July 25, 2008

Lots of Runebound

by Susan Rozmiarek

And yet even more Wallace...........

Runebound is not a game that most people associate with Martin Wallace, including me, but his name is right there on the box as a co-designer (along with Darrell Hardy). I wonder how much of the design is his. My younger son, Shea (age 12) and I have been making our way through the expansions. So far, we have played two of the big box ones and thoroughly enjoyed them both. Mind you, Shea and I don't exactly play like the game is intended to be played. Rather than a competitive race, we play it more like a cooperative RPG. There is no PvP and we take our time leveling up until we are pretty much strolling across the board, crushing every challenge in our path. :-) This makes the game even more slow and plodding than it already is but we just leave it set up to be played over several evenings.

Sands of Al-Kalim

This expansion changes the base game quite a bit, all in good ways that contribute to a good narrative, something I'm always looking for in an adventure game. Your goal is to complete four different types of quests, each giving you a nice reward when completed that is often a powerful item or ally. Most of the quests involve going to specific locations and defeating challenges or succeeding at skill tests.

The terrain on this board is different and you now have to consider whether you are traveling during the day or night. Being mostly desert, traveling by day is tiring and costs fatigue, especially if you end up chasing mirages. Traveling by night is easier, but the monsters you encounter are often stronger at night. There's a big sandstorm that moves around the board, hindering movement and covering towns and adventure locations making them unavailable. There are three lost cities and one can suddenly appear at an adventurer's location. Later on, they may disappear again, but while on the board, each has a huge benefit that can be used by a visiting hero. One allows a player to discard all heart tokens from his hero and allies, another allows a hero to teleport to any space on the board, and the third allows a player to draw five cards from the market deck and choose the one to add to the market there.

The biggest new mechanism in this expansion and the one that drives many of the changes mentioned above is the addition of the story step. If you choose not to adventure, explore a market at a city, or choose a new quest (which is done at this time), you roll a "story die" which is simply a movement die. You look up the symbols rolled on a chart and resolve the effect(s) in any order you like. Some are simple ones like getting a gold or discarding a fatigue token, but others move the sandstorm, cause a lost city to appear (or all of them to disappear) or the hero is ambushed (only if traveling at night) and he has to then draw and resolve an adventure card. This story element creates some new decisions for heroes. As an example, you may not want to end your turn on a blank terrain tile because you will then have to roll the story die and might cause the lost city you are desperately trying to reach to disappear. Or you may not want to risk getting ambushed because you or traveling at night in order to avoid taking fatigue.

Besides an emphasis on fatigue, another thing that I noticed about this expansion is that it seems to place a lot of emphasis on skill checks. Many of the encounters and the quests require skill checks. Fortunately, there are some new items in the city markets available for purchase that help heroes out with the new challenges. Pack camels, assist in movement, water skins discard heart and fatigue counters as well as ignoring mirages, and adventuring kits give bonuses to skill checks. These are limited to the number of counters of each provided with the game, but are available at every city market.

In the base game, encounters are sorted based on difficulty from green being the easiest, then yellow, blue and finally red which includes the enemy players are trying to defeat to win the game. Heroes progress through the levels of encounters, as they increase their abilities with experience. In Sands of Al-Kalim, players are trying to complete four quests to win the game. However, the quests all seem roughly the same difficulty. But, you are still forced to level up and progress through th higher encounters as you are only allowed to hold as many quests as the highest level of encounter you have turned in as experience points. You will have to have defeated a red encounter in order to complete your fourth quest. I though this was a rather clever.

There are also six new characters for use with this expansion or the base game.

This expansion brings a lot to Runebound. The additions I've discussed above create more decisions for the heroes. The quests are fun and they weave a nice story. This is a fabulous addition to an already good game.

The following week, we played:

The Island of Dread

Playing this on the heels of Sands of Al-Kalim was a bit of a disappointment but it should not have been. This is a rather nice expansion as well. It just doesn't change the game quite as much as Sands.

The first big difference is a gorgeous, gorgeous new map with islands connected by sea routes between towns. The routes are interrupted with sea encounters that replace the blue encounters present in the base game. The green, yellow, and red encounters have new decks and occur on designated land locations, just as in the base game. In addition, there is a deck of silver encounters. These occur on the Island of Dread, for which there is a separate tile set off to the side of the main board. The goal of the game is to find this island and defeat the evil god there, drawing and defeating the silver challenges until you draw and defeat him.

The biggest change in this expansion by far is sea travel. There aren't enough encounters on a single island to keep everyone busy for long, so you'll soon be wanting to voyage on to greener pastures. There is now a new deck of captains. In order to travel by sea, you must hire a captain at the market of the town from which you are departing. Captains vary in cost and have special abilities. They act like an ally but don't count against your ally limit. However, if your captain dies in battle with a sea encounter (or the hero does) you will be shipwrecked and the player on your left will choose an adjacent land space. You'll lose your gold and most valuable item just as in the base game when you are knocked out. You don't roll movement dice to travel by sea; instead you just move to the next sea encounter space (or town), draw the encounter card and resolve it. When you do reach a town, your captain immediately goes back into the market stack. You can never have more than one captain and it you don't set out to sea on the next turn after hiring one, you lose him. Also, if you don't have the money, you can still get a captain and head out to sea, you just don't get any of the rewards or experience for defeating sea encounters for that voyage.

Another big addition to this game is the map tiles. Map tiles are used in matched sets of one green and one blue tile. You'll earn these by defeating sea encounters as well as in a few other places during the game. You'll draw them form a facedown pile, so you can't depend on always getting a set. Sets are discarded during your experience step while voyaging to do one of two things. You can discard a set to "discover" the Island of Dread" and take on the final challenge. I don't recommend this until you are leveled up and good and ready, however. :-) More often, you'll be discarding a set to find a legendary item. There are eight of these, all different, that you can choose from as long as they are still available. These each have a unique, powerful ability that you can use at the appropriate time by discarding the item and placing it back into the pool to be found again. These marvelous abilities include things like automatically winning combat rolls of certain types, starting the combat phase of an encounter in any phase you like, having fatigue dealt to you instead of health in a round, replenishing encounters on the board, etc. It is strongly advised to get a few of these items to help defeat some of the harder sea encounters before you have leveled up and before you take on the final challenge.

There is one final change in this expansion although it is not quite so dramatic. These are tiles that are placed on the board due to an event that is drawn. They include things such as turning sea encounter locations into regular sea channels, making it easier to travel, or causing several cities to sink into the sea and disappear.

Finally, there are eight new characters to use in the expansion or the base game.

While this expansion did not change the game as radically as the Sands the Al-Kalim, it still provides a nice change of pace from the base game and I really enjoyed it.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at July 25, 2008 8:10 PM


I was thinking of getting rid of Runebound now that I have Prophecy (which I finally played and enjoyed yesterday) but you've sold me on keeping it and picking up Sands of Al-Kalim.

Of course it would help matters to be able to keep Runebound set up so it can be played over a series of evenings. Sadly I don't have that luxury. Does Sand of Al-Kalim speed up the game play?

Posted by: Iain on July 27, 2008 7:08 PM


Martin Wallace answered your opening question a in the Westpark Gamers' Essen 2005 report


""I hate the fantasy genre" he told me, "I just developed the basic mechanics and let Fantasy Flight create the story and the world""

It's no little irony that the royalties from Runebound and its expansions provided the financial security that allowed Martin to become a full-time designer.

Posted by: Andy Parsons on July 31, 2008 2:33 PM

We've been on vacation which is why I'm so late in answering your comments. Sorry!

Iain - I don't think Sands really speeds up the play although it is hard for me to tell, given the leisurely way we play it. Each player is going to add significant time so I would only ever play with 2 or 3. I like Prophecy a lot as well and it is definitely quicker if you play with the shorter variant (collecting two artifacts). The big open map of Runebound appeals to me more over the elegant circular track and movement of Prophecy, even if the movement dice are a little clunky and annoying.

Andy - that's interesting. I had a hunch that Martin W. didn't have a whole lot to do with the game. It's too bad he doesn't care for fantasy. I bet he could come up with some cool games.

Posted by: Susan on August 11, 2008 10:30 AM
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