An RPG in a box. This is usually all I need to say when beginning to explain what Runebound is before I am met with the response of, “Ya, I’m in.”
Runebound is the best example of a game that I own that gives me a sense of complete character and story progression over the course of a single sitting. While other games accomplish this through a campaign that requires multiple play sessions I am just at a point where it is a struggle to schedule enough recurring play sessions with the same group so those multi-session campaign style games are a near impossibility for me to get through these days, and that’s were Runebound comes in to save the day.
When beginning a game of Runebound you first select an overall scenario that your heroes are racing to accomplish, typically in the form of a big baddy that is wrecking havoc over the lands of Terrinoth. The scenario that you select comes with a set of story-specific cards that get shuffled into three different quest decks, giving each scenario a more individualized feel to make sure that each story doesn’t feel too similar. Each of you then picks your starting hero and gathers their starting components—now you are off to adventure and to prepare for the coming showdown.
In its core box form, Runebound is a competitive game that plays over two acts. In the first act you are all off doing your best to upgrade your hero each turn—at the halfway point is when it’s time to act. (Typically this is when the victory condition becomes available to whichever hero feels they are prepared to begin the showdown or complete the winning objective.) If none of the heroes can save the lands of Terrinoth before the end of the second act, then all players lose. It is this tense style of gaming that really drives you to maximize what it is you want to do each turn and really try and push your luck just enough so that you can stay one step ahead of the other players and declare yourself the hero.
One of the most unique features of Runebound is its combat system. The game uses large circular tokens and going into each round of combat you flip your tokens in the air and depending on the side they land on will offer you a variety of actions you can take during that round of combat. At first I thought this would not work but it oddly added quite a great layer of strategy to the combat that makes me pause and really think out how I want to spend my tokens each round of combat. It added more depth than initially expected.
The theme hits for me; I have always loved the setting of high fantasy and this lets me craft my own story as I play through the game. What really got me to love this game was the story that I crafted in my head the first time I played, and how I was able to narrate to myself and construct a story within the game. Obviously this is not necessary to enjoy the game but there is enough theme in the game to allow for that extra level of immersion.
In the core game you only get two different scenarios to play and that feels like a bit of a bummer when you open the box and find that out. However, you will quickly see that each of these scenarios do offer a lot of fun within themselves and that you will be able to get numerous play sessions out of each of them before beginning to feel like you are always coming across the same cards. Thankfully there are multiple expansions that exist for Runebound and each of these adds more content to the game in the form of more items, more heroes to play as, and new scenarios. The best of these expansions is Unbreakable Bonds which introduces a fully fleshed out cooperative format for playing Runebound—honestly, this is a must for Runebound. To me this game always felt like it was crying out to be played cooperatively and now I get to do that.
LEARNABILITY & DIFFICULTY
The main actions that you take are very simple to teach to new players. It consists of your classic, Move, Rest, Shop, Explore, and Train actions that most every gamer is familiar with, especially if they have played any previous Fantasy Flight game. The only thing that takes a few rounds to get used to is the combat symbols and how you spend and interact with each of them. Beyond that it is a very straightforward game that you should not need to be constantly referencing the rulebook beyond your first play or two.
Runebound was a bit of a sleeper hit in my gaming group. I picked it up on a whim after watching a playthrough for it online. I had initially picked it up around the time that I was getting more into solo board gaming and wanted a fantasy adventure game that I could play solo and that is what lead me to reading reviews and watching the playthrough.
It sat on my shelf at home for a few months before I had a buddy over who asked about it. We sat down and learned the game together and immediately after we played it the Dragon destroyed both of us that first playthrough… sad. we looked at each other and reset the board and went after it again.
When I did finally introduce it to my gaming group it was met with mixed responses, the biggest of which was, “this feels like it should be a co-op game, not competitive.” It was this comment that sadly shelved the game for some time until Fantasy Flight announced that they had designed a fully cooperative expansion for the game. I picked it up instantly and when it was time to bust it out again it was met with much more excitement. It quickly rocketed up to one of our more frequently played games where it firmly found a spot in my gaming group’s rotation of games.
If there was a negative aspect to this game it is definitely the game length. If you are playing the cooperative mode with a full party of 4 heroes then be prepared for a 3-hour game.
SUGGESTED SAND BOX GAMING PRODUCTS
1 Sand Box
1 Sand Bar
1 Double Drawer
3 Single Card Inserts*
*In our copy of Runebound there is the Core Game as well as three expansions worth of content. If you do not own that many expansions then you could swap out one of the Single Card Inserts for a Single Mini Card Insert—no need to store the mini cards in that center row like I have