that has highest number of his revealed cards, he can take one bonus in addition to standard action. And it is quite worth it to use it this way.
Moving is done by three actions that can always lead to some open conflict. All this with both neutral units and with enemy. Players can move their troops to neighboring position or vice versa activating one box to convene them all and start a great fight, which will not be forgotten for long time. Such location is also marked by activation token and unit must remain there for rest of the season.
Neutral units can be arranged through diplomacy and luck of fate cards. However, when armies of two opponents encounter each other, it is time to settle accounts. Here, players move their troops from the board next to their faction card (as illustrated), and thereby determine order of initiative. Then, they can apply a variety of support options and finally it comes to revealing cards. Each fate card holds required value for each unit (depending on the shape of the base). Their sum is then compared and winner will come out. The loser has to flee to neighboring field, his troops are injured and in addition become tired.
Separate element of the game (except, that they can provide support in the fight) are heroes. They have chance to go on a mission every summer and accomplish a task, which the player holds in his hand from the start. They receive a reward for it, if they are able to meet the requirements of the test in its properties.
Players will get some places under control and mine raw materials needed for further influx of troops. But in the end everything depends on the runes, which were at the beginning of the game jointly scattered around the world and are still appearing as a consequence of other events in the game. Players reveal their identity, hiding it from others and trying to keep control of the locations, where these valuable artifacts are found. At the end of the seventh year, whoever holds most rune territories, wins.
Rune Wars is first and foremost a unique and profound adventure-war experience. It skillfully combines expedition of heroes with military element, where large armies meet on the battlefield. This together creates a real master mix, which is governed by relatively advanced and detailed rules.
Their learning is a task for experienced players. Rules are full of exceptions, important details and all those little things, therefore reason, why we all love such complex games. At the same time, this means, that it hardly can be honestly played by someone less experienced without preparation. Game has a very steep and long learning curve, because it combines a lot.
But as a consequence of it, game still does not feel like puppy and kitten cooked cake. Instead, we have a game that works well from start to finish, grabs you by its story and does not let go. Each game is unique, world is different every time, challenges are different and whole match is developing in a completely different way. It does not need luck to do this, because you will look in vain for dice in a box. As a source of luck, there are many places using cards that are sometimes just as unpredictable. But they can at least be more balanced and fairer, than dice, that do not follow any rules (at least at first glance, right statisticians?).
Whole complexity of the game must go hand in hand with its length. Rune Wars are fought at best, if you should dedicate one entire evening to it, because including demanding setup and cleanup await you definitely at least four hours of fun (more with four players). If you do not think about playing board games seriously, then you would probably be discouraged by this number.
Game offers plenty of space to think. Many matches are governed also by luck, but players have big part of the game in their hands. It starts with most important element – command cards, which are use only once per season. In addition, also their order is important and you must combine it with your needs to take advantage of actions to the maximum. Bonus events are very valuable helpers in the fight.
Recruiting new units is solved in an interesting way and it depends solely on position of sources indicators. This scale has printed units on it and player with action succeeds on his side to get new fighters from all sectors of the same or lower level, than those indicated by state arrow. Map fills more and more with influx of new troops and game becomes an epic experience.
Heroes are an important element of gameplay. And here it grasps gaming hearts even of those, who do not have that much love for war games. Rune Wars is such a hybrid, in which adventurers have potential to decide some things. It is their performance of quests and rewards, that may surprise and get you the right extra points in the final showdown. Here it would be good to mention, that game includes even the possibility of an early end, which presupposes gaining six dragon runes.
And we still did not emphasize, that number of players from two to four is always more than good, when measured by experience. With increasing number, length of the game extends, so you will definitely love from time to time to battle in two in game that is much more rapid. And despite the fact that luck and some card imbalance appears.
Theme is really awesome. A lion’s share of this is, of course, on uncompromising production from resource arrows through pile of beautifully processed tokens up to the actual miniatures of units and heroes. All this forms a compact game and truly spectacular impression on the table. We must also commend rulebook, which, while unusually sorted, is full of examples and everything will be clear enough (although you’ll come back to it, because there are forty pages of text).
Rune Wars is masterfully assembled game, that broke through into our personal top rankings. Especially for players, who like a dense atmosphere and long game full of adrenaline, this game gained a real appreciation. Rune Wars is a game, in which everything works and connects to virtually perfect whole, which is not thinned down even on space longer than three hours. This is how really great experience looks like!
+ great experience from beginning to end
+ precise processing
+ war and heroes in a coherent whole
+ very complex
+ variability for each match
+ great card system of commands (and their order)
+ division into seasons and their characteristics
- slight imbalance in two players
- duration and complexity of the game will be too much for some