Runewars: First Game and Review

WARNING!:

The following post contains unpainted miniatures. This is in stark contrast to our "painted only" stance but we felt that the chance to play and review a game that has not even come to retail yet was worth it. So read on, but try not to be offended by the blatant compromise of our principles. We recommend not allowing young children and impressionable youth to view what follows...

At Adepticon, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) made the canny choice to give copies of their upcoming game Runewars: Miniatures Game to every participant who had purchased a "Swag Bag". Clearly they were angling to get the game into the hands of some of the country's most rabid miniature gamers, hoping it would lure these gamers into trying the game and resulting in free publicity.

Well, Tim and I took the bait, hook, line and sinker!

Most of what is below is our first battle. I've sprinkled observations on the rules at appropriate places.

Component Quality

There are already several unboxing posts and videos online, so I'll skip most of that except to say a few words about the contents. The printed materials are all top notch. It is well printed, full color stuff that looks great.

The miniatures are a softer plastic than games workshop- It feels a bit like Reaper Bones PVC- but the quality is good. I don't think the figures are quite up to the level (or concentration) of detail of Warmachine and GW, but they are better than average. Definitely nicer than the "board game quality" miniatures that one might be expecting and they seem to be a slight cut above in crispness of cast when compared to Reaper bones or Mantic "Restic" miniatures.

The figures should paint up fast and react particularly well to washes and highlighting. I suspect they're nearly tailor made for my dipping method.

The Game

Tim took the Waiqar's Undead Legion army seen below:

16 Reanimates (Skellies)

8 Reanimate Archers (Skellies with bows)

1 Carrion Lancer (Skellie on giant worm)

1 Ardu Ix'Erebys (Angry Skellie on rock with 2 Axes)

I took the Daqan Lords units below:

-16 Spearmen

-4 Oathsworn Cavalry

-1 Kari Wraistalker (woman on rock with 2 swords)

-1 Rune Golem (4 armed rock-man!)

After assembling our miniatures on their trays (each tray has 4 infantry or 2 cavalry or 1 hero or monster) and clicking the trays together to form the groupings listed, we setup as per the Starter Game scenario in the rules (simple fight with no terrain or unit upgrades) and readied our "Command Tools".

 

Here's the initial deployment.

Before any action happens the player takes the dual dial "Command tool" for each unit and secretly selects an action (move, rally, rotate, fight, etc) and a modifier (charge, move slower, turn, fight harder, defend better, etc).

The only hidden order games I've played have been old school games where you write down the rules, so the command dial mechanic was a nice change, at was faster to use and a nice in-hand reminder of all the things your unit can do each time you select it's actions.

As luck would have it we were also joined by a troupe of traveling rats who decided to take a break from their usual harassing of woodland creatures to instead stick around and watch the carnage. It is always nice to have an audience even one as ill-tempered as these rodents.

The first turn was simply movement towards the opposing force.

At this point, I got my first surprise of the game; I realized that the order of activation could be different each time! Different options on the command dial change the initiative value of the unit so your choice will affect when your unit activates. This is a very clever idea, and not something I've encountered before.

By the end of the second turn a bit of maneuvering had become necessary. It was here I had my first experience with the kind of maneuver sticks that players of X-wing are already familiar with.

At first it felt unnatural to have a curved movement template (not shown yet) tell you exactly how far and what angle you would turn (you can't turn less or move shorter than your chosen movement template), but having done so, it actually feels quite natural. Also makes a bit of sense in wargaming terms as a commander can make commands but can rarely control a units exact movement in every respect.

Finally in the third turn a horde of Reanimates closed with Kari.

Despite her "boon" token (a protective that you can acquire as one of your actions) she would end up taking one wound.

Runewars uses very few dice, instead choosing to multiply the results (symbols indicating hits, panic effects, powers, etc) of those dice based on numbers of trays of miniatures (in the front rank) or special rules with most characters and large models having some sort of rule granting them the equivalent of an extra tray at the front facing.

In the Third turn the Cavalry also closed with the reanimate archers and wiped out 6 of 8 in the first round of combat.

Apparently a Cavalry charge in Runewars is just as effective as one would hope.

The Spearman closed with the Carrion Lancer and did two damage to the nasty worm (note the two damage tokens on the base).

Kari hit back at the reanimates killing two. In Runewars, casualties are removed from the back of the tray unless a character can activate it's "precise" ability (the intro scenario does not use this ability).

As Ardu and the Golem moved towards each other we became aware of one of the possible pitfalls of fixed turning arcs and hidden orders. Ardu accidentally moved past the Golem!

And the Golem ended up charging into empty space.

Both units had selected the "Charge" modifier on their dials (the only way to engage in melee if not starting in base-to-base contact) and since neither was able to make contact they each received a panic token. Panic tokens are added to the unit and your opponent can use them to increase the severity of a morale test.

This result is probably inescapable due to the way activation and movement happens and will probably not be a completely uncommon occurrence. Adding terrain to the battlefield will compound this. Unfortunately it's very tough to see how such a result could be a "logical" result in even a fantasy battle. It's clearly a holdover from FFG's "X-wing" mechanics, where such a result much more sense. That said, it does add a bit of unpredictability (not a bad thing in my book) and didn't affect our enjoyment of the game. I guess it's up to the gamer to decide how much such a result would detract from their enjoyment.

Anywho, while this was going on the Lancer hit back striking down 3 spearmen.

Not enough though and the Lancer would die in the next round of combat. Note that I think we forgot to give the lancer his proper modifiers for combat. It is likely that he still would have died, but would probably have taken more of the spearmen with him.

In two more turns of combat, Kari had halved the reanimate ranks and only taken one more (her max is 3) damage token.

During the same turns the Cavalry was able to finish off the reanimate archers, wheel around and use just enough movement to charge into Ardu.

The lumbering Rune Golem was still slowly turning around and coming back from his failed charge.

Ardu struck down three horsemen in a single blow, but the Golem was closing fast (slow actually, but he was at least almost there).

The Golem finally closed in and dealt Ardu another damage but the undead hero held his ground against the multi-limbed monster.

I failed to take a picture of it, but with one wound left, Kari wiped out the reanimates. She then moved to support the spearmen but by that time they'd finished off the Lancer and there were no more enemies on that side of the table.

At this point the counter clicked to turn 8 and the game was over. With only Ardus surviving on the Undying side, the Daqan Lords had taken the day.

Forgive the messiness above. In our defense it can be hard to care about the aesthetics of a tabletop when playing with unpainted miniatures. No doubt our neatness will improve as our miniatures acquire paint.

Their thirst for bloody entertainment satiated, the spectating rats made their way home without offering any perspectives on the rules or our performance.

My general thoughts about Runewars.

As readers of this game will know, I'm generally a bit prejudiced against wargames from big-companies, especially those that try to force you to use the company's miniatures.  This game certainly is all of that.

In spite of that I really like this game. The activation and command mechanics are notably different from other games I play and mostly feel very well suited to the arena of fantasy combat. Despite borrowing much from X-wing it feels like the designers really put in a solid effort to make an effective game that plays well, offers meaningful tactical choices and also plays quickly.

Though we played the slightly simple introductory scenario without upgrade cards and additional rules, there's not that much more added in the complete rules and I think that is definitely good thing. Runewars is easy to learn and really feels like a game that will allow the player to concentrate on deployment, maneuver and strategy rather than trying to grok multiple rulebooks with hundreds of pages. I'm sure that the possibility of min-maxing, combo-list-building and other beardy WAAC behavior could present itself as the game grows and new unit upgrades are made available, but since I mostly game with the good-natured CSW crew I'm not overly concerned.

There's no doubt that without the free core set from Adepticon I would not have purchased it myself. However, now that I have it and have played it I feel I have been presented with a very well-designed game. I fully expect to paint up the figures and even (gasp!) purchase future miniatures. I'm hesitant to say this since future units will undoubtedly be much more expensive per-figure, but with around 50 figures, nicely done components and a retail price of around 90 bucks, the core game is even a pretty good value for a game that offers solid play-ability straight from the box.

I have already traded Tim the Undead miniatures in my game box for the Humans in his which, with a few upgrade cards, brings us both up to the recommended game size of around 200 points. I'm looking forward to painting them up and then exploring more of what Runewars has to offer.

Runewars as compared to Dragon Rampant and Kings of War.

Or more precisely: How does it stack up against the games that I already enjoy?

Though I like Runewars, the truth is that I didn't need another fantasy wargame. I was already very happy with my triumvirate of Song of Blades and heroes (Warband Skirmish), Dragon Rampant (Platoon Skirmish) and Kings of War (Company level, aka mass battle). All three of these games are fast-playing and easy to learn. They are also either generic with a unit-creation mechanic or include (in the case of KoW) enough rules lists and flexible composition rules to cover most any type of fantasy army either explicitly or via reasonable proxy.

The Runewars game we played was around platoon size similar to Dragon Rampant. However, the recommended game size is twice as large which would bring the game size closer to Kings of War.

Runewars is roughly the same level of complexity as the other games mentioned and once learned probably plays in the same 1-2 hour time frame, but the rules are completely different. Players of Warmachine and Warhammer may find the rules a bit light, but I don't think that's a reason to not at least give the game some consideration.

KoW and Dragon Rampant are both fairly traditional in that you move your troops where you want during their activation and they tend to do what they're told. With Runewars, the hidden activations and variable initiative order add a fog-of-war feeling and the limited movement options leave you with the knowledge that though you can order your troops and they will act, you are a bit restrained in your range of options. This feels realistic and reasonable and works very well. To me all 4 games offer a fun playing experience though Runewars definitely feels decidedly different from Dragon Rampant or KoW.

IMHO, Where Runewars takes big hits is in openness and flexibility. The proprietary unit cards and Command Tool that only comes packaged with each unit means that while you can proxy in miniatures of your choice, you are essentially limited to the units that FFG publishes. A bit of variation is achievable through the "upgrade" cards but that's not much. Players of Warmachine, Dust and other games of that ilk will be used to this general approach, but I prefer the freedom of buying the minis I want, playing them with the rules that I choose and, whenever possible, having an easy system for making my own unit stats and point values.

However much fun I hope to have with Runewars, the fact that it's not compatible with how I generally approach wargaming means it will never replace these other games. Still, I plan to give the system a good shot and when Runewars eventually dies (as all FFG games eventually seem to do) I fully expect to integrate it's miniatures into my other games.

Hope you've enjoyed this review, if you've got any further questions about the game or it's rules, feel free to respond below and I'll do my best to answer.

 

Update: The Runewars Learn To Play guide and Rules Refference (rulebook) have been posted by FFG.

For those interested in the details of the units, the last page of the Learn to Play document also shows the options on all the dials included in the game.

The downloads are at the bottom of the main product page:

https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/runewars-the-miniatures-game/

 

-Karl

 

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