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Julia

Bound to the Runes - A RB 3rd edition review

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(cross-posting from BGG):

 

Have you ever dreamt of a vast, far land, where majestic rivers carve the deepest creeks before entering exterminated plains to form deadly swamps or turquoise lakes? Where marble walls of cities atop of green hills glow in the sunlight? Where an ancient magic still stirs, and artifacts of incredible power lie, waiting to be discovered by yet unsung heroes? Where the air you breathe, the path you walk, the joy that fills your heart, all of them spell freedom?

If the answer to all of this is yes, then, welcome to Mennara.

After 10 years from 2nd edition, Fantasy Flight Games finally brings us back to the enchanted world of RuneBound with a third edition of their classic game. It was time that such a reboot happened: with four other games set in the Terrinoth universe, the need of having RuneBound back was higher than ever. The wars between the different armies raging the continent was told by RuneWars; zooming in on the battlefield offered us BattleLore; campaign and dungeon exploring were covered by Descent; and finally RuneAge completed the frame, adding deckbuilding and a more agile game. But what if we simply wanted to be a hero wandering through Terrinoth, in search for adventure, moved by the desire of an RPG-like experience? Well, we had nothing available, until RuneBound 3rd edition arrived.

The core set offers all what’s needed to start: a map, showing the beating heart of Mennara; two enthralling scenarios, forcing the heroes to challenge Margath, an ancient dragon of immeasurable power, or the Undead hordes serving Vorakesh, the Corpse King; six heroes, and all what’s needed to plant the seeds of a new legend.

Many things have already been said about the rules and the game system; so that let’s give a look at the game per se.


1. Is the game is fun?
Clearly, this depends strongly on what you’re searching in a game, but I do believe this game is actually really fun. For several reasons. First of all, players have the maximum freedom on how to develop their characters: adventuring offers the heroes the option to choose among a combat deck, featuring mostly enemies to fight; an exploration deck, rich in quest cards; and a social deck, offering quite a few rumors to be solved. Each deck offers specific rewards allowing heroes to develop and prep for the final battle, so that technically it’s possible to win the game without fighting a single battle but the last one against Margath or Vorakesh. Additionally, heroes are also free to choose what type of engine to develop: would they like to invest more on learning the deadliest skills or on gaining the most powerful items of the game? Because a good selection of skills allows a hero to become as deadly as a warrior armed with the strongest weapons, and this knowledge opens countless new paths to victory.
Then, the game is fun because no two games play alike: the adventure decks come with 30 cards each (20 general cards + 10 cards specific to the scenario) and the story is driven by a story deck made of 10 cards, of which only 8 enter play during the game. This results in a different story being told every time, and in the adventure decks always offering new surprises and challenges.
Finally, the game is fun because it’s quick. One hour per player, more or less, to cover a distance of 22 turns during which the pace of the game keeps growing, and the pressure builds up as you see the other heroes gearing up to full power, and the threat of the final enemy becoming bigger and bigger.


2. Is the combat system lame?
Again, this depends on what you expect from the game, so that I’ll only comment on my experience. When I started playing RuneBound 3rd edition, I thought the idea of casting tokens was just like flipping coins. Stupid. Lame. Idiotic. Then I played, and I was hooked. It’s not that stupid, nor idiotic, nor lame. If symbols on tokens were only damage vs shield vs nothing, then, yes, it’d be all of that and even worse. But the point is that you have a Doubler symbol, allowing you to boost the power of another token. And an Agility symbol, allowing you to flip one of your tokens or force your enemy to recast one of his tokens. And a Surge symbol, that could trigger many and different abilities, specific of items or of the heroes. And during the game you can expand the token pool by gaining items (each item has its own token, having different symbols and different abilities than any other element of the game), and in this way you can gain the symbols needed to chain / trigger stronger effects. And all of this could be enhanced by means of the skill system, with cards allowing you to generate new devastating effects or to summon a circle of protection to deflect your enemies damage and so on. The system is very simple; but simple doesn’t mean lame, or stupid. Au contrair, simple means you can resolve a combat in a minute or two; but these two minutes can require quite a lot of meaningful decisions. And in the latter part of the game (i.e. the second part of Act 2), when both heroes and monsters could cast up to 6 tokens, there are quite a few interactions in this “simple” system to entertain most of the gamers I know.


3. Does the core game offers a good experience, or do I need 412 expansions to enjoy it?
The core set offers a good experience, and yes, you can enjoy it even without expansions: the two scenarios are not mutilated (one thing comes to mind: Eldritch Horror core, and the cards expanding the core coming with Forsaken Lore. Not gonna happen here, don’t worry) and offer a complete (and truly enjoyable) gaming experience. Replayability is huge, and the game is challenging, so that don’t expect to pull a victory on your first try, and even if you have quite a few games under your belt, don’t expect to win every time (Margath for me is 70-30, while Vorakesh is 50-50).
But it’s worth saying that the game is designed to be expanded: the skill deck is made of 6 subsets, so that new skills will probably come and be used in stead of one of the existing sets; same for assets. New heroes can be added, and there are hints in the Reference Guide to expansions coming (there’s a sentence referring explicitely to terrains existing in the core set, so that we can speculate on new maps arriving, sooner or later); and clearly the arrival of new scenarios appears also likely. So, when I look at the game, I feel like I’m just reading the first two chapters of a marvellous (and probably huge) book.


4. How is the experience if I want to solo it?
There are only a few effects in the game interesting more than one hero at a time, so that for me the game is truly enjoyable even with solo play. The fact that there’s a condition triggering the end for each scenario makes the solitary experience no different from teamplay; and in case a card is drawn with an effect that is not resolvible while soloing the game, it’s enough discarding the card and drawing again. So far I played solo twice, and on both occasions I had a lot of fun.


So, here we are, alone, on that hill, watching yet another wrecked ship sinking in the Blackwing Swamp. A horn blows in the distance, signaling the hunt has begun. Who are you? The hunter? Or the pray? In any case, saddle your horse, prep your weapons, be ready. A world of adventures is here, for you, waiting to be discovered.

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Hmmm... you're making me reconsider my initial decision not to buy third ed. (I have all of 2nd ed.). Sounds like it actually might be an improvement over 2nd ed., at the very least where multiplayer is concerned. 

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There are some big improvements over 2nd edition, in my opinion, but I didn't want to make comparisons for two different reasons:

a) don't want the review to flame; I understand there are some people truly in love with 2nd edition, and the idea of the review was to talk about how 3rd edition is, and not assessing which of the two is better
b) I never played 2nd edition; I know the rules, and the general structure of the game, but it's not enough to make an actual valid comparison

But here are some thoughts on why I believe 3rd edition is a huge improvement over 2nd. First of all, all scenarios have a time cap of max 23 turns. Then, it's final battle time (with some light variations, Margath's scenario could last two or three turns more because at turn 23 the dragon starts moving and then he has to reach Tamalir and destroy the city; but it's not on significant on the playtime). You play in one hour / player without any trouble. And for its structure, the game can't drag more than that (unless AP, but that's another story).

Then the game is about building effective engines. This can be achieved by gaining awesome stuff or learning deadly skills or a mix of the two. And it's not said that you must resolve combats to do so. You may wander through the board and adventure: gaining quests to complete by exploring this or that location of Mennara; resolving social encounters (like: you meet a desperate merchant whose goods have been savaged by the Orcs, or you may help a dwarven blacksmith to forge a sword, and so on). All these adventures grant you rewards both in terms of gold and / or trophies that can be used to gain items from the markets or to learn skills. So, it's totally asymmetric (you are allowed to follow the path you want to level up, and all good strategies are in the end good) and this gives you a lot of freedom.

Finally, they improved the clunky dice mechanics, so that now you have a base pool of dice featuring 3 movement dice you have to roll for movement (yes, it's a move and roll, but there are ways to add dice, recast dice and make automatic movements, so, it's not that stupid). And the combat system is based on casting tokens, which again, could sound lame, but it's not, especially since during the game you work on a token pool building mechanic so that you actually work on gaining the tokens you need to become hypereffective.

Anyhoo, a final comment on my experience with the game: in the beginning, I hated it. It felt so stupid, so wrong, so hopeless. Two games in, and I was hooked. At the moment, I'm at 25 games played and I'm always in the "ok, we have time, let's play some RuneBound" mode biggrin.gif For me, it's one of the best games released in 2015: fast, light, with a lot of theme, and a lot of things to think about without having my brain burn.

 

I see many could disagree with this and would prefer 2nd edition over the 3rd one. But the point is: the two games are really different. And 3rd edition seems to be the right answer to all those who were not happy with 2nd

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Thanks Julia for such a fantastic review. My game group plays this, second edition every once I awhile but I ran into the second edition kinda late and its when all the expansions were running, and still are, really expensive so I have no expansions for it though it's a great game. When this came out I really was excited because I can get in on it from the ground up. I think I'm gonna order this one and, because I'm such a old warhammer fan, order the warhammer card game too. I think both will be great.

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I actually think 3rd is a huge improvement in mechanics, much more elegant overall. the only place I think 2nd outshines it is the thematic flavor and variety in the items/companions/encounters. 3rd feels a bit generic in comparison. Just observation and personal opinion, and expansions will probably more than compensate. I also think 3rd is better designed to accomodate expansions.  :)

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