Category Archives: Board Game Reviews

Board Gaming Super Weekend II: Quick Reviews

Last year my gaming group got together for a two and half day super gaming weekend event where we did absolutely nothing but play board games taking only short breaks to eat and sleep. It was one of the most memorable and exhausting gaming events I’ve had in a long time.  There is absolutely nothing like having 2 full days of freedom, in particular for me as a father and husband, but to spend it with your favorite hobby and gaming buddies is just pure unheard of luxury.   When summer rolled around this year, there was no question that we needed a repeat and this weekend, its exactly what we got.

Today I’m going to go over every game we played, doing overviews of the games we played and offering up a few tid-bits of insight of the event and games we played.  Enjoy!

Sheriff of Nottingham

Pros: Easy to learn, quick to play, creates lots of tension and funny moments.

Cons: Requires a social group for the interaction to work.

We kicked off the event with Sheriff of Nottingham, a punchy social game of deception that creates great table atmosphere and in the hands of a wacky gaming group of long time friends like mine immediately endears itself, tapping into our natural group dynamic humor.   Its really tailor made for friends that love nothing more than pulling one off on each other and Sheriff gets right down to the root of its core without a lot of fluff and unnecessary mechanics and components to get in the way of it.  Yeah you might say its less a game and more a social activity, but its clever, fun and keeps you engaged.

Most of the game revolves around the anxiety of trying to smuggle goods past the Sheriff or as a Sheriff, trying to figure out who’s lying to you.  Trade Good cards are put into a little sealed bag as players declare to the acting sheriff the goods they are supposedly moving into Nottingham.  If the Sheriff checks the bag and you lied, you have to pay for your failure, if he checks and you told the truth he pays you and if he doesn’t check you earn on the contents as well.  In short you earn gold for your success, and pay up for your failures,  the one with the most gold at the end of the game wins.

The best and most tense moments are when the Sheriff is looking at your sealed bag and you know its full of red cards. Thankfully Bribery is allowed.

This simple mechanism alone might fall flat in some less social and less out going groups, its definitely geared more towards extroverts but I think Its great for families or small dinner parties and certainly for any group of friends who enjoy a bit of confrontation and deception.  Great game, its accolades are well deserved.  Alcohol is recommended!

Hero Realms

Pros: Well balanced, works with various player counts, lots of strategies to explore.

Cons: Can be a bit hostile in a free for all, not everyone will appreciate its cut-throat nature.

This one we as a group picked up right before the event and all but one of us had never played it, it was without question one of the most pleasant surprises of the event.  The Star Realms infused fantasy card game seasoned with all of the character expansions was put on the table in a 5 man free for all.  This one definitely had some teeth, starting out slow as players built up their decks, it quickly turned into a hostile and very bloody all out war where rivalries formed, alliances were broken, bringing out the games asymmetrical nuances in an almost a Magic The Gathering stylized bash that had everyone sitting upright.

Epic is another great fantasy based card game I tried this year worth your attention.

Now I really like Star Realms, but something about a Fantasy Setting using the same mechanic with some Asymmetrical classes with what I think was a cleaner balance over Star Realms really made this take on deck building shine.  It had a more refined tracking system for health, more synergies for each color and a bit tighter deck building. More importantly it worked a lot better as a multiplayer game then a duel.  In Star Realms games generally were not particularly close, as one player would more often than not run away with it.  It felt like with Hero Realms you were better equipped to stay within the same power ranges.  I also like the fact that all colors had very strong and viable combos without the need to supplement across different color branches while also functioning well when mixed.  In Star Realms for example I always felt like some colors like Yellow just didn’t work on their own.  Now grant it we had expansions for Hero Realms where I have only ever played vanilla Star Realms but as a whole I liked this version of the game a lot better.  The theme just fired on all pistons for me and my gaming group unanimously agreed.

All the best parts of Star Realms made it into Hero Realms.

Great game, another Gamersdungeon.net recommended title for anyone who loves a nice crunchy fast paced card game.

REX

Pros: Lots of politics, alliances and betrayals, plenty of tactics and strategy, well rounded races.

Cons: Mechanics are showing their age, a bit too long for what you get out of it and can end rather anti-climatically.

The Twilight Imperium version of Dune got a mixed reception from the group, a game that once graced my top 10 list, REX is a bit of an enigma.  Its a mechanic that is the better part of 40 years old and while Fantasy Flight Games refreshed it quite a bit, its deeply Asymmetrical to the point of confusion.  It really rely’s on all players having a really good understanding of all of the components, mechanics and of course racial powers in play or that could come into play.  Veteran gamers will pick up on it quickly if the rules are explained well and you go over everything thoroughly but this added time compiles one of the games main problems, the length of the game.

Sometimes games are great, sometimes they are bad, and other times they are great for the right group and terrible with the wrong group. Its not always about great design, but the right audience.

The game had its moments, I wouldn’t say it was a complete dud, among them  was the mini game of forming and breaking alliances, betrayals and varied winning conditions which created a lot of atmosphere and even the more reluctant players had to admit that REX created some tense situations and tough choices worthy of table time.  It does suffer however from a couple of flaws that some mechanical modernization could probably fix.

More than that though one the key problem with the game is that its definitely too long when it goes to 8 rounds and our game did.  Its been my experience that most games don’t normally go to 8 rounds and even when they do their is a big climax at the end, but in this and previous sessions of the game with this group this it just took far too long and ended fairly anti-climatically doing little to sell it to a group who had been disappointed by it before.

The old Dune didn’t look so bad, but these days its damn near impossible to get a hold of. Thankfully REX is a very authentic replication of this classic.

I think some groups might find the deception, alliances and betrayals and varied winning conditions very satisfactory, but I think for my group REX had its last chance at the table, in particular given the sheer volume of great strategy games in this genre available as alternatives.  My group thrives on social play elements like deceit and betrayal, but REX accomplishes this at a snails pace with a lot of gotcha mechanic overhead which doesn’t sit well with them and I understand that.  I still like the game, I don’t think its quite ready to be cut from the collection, but between this last play and the last time it hit the table about 3 years ago its definitely a dust collector.  I would probably recommend this one with caution, do your research and make sure that this is the type of game that would appeal to your group.

Exodus: Proxima Centauri (Revised Edition)

Pros: A much better alternative to the bore-fest that is Eclipse.

Cons: Far too long, very fiddly, some overcooked and insufficiently tested mechanics.

I picked this up a while ago on sale and while I had played it a couple of times with some casual gamers, this was the first time I introduced it to my gaming group.  Suffice to say the reception was less then stellar ranging from “I fucking hate this game” to “It didn’t suck that bad”.

The sales pitch of this game is that its a shorter Twilight Imperium, much in the way Eclipse was and the truth is that in the 4x genre of board games there is one king and everything else trails so far behind its barely worth mentioning.  Eclipse was absolutely, in no way comparable to TI3, in fact, to claim so is just blatant nonsense.   While I think Exodus came a hell of a lot closer, I would still say its a lot closer to being an offshoot of Eclipse then it is one of TI3.  It had a lot more spark and interaction then Eclipse, but It was nowhere near the experience of TI3.

It certainly looks like Twilight Imperium and so did Eclipse, but in both cases gameplay is far from it.

More importantly the “shorter version” pitch wasn’t really true either.  Between setup, explaining the rules and playing the game to completion we were well into 5+ hours and I’m certain I could have clocked a game of TI3 with 5 players at just a tad bit longer then that and it would have been a far worthier use of our precious gaming time.

There was nothing inherently wrong with the mechanics of the game, it certainly tapped into the 4x genre, but I just felt most of the mechanics were lackluster by comparison to TI3 and as such it kind of suffered as a result of trying to fill those shoes, much in the way most attempts at 4x games do for me.

The political element was rather boring and unnecessarily overcooked.  The impact of politics ranged from irrelevant to a minor point of interest.  The combat system was ok, but typically predictable, results rarely surprised us.  I like the concept of the WMD that could be fired to screw people over, but it seemed pointless since it really didn’t help you score.  It acted more like a deterrent to action, which had the resulting effect of an action-less game most of the time.

There is an expansion for the game, but given the reaction of the initial plays of this game I’m not sure its worth investing in this one any further.

I think the biggest issue with the game was its fiddly nature, in particularly movement which while conceptually cool as it mimicked simultaneous movement was a slow, fiddly, painful experience.  In particular given that most of the time simultaneous movement had no real strategic impact or value.  It really didn’t matter much until the final rounds of the game and even then it sort of felt like you couldn’t control the board as a result so there was no way to isolate ships and trap them.  Ships would slip past fleets and the only way you could catch people would be to guess their movement actions.  I suppose that’s an ok way to do it, but it felt like it was less about strategy and more about guessing right.

I’m not saying it would make a difference in gameplay but great looking mini’s like these might have left a better impression. I fear that I judged this game based on a comparison to Twilight Imperium, rather then on its own merits.

As a whole the game didn’t thrill us, it wasn’t without its entertaining moments but it was definitely not worth a 5+ hour time slot in our board gaming weekend.  This one is a hard pass for me personally and most of the gaming group concurred.  I may give it a another shot in the future, but the stink of this last game is going to take some time to wash off before I work up the interest to try it again.

Raise Your Goblets

Pros: Easy to learn, quick to play, creates lots of tension and funny moments.

Cons: Requires a social group for the interaction to work.

This quirky social game is definitely among my favorites to play with my gaming group, less for its “game” elements and more for its inherent ability to setup hilarious table talk and create funny moments. Among a group of close friends, trying to poison each other in a game of wits and memory is a great formula, especially if you add some real cocktails to the mix which we of course did.

By and large this is a filler game, so it certainly doesn’t have that “lets get together and play Raise Your Goblets” energy on which to base a game night, but its quick to play, easy to learn and accommodates a wide range of group sizes which I think fits the bill of a warm up game quite perfectly.  I think this would also qualify as a really great family game, so you have that extension of possibilities for it to hit the table.

I love it personally, most of the gaming group concurred, this one is a keeper.

Lords of Waterdeep (with the Skullport expansion)

Pros: Classic worker placement formula done right, very thematic for a Euro designed game.

Cons: Can be a real brain burner, the Skullport expansion is a must.

Lords of Waterdeep is in my mind one of the best worker placement games out there, perhaps trumped only by Empires: Age of Discovery.  Its thematic, interactive and deeply strategic not to mention somewhat asymmetrical.   Its always been popular in my gaming group and it see’s several plays each year like clockwork going as far back as I can remember.  Its appearance at the big gaming weekend was no surprise to me at all and what’s great about this game for us is that we know it so well so everyone is always really competitive.  Our game ended up with everyone scoring at least 120 points and the winner was upwards of 150.

Lords of Waterdeep has real longevity in our group, a big part of that reason i think is that we are all avid D&D fans and we know our D&D worlds well.  The theme really works for us though I have read many reviews of the game calling it “theme-less” which always sounded ridiculous to me, but I suppose if you aren’t into D&D, it might just come of as a rather generic fantasy layer.  For D&D fans however every card is a reminder of RPG games from the past and their are nuances and inside jokes that come to the surface after years of playing for us.

As a whole Lords of Waterdeep is a more thinky, strategic engagement so its not a game that produces a lot of energy.  Games are usually quiet and contemplative, with everyone racking their brains for their next big play.  Its also got a bit of an edge over most worker placement Euros thanks to the direct “take that” intrigue cards which can create a bit of hostility and rivalries, though this is a fairly light layer in the game, it won’t appeal to everyone.  At its core its all about resource management, playing to the strengths of your lord of waterdeep and picking your quests wisely to squeeze the most points out of every situation.  The corruption mechanic of the Skullport expansion is an absolute must in my opinion, I would never play this game without it.  It creates a far more interesting and diverse risk vs. reward twist to the game that I think otherwise would be a lot more static.

There is a lot of mastery in this game, plenty of tricks, clever tactics and long term strategies to deploy, nuances that you pick up through repeated plays.  This makes this a game of exploring new tactics each time you play and while I don’t think it has that “lets play it again” draw, it does have that long lasting classic feel to it that keeps you coming back with breaks in-between.

Definitely Gamersdungeon.net approved!

Dead of Winter

Pros: One of the best games for people who love betrayal mechanics, very challenging co-op.

Cons: Can be hit or miss depending on how events play out in the game.

Dead of Winter was the highlight of last years event producing a very memorable game and actually shifting the game back into my top 10 list for a brief moment in 2016. This time around I ended up being a traitor in the game but unfortunately I botched it really bad and in the scenario we were playing when you are exiled you are removed from play.  The colony ended up surviving and accomplishing their mission without my help or interference and everyone won the game except me and one other player who was exiled as I deflected blame on him and managed to confuse the group for a brief moment.

It was an interesting game but in the end it breached some of the issues I have had with it in the past.  For me Dead of Winter is kind of a swingy game, sometimes when everything falls into place and the suspicion and tension of the game rises to climaxes its a thrilling experience.  Other times it can just kind of land flat for various reasons, most often the fact that their is no traitor in the game and everyone realizes it or the mission is so hard the game ends pre-maturely.

I think its a great game, but whether it succeeds or fails to entertain on any given evening can vary.  Sometimes its fantastic, sometimes its just kind of bleh.  Win or lose however the game has a great setup to create tension and tough choices between your loyalties to your own mission and the loyalties to the colony.  You kind of have to win two games and because everyone has their own agenda there is a tendency to suspect people of being traitors whether their actually is one or not.  I think much of the games entertainment value depends on all players having a vested interest in succeeding but pushing the limits to do whatever they can to complete their own end game goals.  Of course if there is a traitor, all the better, though the game can often end up being unwinnable as a result so its a bit of a catch 22.

Its not in my top 10 anymore, but its always good for a play or two on any gaming evening, I certainly give it my stamp of approval with the cautionary that it doesn’t always hit on all of its pistons.

Road Rally USA

Pros: Easy to learn, fast to play, very clever with lots of tension.

Cons: None that I saw, its a great filler.

A member of the gaming group picked this up on a sale and we gave it a twirl since its a relatively quick game.  Our expectations were quite low but this one actually pleasantly surprised everyone.  Its a good quality racing game built around a track and card mechanic to make the cars go.

Players effectively play matching colored cards to move cards around the track trying to stay in the lead in case someone decides to score one of their checkpoint cards.  The trick is that you do not refill your hand automatically.  There are three colors, green, yellow and red, each with increasing values, but you draw cards only on the lower colored cards.  Green gets you two, yellow gets you one and playing matching red cards yields you none.  The result is a kind of hand management where you are trying to stack colors and make big moves at the right time to score at different checkpoints.

There was also a great catch up mechanic where at certain points on the track when your last you get to draw additional cards as well as various positions on the track where you could reshuffle your deck (at the gas station) or stack your deck at the mechanic shop.  Hence there is a element of timing and trying to land on specific points on the track, all the while trying to stay ahead to score points.

Very smart, simple and fast game that keeps the tension high and the race close.  It was a lot of fun, definitely worthy of table time.  I expect we’ll see this one hitting table more often in the future at our regular gaming events.

Avalon: The Resistance

Pros: Without question one of the best deception/deduction games on the market today.

Cons: Must have a minimum of 5 players to play and need at least 7 or 8 to use the various special characters that enhance the game.

Without question one of my favorite deception/deduction games, this is more a social activity then a game but its always a hit at our gaming events and it was this time as well.  We ended up playing it half a dozen times.

While the concept is quite simple, this game creates a tremendous amount of table talk as players accuse each other of being traitors and trying to figure out who’s on who’s team.  Well balanced and always super fun regardless of which character you end up playing.

Which character you get changes a great deal how your personal role in the game will play out, but there are no bad roles, they are all really fun.

This was probably the highlight of the event this time around, though in my experience with the game so far it has always hit it out of the park.  Easily one of the best filler games in my collection.  The only real drawback is that you need a minimum of 5 players to play the game and to use the special characters and optional rules you need about 7 or 8.  Hence, its not for your typical gaming nights.

Deception: Murder In Hong Kong

Pros: A deception/deduction game leaning heavier on the deduction aspect, but does it very well, definitely the best in its unique genre.

Cons: Can hit or miss depending on how difficult the clues are.

Another deception/deduction game, this one has you trying to solve a murder based on clues provided by an oddly silent forensic expert who gives you enigmatic one word clues.  With limited guesses you must determine which of the players is posing as an investigator, what murder weapon he used to commit the crime and what clue he left behind at the crime scene.

Its really just kind of a fun, silly game, but surprisingly thinky.  In our group the forensic expert player typically creates a narrative of the crime at the end of the game to depict his thinking behind the clues he provided, which always creates a laugh as we discover the bizarre way our friends brains work.

Always a fun time, but not always a particularly great game, this one seems to hit the table pretty regularly since I bought it, a bit of a group favorite but sometimes games can be a bit flat depending on the difficulty of the clues.

Personally I think its great, but has diminishing returns.  It scored a 4.00 in my Quick review of the game and while I stand by it, I think between Avalon and this, I would choose Avalon.  This is mainly because it can miss fire sometimes when the clues are obvious leading us right out of the gate to a solution, or so unrelated and obscure that its physically impossible to figure out.  I have actually found that its a much bigger hit among non-gamer or casual gamers than it is among veteran gamers, but still it seems like my group gives it the stamp of approval and so do I.

Assault Of The Giants

Pros: Clever tight mechanics, quick game despite being fairly deep on the strategic scale.

Cons: Asymmetrical missions are so tight it feels like your on rails.

This is one of the few games in the lineup where my opinion and that of my group don’t see eye to eye.  Its beloved by many members of my gaming group for its tactically rich, asymmetrical gameplay and I do get that.  Its a tight game where each type of giant has a very specific goal and while you attempt to complete your own quests, you have to get in the way of your opponents just enough to keep them off track.  In concept its fantastic and normally it would be right up my alley, in particular given its thematic D&D roots, but I find it has a several problems that spoil it for me.

For one, the entire game boils down to 9-12 actions you will take in the entire game.  That’s it.  More than that of the 9 -12 actions you will take, some amount of them, depending on the game, that are less of a choice and more like “must take”, actions.  I understand the goal is to keep the game short and sweet but this feels extremely limiting taking the concept of a tight game to extremes, to a point of feeling like the game is over far too soon but more specifically feeling like its on rails.

There is a lot going on in this game given its simplicity mechanically.

This in turn impacts the second problem which is that because you have so few actions to take, between trying to accomplish your own scoring conditions and trying to stop other players, you simply don’t have enough moves to address the majority of threats or opportunities.  You will take a path and once chosen your pretty much committed to it for the rest of the game.  There is no time to alter plans.  In a typical game you will make 1 to 2 moves and 1 to 2 attacks and that’s it.  In all games I have played of this certain actions you simply will never take unless you have already lost like recruiting.

Another issue is the concept of targeting a player.  If another player decides “I’m going to stop you”, there is not a whole lot you can do about it and you losing the game is almost 100% assured.  He might not win, but preventing a player from winning is very easy.

Finally this is a game of king making

In the end you might be able to affect one or two players, or even successfully defend a position somewhere but you are depended on other players to spur into action and contribute to blocking each other.  If a player is left alone that you can’t reach, or if someone decides to block you instead of your neighbor your fate is pretty certain.  The impact of an all out attack can very much take both players out simultaneously and open the door for a 3rd and this at least with my limited experience with the game is usually how it goes down.

Now I will say that I’m by no stretch of the imagination an expert in the game, so I’m sure there are nuances and deeper strategies that can be employed to improve your chances of winning, I have no doubt about that.  To me though, between the tightness of the game, limited available options and dependency on other players to block the people you can’t, I feel like I have too little control over my own fate.  I also feel like the missions for the Giants are so linear, that you’re practically on rails in terms of the actions you have to take to score points.

Its not that I don’t like the game, but it just feels just a bit too anti-climatic.  Its certainly clever and I completely understand why people like it, but it would not be my first pick.  Its not something I would put into my collection, its a lot more fluff then substance in my opinion.  On the behalf of my group however I can say that they would give it their highest recommendations, from me I will just say that I don’t mind playing it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Conclusion

While there were some misses we had a fantastic weekend of gaming.  The lineup of games this year varied dramatically from the social activity type to the super thinky.  We saw some Euro’s, we saw some Amer-trash.  We played some new games and some old classics.  To me it was a near perfect weekend.

For those of you planning an event like this, I can offer a few pieces of advice based on this weekends experience.

For one, I think when you get your friends together for a 2 day event, that is not a time to test out new games.  Not unless you are certain that its up their ally.  We played some games where we new certain players were not going to enjoy it whether it was because of the type of game it was, its genre or what have you and I think that was a mistake.  I believe that a weekend like this should be all about playing games you know and love, games you know are going to fire on all pistons and everyone at the table will be thrilled to play.  That’s one chance for the next event I certainly will put forth.

Another thing I recommend is that you consider having one or two “main event games” and perhaps even consider making a list of games you plan to play in advance.  This way players can prepare a bit by reading up on rules and you can find out if a game on a list is something someone doesn’t like so that you can adapt it.  A big event like this should be a weekend for everyone, where everyone is fully on-board and psyched for every single game your going to play.

That’s it for this year, hope you enjoyed the article!

Runewars by Fantasy Flight Games 2017

Ok here goes nothing.  Without question among the list of biggest things to happen this last year in board gaming was the breakup of Fantasy Flight Games and Gamesworkshop, the merger of Asmodee and Fantasy Flight Games and their prompt announcement that they are getting into the Assemble and Paint miniature games market.  At least for me personally as I’m a huge fan of FFG, this was a big deal.  From these events FFG has spawned their latest collectible love child which they called simply Runewars The Miniature Game, an announcement that might answer the question of why these events took place in the first place, but I digress.

We can only speculate about why GW and FFG broke up their relationship, but with FFG creating a game that clearly competes with GW’s core business, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.

These events are big no doubt, even worthy of their own article perhaps but in my experience, gamers don’t really care so much about the business end of things when you get right down to it, so really the most interesting event was the announcing and now release of FFG’s new miniatures game, our topic of the day.

Creating this review has been a long and arduous process, one that I don’t believe is even in the ball park of complete and might never truly be.  It suffices to say reviewing collectible games in general is tough since your review is frozen in time, not accounting for anything that is released afterwards that could improve or make worse a game.  Collectible miniature games are even tougher as there is so much more to the hobby than just the game, in its own right it almost feels like the game and the miniatures should be entirely separate reviews.  We won’t do that however, instead this review will focus on the Core Set for Runewars, as some call it, the Wave 0 release.

With mechanics like this, expansion potential is endless and as such doing a review having only seen the core set both feels and probably is premature. None the less reviewers must review!

I consider this a premature review and I will admit that right up front here and now, however, I felt it prudent to do the review earlier then later because I believe there are a lot of people out there, in particular Gamesworkshop fans who might have a hole in their dark hearts after the death of Warhammer Fantasy Battles but also fans of FFG’s other miniatures lines that want to know if the juice is as good as the hype in FFG’s latest creation.

Let’s be honest here, if there is one thing that is taking place right now is fanboy insanity, the hype machine is thick.  Objectively is thoroughly out the fucking window, hell I even feel the sting of it and its likely to make its way to this review is some fashion, but being the always vigilant internet Evangelist and giving a grand total of zero fucks about anyone’s feelings, I’m going to give you the Gamersdunegon.net take on FFG’s latest creation.

FFG made a big show out of Runewars and the community has gone insane. Having an objective conversation has become nay impossible among the rabid fans who gave it a 10 out of 10 before they read the rulebook!

This review will be extensive and far more detailed then normal, so put on your reading glasses, sit back and enjoy.  Oh, and If this review upsets or offends your miniature gaming sensibilities, and you would like to complain,  please feel free to dial my comments hotline at 1-800-ZeroFucksGiven. <– just kidding, this is not a real number, please don’t call it!

Overview

Final Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star christmas_star(3.9 out of 5 Stars)

Runewars the miniature game falls into the rank and file fantasy battles lines of games, though right off the bat I can tell you that it has far more in common with Star Wars: X-Wing and Armada than it does with Gamesworkshops now defunct Warhammer Fantasy Battles which for the most part defined the genre.  Everything before Warhammer Fantasy is ancient history.  This fact in its own right makes Runewars a very unique entry into the market.  Suffice to say, while the game is rank & file and may even appear to be of the same stock as Warhammer Fantasy, Fantasy Flight Games has borrowed far more from their own miniature game lines, then they have from Gamesworkshop, not to mention broken more sacred cows then 4th edition D&D.

Breaking sacred cows is not always a good thing, it certainly didn’t work out well for 4th edition D&D.

Runewars features FFG creations like movement/action dials that use a pre-programming (hidden movement) systems as we have in X-Wing.  It uses a more fixed unit based system where you pay for entire squads in certain formation as opposed to GW’s Warhammer style per model purchases.  It also makes use of tokens and effects for easier book-keeping as we see in most of their games, miniature or otherwise.  There is also cards for upgrades with fixed slots for each unit and of course in classic rebellious fashion once again FFG brings us specialty dice with symbols rather then numbers because, fuck you that’s why!

Suffice to say, when it comes to classic war miniature design, Runewars is a rebel in the genre for better or for worse.  The breaking from tradition goes much deeper, though perhaps only those of you that have spent a thousand hours in front of Warhammer miniatures might notice.  For one the miniatures don’t come on sprus and are designed with easy assembly (largely without glue) via a basic hole and peg system.  Poses are also in fixed positions, another words you are not going to be messing around with picking a position for your hands, body, heads etc.  The level of model detail and general layout of the models is designed very specifically for easier painting to cater to the novice resulting in a lower level of detail.  All of these things certainly break from tradition and might even piss off traditionalist (go figure).

To a novice like me this is intimidating, enough to turn me off the game, but fans would rightfully argue that customization is what this hobby is all about.

Runewars is a very different than your daddy’s miniature game, that much is clear,  but in its heart and soul its very much chasing the same classic premise.  Players build their armies making a wide range of choices (getting wider with each expansion) and construct a fundamental strategy that they bring to a 6×3 battlefield.  Then the battle is on as units march in formation at each other, collide and the dice extravaganza begins.  Stuff dies, someone kills more stuff then the other guy and wins the game.  In terms of concept, this is a very traditional miniatures game, but much of the design and what leads you to the field of battles is quite un-traditional.

Runewars is also based on its own fantasy world, the same as several of their fantasy based games like Runewars the boardgame, Runebound and Descent.  With its own lore, covered in a pamphlet that comes with your core set, you have the basic platform for a fantasy world that defines where stuff comes from.  This too breaks from the traditional mega volume rulebooks and army books that are released for your old school miniatures game like pretty much everything from GamesWorkshop.

Components

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star

Pros:  Components built to last, core set jam packed with goodies with an amazingly low cost of entry as well as a designed to be approachable by the novice hobbyist.

Cons: Miniatures are not as detailed as the high standards created by companies like GamesWorkshop and Privateer Press.

Of all the things that are tough to talk about and judge in this review, components definitely ranked quite high on the difficulty scale.  In particular because components are arguably one of the most important elements of a miniature game as its a defining element of the hobby to assemble and paint with tender love and care your precious miniatures.

The first step to making a judgement is that you have to decide the standard on which it should be based and perhaps more importantly how do you determine whether a shift from established traditions is good or bad?

I think its only fair to explain how I came to my determination.  Simply put, I have taken what is the best in the business component wise and measured it against Runewars.  Yes that means arguably Gamesworkshop miniatures,  which are among the best in the business.  GW are masters of their craft honed over the course of 30+ years and while I would personally argue that there are other candidates, I think as a measure of quality this is one of the most well known sources to be judged against and this is exactly what I have done.  I think its fair, I think its just.  If you are going to enter the miniature market place and tango with the big boys, you will have to fight on their terms.

You can say what you will about GW’s ability to produce quality game mechanics, but their miniatures are works of art with amazing detail even 10 years ago.

Let’s first talk about the other components of Runewars.  The tokens, the cards, the rules & lore books, dials and everything else in the core set box.

Simply put, everything is of fantastic quality. These are components built to last and last they will.  I really only had one major beef with component quality and that was the dials themselves.  Its a minor quibble but the plastic stand piece that stands the dial up, rubs against the edges of the dial and after only a couple of games it has already damaged the bottom of the dial base.  When you get a new game and after two plays there is already something damaged, its annoying.  I suggest gluing the plastic stand to the dial to avoid this the first time you put them on.  Minor I know, but with FFG, component quality is almost always amazing so its rare I get the opportunity to bitch about something.

While the terrain tiles included in the core set are a nice way to get you started quickly, it didn’t take long for the community to step it up a notch and make proper terrain.

As for the Lore and Rules book, well they are both good and bad.  The traditional standard here is a big fat rules book that is not only extremely detailed and explicit but at least more than 2/3rds of it is “traditionally” dedicated to the hobby of paint and assembly and most importantly, the lore.  Now Runewars did come with a Lore book, but by comparison to what we get with most miniatures games, this can be described as a very light pamphlet that gives you a very high level birds eye-view of the lore.  To me the the size of this book was disappointing, but worse yet was the content.

Well written and detailed lore is absolutely vital to a miniatures game and I’m sorry to say as much as I tried to get into it and like it, the world of Terrinoth is a very boring and generic place. This tiny pamphlet did little to inspire creativity in a game, that is as much a game as a creative hobby as a game,  which is terrible news for miniature fans.  Miniature games are after all cousins of role-playing games and lore is paramount.  We need more, much, much more.  Now what was there wasn’t poorly written or anything, it was certainly enough to give you a taste with a bit of pizzazz, but in general the world of Terrinoth is just not very interesting at all at the moment.  Its a walking, talking cliche and at best can be described as incomplete.  We don’t even get a proper world map to look at.

Sorry to say but this weak ass pamphlet that FG passed as “lore” for Runewars is simply not good enough.

To be fair however, the cliche was born somewhere and certainly while the world of Warhammer Fantasy is filled with its own mind numbing cliches from the age of D&D and Lord of the Rings, they get a pass because well, they also created a lot of them with Warhammer. There was a lot of very original and very cool concepts in Warhammer Fantasy that jazzed up the cliches and that just doesn’t exist in Terrinoth.  Where we had Vampire Counts and Egyptian themed Tomb Kings in the Old World, by comparison the Waiqar are “standard skeleton/undead people”.  There really is no culture or uniqueness to them, they are at best, generic.  The human army doesn’t do a whole lot better, they are just your standard run of the mill “Knights in shining armor” from a fairly uniform medieval fantasy world with little to get excited about.

Now while the Lore book and Lore in general was disappointing, the rules books, one for learning to play and one reference was a breath of fresh air and this is one change to tradition I appreciated.  Gamesworkshop like many miniatures game publishers have this uncanny ability to write a 600 page book and still leave an endless amount of unanswered questions, as well as confuse the living fuck out of you not to mention that they create crappy indexes as a cherry on top.  Gamesworkshop was notorious for doing this and despite 30+ years of writing rules-books they absolutely suck monkey balls at it.  You could argue that this was all the justification FFG needed not to do it.

Along with the massive source book and army books, GW has always had a magazine dedicated to their game. FFG has a lot to live up to if they want to compete with GW.

Runewars on the other hand gives you a 20 page booklet and after reading through it once and playing two games, I’m quite certain it will remain in the box 90% of all games going forward.  It’s clear, it’s easy to understand, it leaves very few unanswered questions and its super easy to reference.  I Ioved it, it really just made the game easy to get into and most importantly made the rules easy to remember.  A++ for the rulebook.

Ok now its time to get into the real stuff here, the miniatures.  I know this is going to be controversial but unless we are going to play favorites here and hold FFG to a different standard then everyone else we have to be honest and objective.

I will say this upfront, despite everything I’m going to say right now, I actually love the Runewars miniatures.  For me, every objective issue I list here, is not one I personally share, but the goal here is to make an objective review, not be a fanboy.

The first thing you will notice about Runewars miniatures is that they are not on sprus, they come in baggies in ready to assemble, fixed poses which you will not have the option to change unless you bust out the razor and green stuff to start making conversions.  I personally loved this, as I hate dicking around with cutting miniatures off sprus and spending hours just putting them together, but I can understand that in a creative hobby like miniatures gaming, making customization more difficult is a big no no.

Sprus or no sprus, in my mind, its always been about the painting and the community has already shown off some amazing work.

The decision here is likely one of catering to a less experienced or perhaps better to say, not experienced consumer.  Its clear that this decision makes Runewars more approachable, more likely for a gamer to take his first steps into the world of paint & assemble miniatures which I think is the right move for FFG.  That said, its a kick in the ass of a sacred cow that is going to turn off a lot of miniature hobbyist and rightfully so.  Tradition is tradition, this market needs an infusion of players, but not at the price of leaving its core audience in the cold.  If your a veteran miniature gamer, you might find some of this pretty disappointing.

Miniature gaming is a hobby first, a game second.  The creative element where players create their own unique version of an army is of utmost importance to hobbyists.  I would argue this is done through painting, but I understand that assembly, posing your mini’s and making custom choices is part of this creativity.  It’s simply not to be fucked with as far as veterans are concerned (I get it) and FFG’s decision to not cater to this audience of 30+ years of fandom I think is going to put more than a few frowns on people’s faces.

Now talking about the quality of the molds, I personally believe them to be extremely well done, but I must point out that they are not really comparable to the level of detail we see from Gamesworkshop and other miniature game makers.  If you take a Runewars miniature and line it up with a Warhammer miniature, there is no contest, the Runewars miniature looks more like a boardgame piece then the piece of 3d art that GW produces.  I don’t think most people getting into the hobby today would find themselves anything but impressed by Runewars mini’s but to the experienced eye and hobbyist who has spent time painting GW mini’s in particular in the last couple years knows how far the art form of miniature sculpting has come.  Runewars really just does not stack up.

Your going to have to get up pretty close to a miniature to notice the reduction in detail compared to other miniature lines and even still they look amazing when a nice paint job is applied.

With that said, the mini’s are definitely above grade for FFG, these are without question the nicest mini’s they have ever produced and for the purposes of gaming,  personally I think they are perfect.  Painting these mini’s is going to be a much simpler fair and one advantage of this simplification is that the time from opening the box to having an army of painted mini’s on the battlefield has been cut by 1000%.  I mean properly constructed and painted miniature army for GW took me the better part of a year and half to paint (yes I’m slow) and I’m quite certain I’m going to have Runewars rocking it color style inside a few weeks.

Its also worth pointing out that the level of detail really only matters upon extremely close inspection, a simple fact of the mini hobby and this is true for all mini games.  When your looking at a Warhammer army on the table from a players perspective you are not going to notice the 85 layers of detail on the face of a mini and so really if you want to be practical about it, why bother making them so detailed?  Its the old adage, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to see it.. but I digress.

This is a more realistic way you will see your miniatures 98% of the time. No one is going to inspect them and from this range, you aren’t going to notice the reduced detail level.

The point and the answer to this question is again, because that is what the hobby is, detailed.  Very very detailed.  Miniature gamers are a meticulous bunch that push the art form forward and to them, this is a very important sacred cow and FFG’s move to scale it back might be seen a step backwards.  I think people will adapt and adjust, but the grumbling from the GW community about the quality of the sculpts is almost certain to be debated.

There is also some logic to this hobby first, gaming second approach most miniature gamers have.  In the end you are spending far more time preparing for battle then you are having one.  A game takes a couple of hours, painting an army takes.. well, it takes a lot longer.  So its understandable that this side of the hobby is so important to them.  That said, I think its very much FFG’s intention to flip that upside and make Runewars more about the game then the hobby.  A controversial move, but one I personally support.  I just don’t know that my opinion is representative of the community at large, I have my doubts about that.

Despite it all, its clear that many hobbyists are looking to perfect their miniatures with intense detail spending hundreds of hours per model. Runewars will deny you some of that creativity.

For me personally there is a level of detail that miniatures reach, for which, going beyond makes little difference.  FFG has made high level of detail miniatures, going beyond this, really does nothing for me but to be fair, I fall into the category of people who see this as a game first and a hobby second (if a hobby at all) as I believe FFG intends it to be.  What doing the opposite it does for Gamesworkshop is make their game way more expensive and that is a far bigger negative to me then a lower level of detail.

To be fair and objective however we have to say it so its clear.  Runeware miniatures are not as detailed as Gamesworkshop miniatures. Period.

Ok I think that about covers components.  I think my conclusion is that after all considerations and comparisons, what FFG has created here is a very low cost miniature game that is easy to get into, has great quality and is more about the game, then the quality of the sculpts.  No it doesn’t exceed and perhaps even reach industry standards as they are today, but I don’t believe they where aiming for that, so how can you blame them for not achieving a goal, they never set in the first place.  They want people to buy, assemble and paint miniatures quickly so they can enjoy the game, its a perfectly reasonable goal.  Their target aren’t artistic hobbyist, their target is gamer’s and I think they have chosen wisely.

Gameplay

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star

Pros: An amazing and diverse set of mechanics that creates fun, easy to get into strategies.  Despite the dice, battles are won largely by your wits.

Cons: A few asymmetrical balance issues you might find reason to gripe about.

When it comes to gameplay I think its only fair that if we compared the miniatures to Gamesworkshop mini’s, we should do the same when it comes to gameplay.  Unfortunately this will be a wildly unfair contest.  If there was one thing Gamesworkshop truly sucks at its creating engaging gameplay.  The yahtzee fest that passed as a game that was Warhammer Fantasy was an embarrassment to game design, and Runewars blows the fucking doors off by comparison.  So , instead of this comparison, lets just judge it on other miniature games from FFG lines like X-Wing and Armada as much of the player base will come from here anyway and of course Runewars is based mechanically on these games as well.

The progression from X-Wing, to Armada and now to Runewars is quite clear, each new game an improvement on the previous one.

Runewars is effectively played on three levels mechanically, much in the way X-Wing and Armada is.  There is list building, which is of course the construction of your force where you build into it various strategies and synergies.  Then there is the actual combat system, with hidden action/movement via dials, template based movement, special unit powers, upgrade cards etc.. all that combine to make of the bulk of the gameplay.  Finally there is the mind game element, the sort of deduction and anticipation mechanics which deal with the fact that decisions are not made in the course of the round, but rather prior to the round starting in the planning/pre-programming phase, at this point an FFG tradition when it comes to mini games.

Nothing to my knowledge exists like this in any other miniature game except in those found in FFG lines and game systems based on their signature mechanic (I could be wrong).  Runewars however has the luxury of not only using this fantastic core mechanism, but doing so after the experiences gathered by FFG designers from the previous two versions of these systems.  In Runewars, it really shows as it is the most advanced and dynamic version of the mechanic to date.  Dare I even say an improvement over the amazing Star Wars Armada.

I think I could make this article quite short, aside from a few quirks and arguably questionable balancing, Runewars is the best version of FFG’s signature miniature game mechanics, referred to as the flight system, to date and without question.  They have really nailed it home here and while in my first impressions article I got hung up on a few things like Runes for example, after follow up plays of the game I have discovered that their are layers upon layers, upon layers of logic, mechanics, strategies and tactics in the core gameplay of Runewars.  Runes are still my least favorite mechanic, but its not nearly as bad as I made it out to be in my first impressions article.

Of all the mechanics to love in Runewars, Runes remains one of the few I don’t care for.

There is a ton to discovery to be made in Runewars mechanics and strategies, its very clear that for every move there seems to be a clear counter move.  So much thought has gone into each unit, each dial, each ability and there is an awesome merging of it all into what amounts to a deeply rich gaming experience.  I started off quite apprehensive about this game, but several plays later I’m delighted and amazed by how much fun and how much depth there is and this is just inside the core set which by all definitions is mostly a demo game.

Now grant it I cheated a bit, as a blogger, I have the luxury of a little bit of a bigger budget then most gamers to ensure I always have something to write about so I went straight for 3 Core sets.  Which I imagine is a much different experience than having 1 core set.  None the less, I’m absolutely enamored with this game and while not all the hype about this game is deserved, when it comes to the gameplay, I whole heartedly agree with the consensus, this game is amazing.

The value of getting 3 core sets is questionable, but you really can’t get a true 200 point match experience without it at the moment of this writing.

I could already write a book about some of the ways this game suprised me and the little secrets I have discovered along the way, but It almost feels like it would be a spoiler to reveal it all.  This is a game you really need to  experiment with and in a way its almost kind of a built in right of passage, a part of the game to discover it on your own, its a bit rude to spoil it for people.

Still I have to mention a few of my favorite gameplay elements here, this is a review after all.

First without question separating the dials into two sections where you have a main action and a supporting bonus modifier or action is, while simple, genius.   This just makes the choices that much tougher and creates a way for each action to carry risk vs. reward, with built in timing, making even simple decisions delightfully albeit painfully tough.  Not only are you choosing your action which may involve movement, an attack, a shift, reformation, special action (on and on) but you are also picking your initiative and how that action will be modified.  Hence each action has a built in speed variance and while at first it was a bit confusing, there is so much logic to how everything works.  It gives each unit a distinct feel as well as purpose, but more than that it gives units variation in terms of how you execute your battle plans.  The combos here are so many its hard to imagine that anyone can call this game simple, yet rule wise it certainly is.  The reality is that it falls into the category of easy to learn, but impossible to master, as I often say “the design sweet spot”.

Next up is the simplification of the Rank and File system, by creating simple and effective rules for things like lining up, using terrain, movement, charges and re-forms.  This system while simple, is something that was never really evolved in Warhammer Fantasy and felt stiff and unrealistic.  Its almost embarrassing how much better this system is to anything that GW was able to produce in 30+ years of design.  It works so well, I would expect any game designed in the future that doesn’t do it this way is going to have a lot of explaining to do.  It puts you in a position of focusing on strategy rather then trying to figure out how the rules actually apply.  Its simply put, a beautiful piece of design, simple, to the point leaving few unanswered questions.

Warhammer Fantasy also had trays and it was quite fiddly as well.

Now I will say I wasn’t crazy about the connecting puzzle piece tray and while you might chalk that up to a component flaw, because its such a fundamental element of game play, I put it here.  They stick and makes it kind of awkward to remove trays.  Its fiddly and it gets in the way, but more importantly its non-nonsensical.  There really is not reason to force the connection of the trays.  They were going for a system that made the units easier to move, but instead resulted in a system that is annoying to work with.  A minor flaw, but a flaw non the less.

Finally, last but not least is my absolute favorite element of the game, the mind game.  The pre-programming of actions is among my favorite mechanisms in games and in Runewars this concepts adds so many layers to the game to a point that you often make decisions by looking into your opponents eyes and trying to read him then you do looking at the tactical situation.  This is a game about juking, faking and trying to surprise your opponent with your dial.  Games are literally won and lost this way and often doing the unexpected is the key to winning.  While not exactly a mechanic, this atmosphere is created by the mechanics and I think in many ways its one of the most important elements of Runewars.

Even with a single core set there is a lot going on, on the battlefield. This is a game of wits as much as it is a game of bluffing.

When it comes to miniature war games we can’t skimp on the sure to be eternally debated topic of balance.  Is the game balanced, how does it balance, is x or y unit too expensive or too cheap.  You know, the usual stuff.  If you have spent any time playing miniature games, this is going to all sound very familiar and if you are a Warhammer Fantasy Battles player, then you know just how horribly out of balance miniature games can get because you have played without question the worst of the bunch.

My take on Runewars is that by far and large it is one of the most balanced assemble and paint miniatures I have ever played, but this is a far cry from “balanced” in board game terms.  Suffice to say, miniature games suffer from asymmetric mechanic blending that simply can never be perfectly balanced from game to game, at least not to any sort of consensus on the topic.  In the case of Runewars its actually even more sensitive as each card upgrade you add can easily throw the entire thing off the rails.  The fact that they achieve any semblance of balance at all is nothing short of a bloody miracle.

More to the point though its a game of list building and it can be so that while the game is balanced, you and your opponent may have lists that might very well not be, a part of collectible miniature games that always has impact.  I don’t think you can blame the game for that, but strictly put, not every game of Runewars you play will be balanced, list building is going to affect the fairness of a game even if you become proficient at it.  There are just going to be those times when despite both players building great lists, one player will have a clear advantage as a result of the blending of the two lists.  Its just the way it is in these games, an inherent part of miniature gaming that can heavily burden a gaming experience.

List building seems simple at first, but once it all sinks in you realize that there are endless considerations from Panic, objectives, upgrades, leader and unit abilities. Everything is important and it all plays a role in how you construct your fighting force.

Right now I think the main issue with the game is that its meant to be played at 200 points and while I would argue a miniature game should remain balanced regardless of how many points you play at, this might be asking too much of it.  I believe if you play a 3×3 fight using just the core set, you are going to get a fairly tight game, its clear the core set itself was tested heavily.  With 2 core sets there is a bit of an offset that favors the humans and I think this is largely because the human army relies less on synergy then the undead army and the higher point count you get to, the more redundancy is necessary for the undead to be successful.  Given equal skill I think the game favors the Human armies ability to leverage dice odds over the specialties of using synergized elements like Blight and Panic in that weird 150-180 point range.  In a sense, the Skeletons are harder to play because of this aspect, but can potentially be devastating if and when the synergies are pulled of.  If you don’t pull them off, you chances of winning are greatly reduced in a straight up dice chucking match.

My personal friends argue with me on this matter and I think I can say that I can’t conclusively say this is true.  Its certainly debatable and given that perhaps the definition of balance is that there are good arguments on both sides to claim which is best.  As long as their is no consensus, perhaps that means the game is in fact balanced.  I have personally played the skeletons 6 times at this point, 5 of which where done only with the core set content and the first match I won was when we introduced proxies and used upgrades from the future releases.  I believe the game becomes a lot more stable with the upcoming content which of course is not part of this review.  In fact for the purpose of this review, the Waiqar have never won a game in my group to date.  Its not until we introduced expansion content that this changed and the Waiqar finally won one.

While it may be easier to balance board games, this isn’t the first game I thought had its issues with balance that carried the title “Runewars”. Balance is always a subjective thing and as long as there is no consensus the game is arguably balanced.

At 200 points with expansion content however, the Undead really come into their own and while I will not say it overthrows balance, I will say that that it allows synergies to be far more reliable and very unlikely to fail outright.  It really becomes a game of leveraging your blight correctly rather then hoping you don’t fail to get your synergies going through unlucky dice rolling.

In a 200 point game you have enough on the battlefield that if one of you units get caught in an unplanned position, your ability to synergize isn’t shut down entirely, you will have other units that can continue to work off each other and pick up the slack. More importantly you’ll be able to triple down on things like Archers or Lancers, which are devastating in larger numbers and dirt cheap to field.  You really just need the plastic to do it and right now in the core set (wave 0) environment that really means you need to invest in 3 core set to complete a proper 200 point army.  I’m not sure I would recommend that, but it does help to even the playing field.

Upcoming upgrades like Combat Ingenuity are certainly major factors in strengthening the Waiqar army as they make mechanics like Blight more reliable.

Still even with that said, at round 170-180 points despite the undead having never won to date in my gaming group, most matches are not complete blow outs.  Its not like the humans are tearing it up uncontested.  Given that the Undead army is a bit more specialized, perhaps requiring a bit more experience with the game to play well, the balance may very well always be there, you just have to know how to tap into it.  At this point we are all a bunch of noobs and with the human army you really can arguably get away with just “charging” your opponent and out rolling him.

I also believe the real strength of the undead army really isn’t blight, its a part of it of course, this mechanic is tailor made for them but really their greatest strength is their ability to both hand out panic and resist it, as well as severely out field their competition. Undead units are much cheaper and they are far more effective in small numbers than the humans in smaller numbers.  Panic in particular however more often than not is the  way the undead army gains a positional advantage on the field and for them its a pretty reliable mechanic that they can tap into thanks to the reanimates secondary ability on attack to hand out panic and upgrades like Terrifying Herald which while expensive are very good at making things difficult in a fight of attrition.  Leveraging Panic in combination with Blight which can be used both offensively and defensively is tricky, but when timed correctly its far more devastating then someone who throws a bunch of dice and lets lady luck do the fighting for him.  Panic and Blight are reliable, dice rarely are, unless of course your my friend Ola who seems to have made a pact with the devil.

One major strength of the Waiqar army is that they don’t panic as easy and they hand it out like candy. The morale deck is far more dangerous then the damage coming from dice.

In conclusion in terms of balance, I think the game has some debatable elements but for the most part I think I can safely say the game is balanced enough to keep you coming back.  Certainly enough that any argument you make can be countered to give you food for thought.  Runewars is a game of skill, tactics and a bit of luck, as all good miniature games should be.  In the case of Runewars however lucky gets the short end of the stick here, the dice are stable and results are fairly predictable.  You will have the occasional shocker, but you aren’t doing the double or triple rolling thing as we see in a lot of miniature games where lucky gets far more opportunities to rear its ugly head (I’m looking at you X-Wing!)

Theme

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_star

Pros: Strong mechanic connection to the fantasy battle theme.  Its easy to get your army painted and on the table to get the full enjoyment from the games visual intentions.

Cons: The Lore is dull and unfinished, its not going to inspire you.

Talking about the theme of Runewars is a double edged sword, after all its a game of fantasy miniature battles and mechanically it performs amazingly.  But theme isn’t just about a mechanical connection, its also about the basis of the game, the lore, the story behind the game and how that inspires our imaginations.  Runewars to me is split between being a fantastic thematic representation of a fantasy battle while simultaneously being plagued by a relatively generic and uninspiring fantasy world.

In the end, for me, thematic representation through mechanics to bring out the feel of the game is far more important then the backdrop.  Sure, the lore of the generic humans and skeleton people is uninspiring and bland, but once you put those miniatures on the table and start pre-programming dials, it creates an amazing illusion of being a commander behind a massive force clashing into their enemy.  The tactics and strategies, the out guessing of your opponent’s actions, the formations and special powers of the units all form a fantastic gaming experience true to the sense of epicness that we look for in a game like this.

There is no question in my mind that Runewars has the thematic connection to mechanics needed to give you that general of a fantasy army feel even if the back drop of the lore is a bit dull and unfinished.

It may even be worth pointing out that while I love the lore of Warhammer Fantasy, I rarely played the game, despite having a painted army ready to go.  This was mainly because while I loved the backdrop, the game itself was kind of a drag and had a tendency to suck the joy out of the room.  So clearly, a wonderfully written piece of lore can’t save a game, but I believe an amazing game experience can do wonders to inspire the imagination and even amidst a boring generic fantasy world get you excited to play.

Of course its a bummer that we can’t get both and its sadder still if you consider that if anyone can create an amazing world full of original and creative lore its Fantasy Flight Games.  Just look at the fantastic work they have done with Android, sure future techno hackers isn’t my thing, but you can’t say peep about it not being original and inspiring.  Hell I read the lore book even though I don’t play any of the games!  Suffice to say I have to give some negative points for Runewars lore as far as theme goes, I think FFG can do better and they should have done better.  I think it was a mistake to base this on their Runebound world, even though there is obviously a lot of logic to doing so for them as a business.  Its just not a good enough setting for a miniatures game.

The visual spectacle and amazing lore of the Warhammer Tomb Kings is undeniable as was the quality and detail of the miniatures, but a shitty game is a shitty game, and shitty is what Warhammer Fantasy was.

In conclusion I can honestly say that for me, lore is an overlookable matter.  It’s not the world I would have chosen, but its not a deal breaker in the light of the quality of the game itself.  Certainly their is room for improvement but the juice is in the game and when it comes to Runewars the juice is fantastic.  I feel a pressing urge to collect, to paint and to play, this is the feeling you want an assemble and paint miniature game to give you.  The battles that Runewars offers are epic and full of life, with endless strategy, tactics and presence.

Replay-ability and Longevity

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_star

Pros: The blending of mechanics and asymmetrical units and components create a vast sea of possibilities.

Cons: You’ll need more than one core set to really find the game, collecting is without a doubt required to get the most out of the game.

Longevity of a miniature game is going to be pretty tough to predict given all we have to work with is a wave 0 core set.  Still, its clear to me that the game is set up for it in three very distinct ways.

First and foremost, despite the lore being a let down, it is for the most part wide open.  They have not written themselves into any corners which gives FFG the opportunity to be creative, think outside of the box and add into the game anything they want and make it cannon since they control the IP.  This is a fantastic opportunity to expand this game into any direction they like and I suspect this is exactly why the lore has been left wide open with a lot of question marks.  This world is far from finished and while we know that we are getting 2 more armies in the near future, there is lots of room for plenty more.  FFG may yet surprise us with the backdrop to Runewars.

Elves are up next, one of two additional armies already confirmed coming to Runewars, but can you imagine what a 10 or 15 faction Runewars will look like!?

Secondly the mechanic is so diverse, that their is design opportunity up the ass in this game.  Its a designers wet dream really, in particular with the way units are broken down by special ability, formations, upgrades and the double sided dial.  The amount of combinations that can be created is seemingly infinite and if there is anyone you can count on to expand the shit out of this game its FFG.  They have left the door wide open design wise and created a flexible and dynamic mechanic that can be used to represent just about any concept you can think of.  There really is no telling what they could create with it.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, this is not a IP that is in danger of ever leaving FFG.  This isn’t part of some sort of deal, or negotiated contract.  This is their world.  They answer to no one but the fans and they can do with it as they please.  This is a big deal, in particular for FFG that more typically works with existing IP’s that have years and years of legacy built into them.   This is their world and that is an important distinction from other games even in their miniature lines like Star Wars, an IP license they could very well lose one day ending their control over their own games.  We have already seen this happen once with Gamesworkshop, an IP they lost, that among its casualties included wonderful games like Forbidden Stars which never even got a much needed expansion.

Fallout from the GW & FFG breakup had its casualties, including any hope of a Forbidden Stars expansion. So much potential lost.

In terms of replayability, Runewars like all of their miniature lines already has a built in foundation that very clearly begs to be explored.  I believe Runewars will get the same treatment like Armada and replaybility will grow out of it in the same way.  Each time a new unit is introduced with new upgrades and dials, the game changes and needs to be re-explored as old avenues are re-openned.  More than that though I believe their is room for elements like Campaign sets, also something we got that truly expanded the gaming experiance for Armada.  You have other platforms on which to base some assumptions as well like X-Wings epic play or Mission play.  Runewars has built into it objectives and as you can imagine, more will be released at some point growing the gaming experience in new directions.

Simply put, I think the replayability here is endless, Runewars is not a game that will dull and while I expect it will certainly phase in and out of popularity in gaming groups as all games do, like X-Wing and Armada, I believe it will always remain on my shelf waiting for the itch to be scratched.  I have no doubt about Runewars dynamic gameplay being endlessly replayable, FFG’s are masters of creating such games and Runewars may be their most imaginative and dynamic game yet.

Conclusion

Runewars is definitely not without its flaws, I have my beef with the lore and there are a few very minor issues I haven’t mentioned because this review is already waaaay to long.  Suffice to say however, Runewars overcomes its shortcomings by bringing us the most important element of a miniature game with near perfection.  Gameplay.  This is where this game shines, leave it to a boardgame company to design one of the most playable assemble and paint miniature games on the market and show everyone else how its done right.

Sure, it’s not quite the hobby game we are accustomed to seeing enter the market.  The miniature sculpts are not quite up to standard of the industry and some limitations like static poses are going to annoy a few people.  We are missing our usual fat army books and mega volume core book too, but for all that is missing the most important bits are there. That said, these miniatures look great, painting them is a joy and I have absolutely no doubt that FFG will continue to step up their efforts and bring us better and better mini’s as time goes by as they have with X-Wing and Armada.  This is FFG’s first entry into the Assemble and Paint mini market and in my eyes, its an amazing achievement not just as a first effort, but in general, it has created a new standard in the hobby.  Its not a standard based on the sculpts of their mini’s but one focused on gameplay, a place where most assemble and paint mini efforts fail pretty regularly in my eyes.

Warhammer is not the only competitor out their, games like Warmachines tap into the market in their own way and look just as amazing on the table.

Certainly there is a ton of hype and fanboyism surrounding this game, but I believe its justified.  I look at this game and I see a lot of opportunity for some amazing gaming experiences and while I honestly can say I’m really not the best representative from the assemble and paint community, as a general gamer, to me this game has made just the right compromises to get me involved and the truth is that ordinarily I would not be interested in an assemble and paint miniature game at all.  Runewars has changed my mind, an achievement in its own right and I suspect fundementally one of the goals of FFG’s effort here.  They have created a game that lets you ease into it as a novice and this was exactly what they were going for.  I think my faith in FFG has a lot to do with my conclusion about Runewars, but while it’s not yet the game it will one day be, it’s clear that FFG intends to give it all the support and love it deserves to have a bright future.

It remains to be seen if the assemble and paint hobby community embraces Runewars, I’m skeptical, but given its target audience and goals FFG has set for it, I think it has a fighting chance.  What we have here is a bonafide smash hit in my novice eyes, but whether that translates to a hit among experienced miniature gamers is hard to predict.   Like all assemble & paint miniatures, it’s usually not the release that matters so much as the longevity of the support and dedication of the publisher to push it forward beyond its infancy.  Few games in the miniature market make it that far, but FFG has a proven track record of success and they have infused this game with the same endearing qualities of games like X-Wing and Armada that to me are among the best games ever made.

Gamesdungeon.net gives this the seal of approval, if you’re a miniatures game fan, this is one you cannot pass up, it begs to be played.  If you’re a casual gamer looking for your first experience, while I would personally still recommend X-Wing over Runewars, if you want to get into painting, this is definitely the way to go.

Terraforming Mars 2016 by Fryxgames

Designer: Jacob Fryxelius

Terraforming Mars has been hailed as one of the biggest success of 2016, in fact, it was named Gamersdungeon.net game of the year for 2016 as well.  With all the hype and perfect 10 reviews from everyone and their mother, it stands to reason the game has a lot to live up to.

Approaching this game objectively was very difficult for me, having already claimed it as Game of the Year, you almost assume that its going to get a perfect score, so I will remind my readers that around here we do things by the book.  I chose Terraforming Mars as game of the year because that judgement is based solely on my personal opinion.  I apply zero objectivity, I simply find a game I think sets a new standard of design, one that rises above the rest in my mind and that’s the one that gets the accolades. When it comes to my review processes things get a lot more niddy-griddy and focused.

Ok without further delay here is your gamersdungeon review of Terraforming Mars!

Overview

Final Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star (3.65 out of 5 Stars)

Terraforming Mars as the title suggests all about turning the red planet green.  Each player represents a future mega corporation tasked with making our closes neighboring planet habitable.   This is done largely through the playing of cards, resource management and tile placement on a map of mars.

The game features core mechanics like card drafting, representing the researching of technology, managing a variety of resources including the all important mighty dollar and putting elements into play both cards and tiles that adjust the planets temperature, oxygen levels and fill the planet with oceans, cities and greenery as well as populating it with all manner of life in later stages.

The game is bright and pretty and the gameboard really brings the theme home.

While this may appear to be a mutual venture, it is anything but, in fact, Terraforming Mars is very much a competition to see which corporation can make the greatest contribution to making the planet habitable and the competition is filled with nasty plays and take that moments.

Terraforming Mars is definitively stylized and designed as a Euro game, but it is far more interactive and perhaps one might even say cut throat then your typical benign Euro.  This combined with a unique theme certainly makes Terraforming Mars stand out of your typical Euro fare.

Components

Score: christmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_star

Pros:  Good Quality Components, Great Board Center Piece.

Cons: Stock art on cards is very poor.  Flimsy player boards.

The component quality of Terraforming Mars is a real mixed bag and unfortunately while the good is great, the bad is awful.  On the one hand you have this beautifully artistic representation of the planet in the center stage, with a quality board and high quality tiles to go with it.  You’ll populate that board with high grade and very thematically colored cubes as well as put into play high quality cards.  In general the components of the game are sturdy and made to last and while as is often the case there are a few weak links like the flimsy player mats, all and all there is very little to complain about here.

Still there are some oddities that really distract from the general quality of the components and artistic presentation.  For one, the art on the cards themselves ranges from beautifully illustrated works of art, to stock photo’s of really random shit like a god damn white pudil that are outright ugly.  Its a very strange contrast, distracting to a point and while much of the art is fantastic, a great deal of it can only be described as not art at all, but random photo’s downloaded from facebook of peoples pets or random people standing around.  Its a shame, its clear the publisher simply didn’t have the money to maintain the level of art quality throughout the game and really does take away from the games general artistic presentation.

I’m not fucking kidding, that is a real card and it is a pudil. I could do better with MS paint in 30 seconds.

Its sadder still because the theme is so interesting and unique, yet so much is lost as a result of these very poorly chosen stock photos.  The component quality of Euro games usually takes a back seat to gameplay and longevity in my humble opinion, but in this particular case, because the theme itself is such a big selling point of the game, the card art suddenly becomes very important, in particular in the art style which detracts from the game.

You get used to it after a play or two and I can’t say I’m disappointed with the components here, but it certainly wasn’t perfect.  I may be judging it harshly, but of all the things I hate in games, stock art is among the most offensive.  Just never, ever do this.  Not unless the art has some sort of link to a TV show or movie and even then its usually not good.

Theme

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star

Pros: An amazingly thematic game with a high level of connection to mechanics.  Its just pitch perfect.

Cons: Again Stock Photos, they really drain a lot of energy out of the theme.

The theme is really the biggest selling point of this game, which is very unusual for a Euro game.  The concept of Terraforming the red planet not only comes at a perfect time when such topics are being seriously discussed at NASA, but also because its so interesting to explore the technologies that apply to terraforming a planet.  Simply put, its just a really fun concept and much of the reason that Terraforming Mars was voted Gamersdungeon.net game of the year for 2016 was the theme.

The fantastic aspect of the game is that the theme and mechanics are so closely connected, the core gameplay just drips with thematic presence, it may in fact be one of the most thematic Euro games I have ever played.  As you put out cards their is logic to their existence, for example you can’t start putting out animals until the temperature and oxygen levels are high enough, or you might not be able to leverage early technologies late in the game when the planet has already become too warm.  There are also all sorts of big epic plays like crashing moons into the planet to create oceans, or lobbing nuclear arsenals to raise the heat levels.  You just have a sense of growth and progress on the planet over time and you really see it develop into a habitable world.

The asymmetrical corporations give you a sense of self adding a great deal to the atmosphere of theme as well as dynamic play of the game.

The developer has done an amazing job with a well chosen theme and above anything else about the game, the theme is really what stands out.

Its true that many of the arts, because they use stock photos kind of detracts a bit from the game, but this is more a minor annoyance than a real problem for the theme of the game.  I expect, sometime in the future we will get a much cleaner version of this game, its very obvious it was simply underfunded, which is a shame.  This is definitely a good candidate for a future kick-starter campaign or a deluxe version.

Gameplay

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star

Pros: A wide range of wonderfully connected mechanics that work on many levels with rich and dynamic strategies to explore.

Cons: A bit long, in particular at higher player counts. Might be too aggressive for some.

While the theme lives and breathes almost in its own space, much of its successful presentation and feel comes from a really wonderful combination of mechanics.

The asymmetrical corporation for starters give you a feeling of ownership and us versus them, each with unique powers that create distinct opportunities for your corporation denied to everyone else.  This creates a healthy dynamic start, while simultaneously setting the player up for a sort of position in the project at large.

Next up are the cards themselves.  I love the fact that you draft the cards and then decide which ones you want to pay for and keep.  This creates an opportunity to deny your opponents the cards they might want to take, without getting stuck with a card you don’t need (often the case in drafting mechanics).  It also creates a moment of contemplation where you plan your move and choose cards to fit your strategy, while simultaneously considering your resources and the timing of each card.  More importantly the cards themselves are great thematic representation of development and growth of the planet.  Each card is important and has a place in someones strategy and as such, there is little waste here.  Its all very dynamic and well thought out, its very clear this mechanic was heavily tested.

Not all the cards are stock photo’s, art like this is exactly what this whole game should look like. 

Finally you have the board itself and again, the mechanics and theme merge to create a perfect union as you compete with other corporation to be the first in a wide range of technology and development races.  Your pushing for every advantage, creating cities, oceans, working the temperature and oxygen levels and trying to command nature to your benefit.

There is a lot of take that in this game and things can get pretty nasty with a wide range of direct assaults, as well as positional elements on the map and the various competition races for milestone awards.  Its a pretty hostile environment given the kind of benign theme and it may be a bit of a turn of players who don’t like that sort of targeted attack mechanic.  For me personally this is a vital element that is absolutely needed as otherwise it would be a very solitary game with extremely limited interaction.  The ability to strike out at point leaders works as a natural catch up mechanic and while of course people can be mean and attack the guy that falls behind, this typically works to their detriment as its the point leaders you need to go after.  There is a thought out balance there and it’s important to recognize that it works to the benefit of the game.

Other game play elements include your tableau where you collect cards that adjust your resource production and create new actions you can take.  The flow of the game is such that in the early turns you might only be able to take one or two actions per generation (round) but by late game you could be taking 8 to 12 actions in a generation.  More importantly the actions become more and more interactive in the course of the game, creating an almost battle like system where one player might be creating microbes to score points, while another introduces microbe eating animals that eat them.  Then later someone might introduce a predator that eats animals and so the progress of life on the planet starts to take on a life of its own.  It of course does wonders for the theme of the game, but mechanically it creates competition and interaction between players.

Blue cards add new actions you can take, often they can be used in combination creating some great ways to get ahead.

The end game scoring is also a bit tricky because while points = money during the course of the game, usually raising your Terraforming Rating (a kind of point/money resources) requires some sort of set back or cost to you.  Its often more beneficial to put out blue cards that create new actions for you, or play cards that raise your resources, but these usually don’t do much for your TR which is where the real race is.  There are always trade offs, managing these decisions is really where all of the strategy and tactics of the game live, doing it well is the only way to achieve victory.

Gameplay is extremely rewarding in Terraforming Mars, you have a sense of personal growth of your tableau, you have the sense of progress on the planet as it becomes more and more habitable and there are constant realignments of strategies and opportunities that come up as you gain new research cards.   The designers have really tapped into the essence of great game-play here, when it comes to design, this game is not over-hyped, it really is a wonderful melting pot with a very streamlined and natural flow.

There is a lot of things going on, on this gameboard. Among the most important is the Oxygen and Temperature levels.

One drawback of the game is down time.  I have played it two, three and four player at this point and I have to say that the higher the point count the more down time and considerably longer the game draws out.  Really it misses the sweet spot by quite a bit, its just a bit too long even in a 3 player game it step over the comfort zone.  By the very late game you just kind of wish it had wrapped up 20 minutes ago.  I think with experienced players it will become more manageable but I don’t think I would want to play this with more than 4 players.

Replay-ability and Longevity

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_star

Pros: Plenty of dynamics and asymmetrical play creates great replay-ability.

Cons: A bit heavy, a bit too long for back to back plays.

There is plenty of dynamics in the game thanks to the card play and asymmetrical corporation to give the game some longevity.   It is however a fairly heavy and fairly long game so its not something your going to pull out all the time.  After playing it three times in the course of a couple of weeks I felt very much that I needed a break from it.  I think its very re-playable so I don’t think that’s an issue, but it certainly has that weighty feel that will have you considering whether or not you want to get involved with a game that overstays its welcome my a smidget or two.

I think the biggest boon for this game is that the theme is so refreshing, so if you stay away you start to remember how cool planet building is and are drawn back to it.  As such I think this one will remain in my collection for quite a while, it has that instant classic feel to it.

Conclusion

 

Terraforming Mars in my eyes is two things.  First, its a design achievement.  I tip my hat to the designer for creating something truly unique and clever.  This is a smooth game that represents the theme mechanically so well, in particular for a Euro game which usually don’t make particularly strong connections to theme.

Secondly is of course the theme.  I absolutely adore this concept, its such an easy sell too.  The designer has done a really great job of capitalizing on the theme of Terraforming a planet, for science-fiction nerds like me this is an absolute must have in your collection.

There are a few blunders like the stock photos and a perhaps the game is just a tad bit too long with a little too much down time, but their are logical explanation for both and both can be either overlooked or over come.  Stock photos, well, you’ll just have to get used to that.  As for the downtime and pace of the game, I think with experienced players you can really shave off quite bit of the playing time.

All and all this is a great game that belongs in your collection if your a Euro game fan, a science-fiction fan and in particular if you love thematic games and the concept of Terraforming a planet interests you.  I think if you don’t like take that games, you might want to try before you buy here.  It might be a bit too much for some gamers to handle, though I would argue its definitely an important inclusion for the game.

Roll For The Galaxy By Rio Grande 2014

Designers: Wei-Hwa Huang, Thomas Lehmann

When it comes to a list of my favorite games to play, Race For The Galaxy is one that falls into the category of games that I like to call “love to play them, hate to teach them”.  That is to say, I think its a fantastic game, I will happily pull it out and play it but only with people who already know how to play.  Trying to teach Race for the Galaxy is a bloody nightmare to the point that I almost never do it.

Along comes Roll For The Galaxy, a dice based version of the same game, in the same style by the same designer.  The concept and goal is the same, build up your space empire by colonizing planets, discover technologies and of course doing it faster and better than the other guys.  Like Race for the Galaxy, Roll For The Galaxy is a race to the finish line but instead of cards, it uses a combination of tiles and dice.

Overview

Final Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star (3.9 out of 5 Stars)

Roll For The Galaxy is a game of resource management and while its driven by dice, unlike most dice based games there is not that much luck involved.  Its really a game of manipulating your dice (resources) to create the most optimal engine that scores the most points.

Now the fun part about both Race for the Galaxy and now Roll For The Galaxy is that you have limited control over which phases will be played during a round and its in this roll selection mechanic much of the games strategy takes place.  You have to try to guess what your opponents will do, guess right and you can leverage their chosen actions as well as your own.  This is how you really get the edge in Roll For The Galaxy and as such its both a game of resource management and reading minds.

Like its predecessor, this game is about a space race. You have to do it faster and better than everyone else.

 

Components

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_star

Pros:  Streamlined, clear and easy to understand iconography supported by explained text on everything makes learning the game easy, high quality tiles and dice.

Cons:  Player mats are a bit flimsy, the insert is too small to fit all components so you have to pull it out to fit everything.

Rio Grande Games has a mixed reputation when it comes to component quality but with b Roll For The Galaxy they really put in the effort here.  The quality of the tiles is the absolute best it can be, the dice quality is also above grade and while some of the player mats are a bit flimsy there are some nice organizational touches here that make every component very handy for streamlining gameplay.

Rio Grande has been disappointing lately. Its big success last year was re-printing a very lightly altered version of Dominion, which begs the question, why?

You have shields to hide your dice area, cups for collecting and rolling dice and there is fantastic organization of information on everything.  Really most of the components act as player aides so while the game has a lot of iconography like Race for the Galaxy did, its less confusing because the rules of each icon are always spelled out on the tile or player mat.  This makes the game very easy to reference and easier to pick up.

My biggest complaint about Race for the Galaxy is the difficulty in teaching it and this is largely due to the fact that the game has a ton of Iconography and its not explained anywhere in the player components, its all stored in the rule-book or index card requiring constant reference.  In Roll For The Galaxy they have solved this problem and its a huge blessing, deserving of all my praise.

Roll for the Galaxy is not a complex game, but there are a lot of special powers on the tiles, unique actions and a variety of special rules.  Thanks to the layout of the games components however, it all becomes second nature after a couple of rounds of play.

While there was quite a bit of art pulled from Race of the Galaxy, the majority of it is new and this was also a great decision.  The game feels fresh and the art work is colorful and themed just right even if you already own and have played Race For The Galaxy.

All and all the component quality here is really fantastic, I see little to complain about other then the player mats which are a bit flimsy and will definitely wear and tear over time.  The insert was also really bad, it doesn’t leave enough room in the box to fit everything so I had to throw it out.  Not really a big deal, but you have to wonder what they where thinking.

Theme

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_star

Pros: A sense of “race” remains in the game, art work does a lot to promote the theme.

Cons: Very abstracted and disconnected in most places.

Rio Grande Games generally makes Euro style games and Roll For The Galaxy, despite being a dice based game, is very much a Euro game.  Despite its roots, Roll For the Galaxy has more theme then most Euros.  Your building a space empire, playing out improvements, technologies, installing governments and colonizing planets.  All the science-fiction bells and whistles are here supported by great art that heightens the perception.

The art is crisp and techi, but there is limited connection between mechanics and theme here. Its very abstracted.

That said the game is not really particularly thematic, its all very abstracted, though in a dice game this is a given.  Its clear that everything that could be done to make this game thematic was, but it still does not result in an overwhelming sense of time and place.  It works well as a science-fiction theme and being based on Race for the Galaxy it retains that “space race” feel, but the theme here is pretty interchangeable, it could have just as well been themed to be medevil Mediterranean trading or well pretty much anything with trading and exploration.

I don’t think this really has much impact on the game though, you don’t really sit down to it expecting a thematic experience.  Its a fairly short, strategic dice game with roll selection and resource management.  The mind games of trying to guess your opponent strategy and intended action each turn is a lot of fun, but I’m not sure how that ties into the theme at all.

Needless to say the theme is sufficient, but isn’t going to overwhelm the senses and that’s just fine.

Gameplay

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star

Pros: Great core mechanics, streamlined and fun.  The game pace and timing is just right in the sweet spot.

Cons: Very little player interaction.

I consider gameplay to be of utmost importance in a game like this as it involves dice and that is very easy to fuck up.  In fact, I would say the overwhelming majority of dice games are huge disappointments to me so when I find a good one like Roll For The Galaxy its cause to celebrate.

Roll For The Galaxy functions on several levels, its actually far deeper than any dice game I have played before to the point where I’m not sure it fully qualifies as a dice game in the sames sense that Voyage of Marco Polo or Kingsburg may arguably might be considered to be in a category other than dice game.

Voyage of Marco Polo also uses a lot of dice, but anyone who has played is unlikely to refer to it as a dice game. Roll For The Galaxy I think falls into the same category.

On the surface its a game of resource management.  You roll dice in your cup which represents your available resources or work force.  The icons on the dice determine what options are available to you although there are countless ways to manipulate the results, in particular once you get a few developments into play.  Your also managing your money to bring already used workers back into your cup for your next turn.  There is a kind of engine here you have to coordinate to ensure you always have some resources to work with and much of the strategy of the game revolves around this cycle.

On the second level you have your action for the round.  Each round you will select one of the five possible actions to take, however each player does the same thing.  Only the actions selected by the player will be triggered, and since you assign dice to actions at the start of each turn, guessing correctly what actions your opponents will take will allow you to take both your action and the actions of your opponents.  This is a kind of mini game of trying to deduce what your opponents will do, its both a big part of the strategy and fun of the game.  Guessing correctly on a regular basis means you will gain a big advantage over time, as will your opponents.  Which again flips things where you don’t want to be obvious with your actions to prevent your opponents from guessing correctly.  Its really a kind of fun mind game, it can even create a bit of Analysis Paralysis.  I really love this aspect of the game.

You make key decisions like which action to take each round behind a screen. deducing what your opponents are going to do is key to a good strategy.

Finally their is the third layer where you decide what planets to colonize and what developments to build.  Here you have another engine where you explore tiles by pulling them out of a bag when taking the explore action, then choose which tiles to develop.  This is where you will build your long term strategy, a critical component to being successful in the game as the tiles both give you advantages like more dice for your cup, ways to manipulate dice or just outright score points.  The tiles themselves are also worth points and generally the more resources it takes to put a tile into play the more its worth, but of course the longer it takes to get into play.  Its a fine balance of tough decisions requiring you to have a flexible and well thought out strategy.  It is also the trigger for the end game, once any player has 12 tiles out, at the end of the round the game ends.  So there is strategy to how fast you develop, do you go for big hard to put out tiles to score big points, or do you rush to the finish line with lots of smaller tiles.

All of these elements come together to create a very thinky, very engaging game that far exceeds the expectations you might have of a simple dice game.  Much like Race for the Galaxy there is not a tremendous amount of interaction between players, its effectively a space race to see who can do it faster and better, but the game is sufficiently short that this does not become a problem.  You’re really focused on your own stuff, but because of the role selection mechanic your always keeping a close eye on what your opponents are doing in anticipation of having to guess what actions they will take.  It works really well to keep players interested in each others progress despite not really having much you can do to affect it negatively.

I absolutely adored the gameplay in this game, it has the exact same concept/premise of Race For the Galaxy, with the same feeling, but without the overly complex Iconography to slow the game down.  Its very easy to teach and learn and its very short even with a full complement of players.  Its a really great warm up game, yet it has sufficient depth to keep veteran players engaged and interested.

Replay-ability and Longevity

Score: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star
Tilt: christmas_starchristmas_starchristmas_star

Pros: Scales well, dynamic starts and plenty of randomization to create new experiences each time you play.

Cons: Nothing to complain about

Its really hard to measure the longevity of a game like this, but I think the fact that its a fairly short game (typically under an hour) its replay-ability ratio is very high.  I can see this acting as a warm up game for a lot of game sessions in particular because it scales so well with any player count.

The randomness of tile draws and dice rolling ensure that you are never going to play the same game twice, in fact, I would say even your strategy is very dynamic.  You are going to base a lot of your strategy on what tiles you start with and what tiles you draw, so your not going to walk into this game with a “this is how you win this game” pre-planned strategy.  Every game is different, requiring a different approach,  which does wonders for replay-ability.

Very little to complain about here, its easy to teach and learn, so you really can pull it out at any game session without fear.  It has a great dynamic start ensuring your going to be seeing the game through new eyes each time you play.  Just a good solid mechanic with plenty to explore.

Conclusion

Roll For The Galaxy has turned out to be one of the most solid titles to come out of Rio Grande for quite a while in my eyes.  It definitely surpasses its predecessor Race For The Galaxy and despite being a dice game, its a very strategic game well in the control of the player.  Lady luck plays her part but not nearly to the extent one might imagine in a dice game.

This is a multifaceted game that works on a fairly wide range of depth, yet manages to be easy to understand throughout.  It scales really well, it has a short play time that really hits the sweet spot for warm up games and there is plenty of exploration for repeated plays.

Definitely a highly recommended title for Race For The Galaxy fans and fans of dice games, but really this game is far more than the sum of its part.  This is a thinky, strategic game, worthy of the shelf space of any gamer out there.

First Night with Runewars Miniature Game

I don’t do to many first impression articles, but on occassion I like to write one just to see what I think after the first play of a game and have it as a comparison to it when I do the final review.  This works best with miniature games as it takes me a really long time to properly review them.

Today on First Night With, I’m going to be talking about Fantasy Flight Games newborn sensation, Runewars the miniature game.  Its officially launched, I have played it twice, here is what I thought.

First let me just say that as expected, Runewars miniatures are extrodinarly well done.  The molds are clean, in epic (active) poses, there is great variety and they are just flat out beautiful.  FFG has hit the nail on the head, I find very little to complain about.  Personally I was amazed and delighted,  even inspired to paint, which for me, is nothing short of a fucking miracle because I despise painting mini’s with a deep passion.

The quality of the mini’s is undeniable. They look amazing!

I can see that some hard core miniature fans might have issues with the fact that the molds are designed in “fixed” poses.  This was clearly a design decesion made to make this miniature game a little bit more approachable for people new to the hobby as it makes assembly considerably easier with few parts to put together.  Most of the pieces snap together requiring glue only for select mini’s.  I know from experiance that veteran miniature gamers really want to customize and create something unique, with Runewars that will be a bit more difficult requiring some cutting and plenty of greenstuff, but I suspect most of these hobbyiest won’t find that to difficult.  Its a compromise, but it certainly favors guys like me who just want to get to the game.

Skeletons were a bit more fiddly when putting them together. They require glue to put together.

I really disliked the tray system.  I understand what they where going for here, but the interlocking trays and unit connectors are fiddly, too tight and really just get in the way.  I can see myself cutting all of these things off, a solution easy enough to implement.  I really don’t see the point of the interlocking system, its something that sounds good on paper, but didn’t really work that great in practice.

The trays were probobly not intended to be difficult to connect and disconnect, but they are, it was annoying and slowed the game down.

As for the rest of the components, in standard FFG fashion they have blown the doors off with the absolutly highest level of component and card quality, extremely clear and functional text, great artwork and aesthetics and streamlined to perfection.  After a single play I was already familiar with all of the games components and by the second play the symbology was already becoming second nature.  A++ here, they just nailed it.

Finally the books.  I spent an hour reading the Lore book cover to cover and while I think the Runewars universe is extremely bland and generic, and still very vague, its definitly the most we have ever gotten for it.  The writting was well done, clever even in some places, but the game world is still very much at arms length.  I find it hard to describe but its just not dark enough for my tastes and it has this fluffy, cartoony feel to it, much like its art that really just kind of makes it difficult to connect to.  It manages to fit in all of your standard over used fantasy tropes, there are magic runes, undead, forest elves and dragons.  All your usual stuff done a million times before with just the tinyiest amount of variation.  It was quite pedestrian with no suprises and not a single line of original thought adding a grand total of zero to the genre of fantasy work.  I was really hoping with Runewars the miniatures game they were going to dive in and create something to give the game some thematic muscle and perhaps they still might with some sort of story book (aka like they did for Android) but for now the game world is still very much common and largely irrelevant.

I really hope FFG takes the time to create a lore book for Runewars like they did for Android. It really needs it.

The other two books, the learn to play and Rules Reference on the other hand tackled the job of teaching you how to play and giving you a proper rule book reference, both of which are fantastic, easy to consume and extremely streamlined.  Its exactly what this game needed and I love the format.  It left very few questions unanswered and while I expect we will see quite a bit of errata in the future, for the purposes of learning the game and having a good reference guide these two books have it covered.

Ok so lets talk about the actual gaming experiance here because there is quite a bit to cover and it really is the heart and soul of this game.

To me the game really kind of breaks down into three core zones of mechanics.  First you have your list/army building.  Second you have your gameplay and mechanics.  Finally you have your strategic and tactical variation.

As far as list building goes I reserve judgement because frankly I did very little.  That said I was happy to see that despite there being a fairly limited selection of units there was quite a bit of variety in how you set each one up.  We had two core sets to work with and even there I felt like we could have easily gotten a 3rd.  How many ranks you put in a unit has a lot of impact on how that unit will be used, but the upgrades in particular really stood out.  Each one creating unique tactical oppertunities that really differeniate two units of the same type.

More than that though I can see how you can create a pretty wide range of lists with just the core sets with different levels of focus, tactical infusion and general strategy.  I think with more units coming into the fold in expansions, list building will be debated and fun with plenty of room for experimentation.  I was very pleased with the core set as a whole as far as list building went, it was definitly a big improvement over the core sets of X-Wing and Armada.

When Armada was released and advertised as an Epic game of capital ship combat, when you got the core set it felt like anything but. Runewars however managed to really nail it. Its supposed to be a game of epic Fantasy battles, and it feels like it with just the core set.

One core set however is clearly not enough and I would argue even two will have you feeling a bit light.  Really I think most people are going to want to have 3 core sets in the end to make the 1st wave really robust and varied.

When it comes to gameplay I have to say that while I found a lot to love about it, the thing that really stood out the most for me was the core balance in the game.  FFG has done a fantastic job of creating a really solid asymetrical balance between the two armies and while both matches where won by humans, it was clear to me that this was just a fluke rather than a balance issue.  Certainly certain units stood out as clearly superior, but both armies had, asymetrical responses which even things out.  It was clear matches are won and lost with tactics and strategy, exactly as it should be.  There was one exception and that’s the Runes (more on that later)

Our first game the undead forces lost the game by a mere 5 points and the while the second match ended in largely a blow out I could see very specifically where tactical miscalculation and not balance issues where the direct cause.  You could very easily track back every mistake that lead to the loss and there was plenty of “I should have” moments that would have drastically changed the outcome of the battle. (Again with one exception, I promise, more on that later)

I was also very happy with the dice layout and system.  While the destiny of the dice certainly played its part, I never felt like the dice ruled the game.  The stat odds are very even keel, this is not a game you can win by rolling well or lose by rolling poorly.  Sure you might have a key roll that creates an epic moment of success or failure, but in Runewars battles are won and lost by decesions, not the dice, for which I can only say, thank you FFG.

The movement mechanic borrowed from X-Wing also worked really great.  In our first two games we made a lot of gaffs being unfamiliar with estimating ranges, but I can see how in the future we will get much better at this.  Still I think that uncertainty and “I hope I’m close enough for this charge” feeling will remain a part of this game and I think its really great.  Thankfully the penalty for missing a charge or unerestimating a move are not that harsh, which I think is a good thing, it would be a shame if battles were won and lost on one mistake, that is not the case here.  The movement system pushes players to take risks and hope for the best resulting in a lot more action on the table.

The table space is quite tight despite its size, usually by the second round units are clashing so you really get right to the action.  I think in time the game will feel more mobile than it did in our first game as we really didn’t leverage some of the more advanced moves that are possible.  While its not quite X-Wing in terms of movement, its clear that position, facing and timing are all part of the movement sequence putting players to tough decesions.  All good things.

The objective and deployment mechanic was also really good, I’m glad they pulled this away from being part of a list building mechanic and made it a random draw.  While I think this worked ok in Armada, the thing with. adding objectives to list building is that it creates too much dependency and drives list building.  With the Runewars way of drawing them, you really kind of need to prepare for all of them and this will result in list building being more diverse and less specialized, which ultimatly creates more balanced battles.  I really liked the system.

I didn’t love everything about the mechanics however.  For one, I really hated the “Rune” system, it really felt like a kind of pointless and underserved random modifier that rewarded players for doing absolutly nothing but getting lucky.

The mechanic is this “extra thing” on the side of a battle completly unreleated to any tactics, decsions or strategies of the players which really does nothing at all to make the game either more interesting, more balanced, fun or tactical.  Half the time we would forget about the mechanic entirely and when it did kick it, it did little else but give a player a random advantage that had zero to do with the fight. It was like flipping a coin to see if more units would die or not, simply put, it was a gift that rewarded a player for doing nothing.   I also didn’t think it was particularly balanced.  The undead army was allowed to regenerate units for their foot soldiers (1 or 2 of them) as long as the tray was still there based on the runes that appear.  This was offset by the human player getting 1 or 2 additional threat for their Gollums.  This was a poor trade of as regenerate would only kick in under very specific circumstances while the increasing threat of the Gollum pretty much kicked in every round.  In fact, in two games, the undead player never once was able to leverage this advantage while for the human player it was a key advantage that gave him a huge boost in the fight.

This random modifier was poorly thought out, it adds a random element to the game that serves only to create luck based results with no tactical decesions that can be made to avoid them. Worse yet it masquerades as a way to power unit abilities, rendering some way too powerful and others completetly and utterly useless.

Balance was not really my beef with the mechanic however, I just didn’t like the idea of this completetly random element affecting the results of the battle.  We already have dice for that, it just seemed pointless to have yet another element of pure luck in the game.  Definitly my least favorite aspect of Runewars.

If you are a hardcore miniatures fan, you will quickly realize that there are quite a few sacred cows that have been abandoned in Runewars, this is not your grandaddy’s miniature game.  FFG gave few fucks about the miniature gaming community at large, they designed this game through and through in FFG fashion with little concern as to wether or not Warhammer Fantasy/40k people will approve, or will or won’t like it.  They made it the way they like it and its a take it or leave it deal.  In fact, one of the biggest impressions I walked away with was that Runewars is just a giant FUCK YOU to Gamesworkshop.  Its a game that has solved every problem that has plagued Warhammer Fantasy & 40k for 30+ years with ease and flare.  The movement templates might has well say “eat a dick GW” on the side because its kind of like, after 30+ Years you assholes couldn’t design up a cardbord stick for movement in your game!?

Warhammer Fantasy died a very long and very painful death. It was never a good game. Runewars pretty much fixed every problem it ever had in one fell swoop. GW could learn a lot from FFG.

But I degress…

From a birds eye view as well as in the nitty gritty details, Runewars has made a very positive impression on me.  Definitly worth investing in and exploring.  I think as far as a straight to the point game of fantasy battles, this is the best I have seen in years and this is coming from a guy who when it was first announced instantly turned down the offer.  I think my main problems with the game like the fact that it is a assemble and paint game are more a minor nuisance compared to what you get out of it as a game.  I didn’t like the Rune mechanic, but this too requires more exploration.  While I felt it was rather broken as a first impression, I suspect with the core set we have not really seen its full intention and use.  Given that everything else in the game from the quality of the miniatures to the fantastic gameplay, it would be foolish to discount it based on these minor issues.

As a whole I would rate my impression as “really good” and I definitly look forward to future battles, so for now I stand excited about the game and look forward to exploring it further.

That’s my first impressions of Runewars, hope you enjoyed the article.  See you on the battlefield.