Runewars see players take control of an army in a bid to try and defeat their enemies by outsmarting them, out manoeuvring them, spotting weaknesses and vulnerabilities and taking advantage of even the smallest of opportunities. In order to win you’re going to have to think ahead and carefully plan your moves to get the best out of your troops in the field of battle.
A couple of warnings before we get started. 1, I’m very new to this type of strategic war game, so veterans of them might think me a fool. 2, for anyone wanting to start playing – all the models require some assembly and gluing together, at the time of playing we didn’t have any glue and some bits fell off, but we made do. So plan ahead and take some time before hand to get everything ready as it could take a little while.
Once you have assembled though, you’ll see that you have the beginnings of two fantastic army sets of very well detailed miniatures – I’m a sucker for a good miniaturem, the Daqan – Human warriors with Spearman, Cavalry and huge Golem. And Waiqar the Undying with a fearsome band of skeletal warriors. I did notice that with some of the smaller miniatures that a few of the parts didn’t exactly fit all the well together, some sockets just did not want to go together. Some filing could be needed in order to make them fit a little better.
A typical battle in Runewars will go through a number of phases, firstly the Command phase, this is where players will determine – in secret, what actions each of their units will perform using the Action Dial. You have the option of moving, attacking, rallying etc… also on the Action Dial is the choice of various modifiers. Providing you match up the colours, this will give you the ability to alter your actions when taking your turn, such as gaining extra defence when performing a move action.
Each action you perform has an initiative value that determines what order each player’s actions are performed – starting from the lowest.
In the Command Phase you will also prepare the energy tokens or energy pool, these tokens are randomly shaken and dropped on the table. Each one has a symbol on it representing it’s energy/magic type and let you ‘spend’ these when taking specific actions. For example, the Rune Golem can use unstable energy to determine how far he can move, so if four unstable energy symbols were showing from the pool, he could use his move action with that energy type to a distance of four.
Then it’s the Activation Phase where players will reveal what actions they’re carrying out and start to perform them according to the initiative number. Obviously this is where most of the gameplay will take place, where you will start to spill blood on the battlefield and enact your masterful plan…. or watch it fail horribly. This is where you will watch your precious units get destroyed as an enemy cavalry unit smashes in to them, or see you’re arches predict the movements of a unit and open fire on them as they’re helplessly caught out.
As with most games we see combat being resolved with the use of dice and for the most part this is ok, but it just throws in that randomness that I’m starting to like less, the more I see it. If you’re getting good roles then it’s fine, but a few bad ones and you can quickly see yourself on the losing side feeling like there is almost nothing you can do about it. But what I did like was the ‘threat’ level for attacks, essentially the more trays you have upfront – or stacked next to each other, the more damage you do, so two trays would equal two damage per hit. The more depth the your trays, the more re-rolls you get for your attack. The only problem I found with this, is that your starting army is quite limited in terms of numbers of troops for each type, restricting the formations a little bit.
There are also a number of Boons and Banes that can be applied and used when attacking – Blight, Panic and Stun to name a few, these all have different effects – the Blight token will allow opponents to remove dice from the attacking player. The Inspiration Boon will let players remove Banes from their troops.
There is quite a lot to learn in Runewars, especially for someone new to this type of gameplay and to help you, you can jump in to a simpler setup for your first battle – a fight to the death or whoever kills the most over eight rounds. Think of it as your tutorial or a practice fight, somewhere you can ‘learn on the job’.
Once you feel ok with these rules you can move on to learning the expanded rules, these add things like objectives for players to meet in order to win, terrain placement to mix up how the battlefield will look and play, and upgrades that will give you troops various bonuses like extra defence when being attacked.
Sure, I’ve seen heftier rule books, but Runewars is no slouch in that department and actually offers two books, one for more in depth rules and another for a quicker reference guide, I found both to be essential for learning and actually would’ve probably preferred them just as one book – having to constantly flick between both books when learning as one might indulge in a rule more than the other felt a little annoying after a while. Whilst the general gameplay didn’t feel that difficult to learn – and it seems that others feel it is relatively easy to pick up, it was all the little nuances that kept tripping us up, having to keep going back to check what the various symbols mean, what to do when units collided, how they should turn if they do. And to find out what the Unit ID tokens are used for because the main rule book barely mentions them… well the answer lies in the Rules reference book and not the main rule book, it’s a little thing, but it just became slightly frustrating.
The game comes with a pretty hefty price tag that I think may put some off especially if you’re new to games like this, but for the more experienced player I think they would feel pretty happy with what was on offer. In terms of the overall gameplay experience I wasn’t completely sold on it, but I think that maybe in part due to me being new to the game. Once in combat it felt fun and rewarding, but at times I felt like there was too much of me not really knowing what to do or to much deliberating what to do which just left us with a lot of ‘downtime’ moments. To me, it felt a little like you needed more of an army and more units to really get the most out of it and I actually think that is where a lot of the appeal of the game will come from, building up strong and versatile armies and mastering how to use them on the battlefield will give players a lot of satisfaction, I just think it wasn’t totally for me.
Runewars feels like an investment of both time and money and I think it’s pretty safe to say that fans of miniature war games will find a lot to like here from the interesting lore, the great miniatures and army building capabilities, but maybe the more casual player will struggle to find the time and effort required to really enjoy it.