As a board gamer, I have always been intrigued with the tabletop miniature war gaming scene despite never actually committing to invest in one of the many variants. I dabbled with painting minis back in the day, but after reading a rule book of a traditional miniature war game, I soon lost interest and reverted back to type. Convoluted, needless rules, minis that come on plastic sprues, tape measures, not to mention the extortionate expense with certain companies literally holding you up by your ankles and shaking every last penny that you own out of you kept me away from this aspect of the gaming hobby for a long time.
That was until I played two games of which, funnily enough, are produced by Fantasy Flight Games, who also make the game that I will be reviewing shortly. The first game was X-Wing Miniatures Game, with the second being BattleLore Second Edition.
X-Wing took the ‘manoeuvre by measuring’ aspect of war gaming but threw away the tape measure and replaced it with cardboard templates making movement simple. X-Wing took away the need to consult fifty different charts whilst rolling the same amount of dice, only to find that your only arrow to make it through deflects off the bad guy’s helmet for a miss. Instead, they gave players attack & defence dice that made combat simpler.
BattleLore Second Edition was the first board game that I fully committed to painting, it replaced those horrible plastic sprues consisting of everything from fingers, toes & ears (which all had to be glued) with simple single mould miniatures or quick ‘click fit’ ones that took seconds to assemble, and this made assembly simple.
I think you can all see where I’m going here, so I will delay no longer. Today’s review is the two-player RuneWars Miniatures Game, and the question that I want to answer upon the conclusion of this review is: “Have Fantasy Flight Games stayed true to what has previously worked and kept things simple, or have they crossed the divide into the unknown of a traditional miniatures war game?”.
For those of you familiar with Fantasy Flight Games, simply hearing the name of the game will give the theme away immediately. RuneWars Miniatures Game is set in the Runebound Universe, which it shares with games such as Descent, BattleLore and the Runebound board game, meaning the vast majority of characters & creatures will pop up repeatedly. This can be both a plus and negative point, but I will come to that later. First, let’s look at what’s in the box!
The box itself is your standard Fantasy Flight deep, trenched inlayed box. The art, as usual, is fantastic and depicts a battle scene between the two factions, the good forces of Daqan and the evil Waiqar the Undying. The base offers a second battle scene featuring a Rune Golem with the sides showing the game in action, as well as a brief description and contents list.
Just like the last Fantasy Flight game I previously reviewed, Doom: The Board Game, RuneWars comes with three books, but as with Doom, this shouldn’t put players off as only one is an actual ‘rule book’ or ‘learn to play’, to give it its proper title.
The second is a ‘rules reference’ which, again, has a brilliant & easy to use index and will only be used during a game to quickly check a rule or scenario.
The third cements why I not only love the Runebound Universe but also enjoy most of what Fantasy Flight are currently producing. That is the Lore Guide, which is basically a short story book that brings to life the realm of Terrinoth and all who fight over her, including characters already familiar to us such as Astarra and Baron Zachareth. I love a game with a good backstory, whether that is one of fantasy, sci-fi or real historical events. I feel it helps ‘plug in’ the players, not only giving them an understanding as to what they are involved in or what goals they need to achieve, but immediately heightening their experience, leaving a lasting memory.
All three books have been produced to an exceptionally high standard with good use of art and coloured diagrams which sit alongside short but concise paragraphs of text.
As RuneWars is a miniatures game, let’s take a look at the main components themselves. The base game comes with an impressive forty eight miniatures which are all of outstanding quality and have very high levels of detail. Even better is the fact that they are pre-cut and ‘click fit’, making assembly a doddle. Glue will be required for the odd body part or two, but this has been kept to a minimum. Also, each unit type comes in a separate bag, meaning you won’t be confused as to which arm fits with which body, etc.
Fantasy Flight do seem to use a softer plastic compared to some of the more established miniatures companies, meaning you can get bending on thinner parts of the minis, such as spears, etc., but with a bit of coxing, these can usually be straightened out. I’ve also heard (and seen) some more advanced modellers/painters complain that some of the mould lines are in awkward places for them to remove, but for the average painter, that won’t be an issue.
A huge plus for me was the number of poses that the minis come in, for example: The Daqan Lords (infantrymen) have four notably different stances which look great when displayed compared to some games that will have sixteen infantrymen all stood looking exactly the same.
This is true for all types of units in the game, such as the Oathsworn Cavalry or the Reanimate Archers, and seems to follow a quite obvious pattern.
Your units will be placed into pre-designed trays that will only be suitable for that type of unit, such as infantry or cavalry, and these trays can be interconnected to form larger armies offering more scope for investment, but I digress. An infantry tray has four spaces, meaning each tray can have four units, each of which have different stances. The cavalry trays have two spaces and, unsurprisingly, have two different stances. This may sound quite obvious or even trivial, but aesthetically it’s very important, and for hobbyists it’s much more appealing to paint. Having to repeat the same process on the same mini twelve times is a real test of one’s patience and resolve.
The game comes with various types of cards, such as unit cards or objective cards, as well as a morale deck which is pretty cool and something I’ll talk more about later. All the card types will be familiar to regular Fantasy Flight gamers, they are very well designed and set out, but I did notice a distinct lack of art as a whole compared to previous games. Not a big deal, and it won’t affect gameplay, but it is something that is definitely worth noting.
There are three different types of dice provided, red & blue eight-sided standard attack dice used by regular units or eight-sided white dice used by characters. I’ll not tread over old ground, but additional dice packs are available in exchange for more cash!
There are a ton of cardboard tokens and the like in the base game, so I won’t go through them all, but the last components I will mention are the Command Tools which consist of two dials mounted onto a cardboard stand and enables players to issue instructions to their individual units. For players of X-Wing, these dials will look somewhat familiar (as will a lot of the cardboard components), only in RuneWars you get two instead of just the one.
The first dial is the action dial, which allows players to march their units forward a set distance or reform your units to have them face in a different direction or issue attack orders in the form of melee and ranged attacks.
Each action also has a second number assigned to it, which is the unit’s initiative and determines in which order units are activated.
The second dial is the modifier dial, which is used to enhance or alter the unit’s original action. This may allow a unit on the march to wheel or turn. It could give that unit an attack or defence bonus or allow a unit or character to use a special ability as detailed on their unit card.
That’s the majority of the components discussed, let’s now look at set-up and gameplay.
For set-up, I will assume that all minis have been assembled, meaning all the player needs to do is build their own custom army.
Each army unit has a cost which is denoted on the rear of their unit card, and this cost will differ for each unit depending on how many trays/what formation they are using. You can also assign upgrade cards to each unit which allow you to customise your units by giving them extra movement or increase your defence, etc.
For players using this base game only, building an army will consist of simply using everything in the box pretty much, but once your collection grows (and it will), you will have to compile your forces using 200 points. To give you an idea of how much units cost, a four tray Reanimate army (16 minis) costs 26 points whilst the single mini of Ardus Ix’Erebus costs 37 points.
So, the two armies are built (Daqan & the Undead) and placed on at least a 3×3 foot playing space. For now, let’s just assume that they are deployed face to face at either side of the play area. I will explain alternatives later in the review.
The player who is going first will take the five energy tokens (these represent the magic in the Runebound universe) and shake them in their hands before casting them onto the board. The result will be a number of different runes that will allow characters and units to use special abilities during that round, and usually these tokens will be re-cast during each ‘end phase’ but not always.
We now enter the command phase: Players will adjust each unit’s command dial to allow that unit to move or attack, etc. Once done, these dials are stood next to their respective unit, although their actions remain hidden from your opponent.
Next comes the action phase: In initiative order, represented by numbers on the command dials, players will activate their units beginning with those with the lowest initiative of 1 and working upwards until all units from both armies have activated. It’s during this phase that your units will try to outmanoeuvre one another; rain arrows done on unsuspecting infantry or charge your cavalry into the flanks of terrified archers.
Movement is really simple in RuneWars; it’s a case of choosing the correct movement template that corresponds with the action on the command dial, aligning the start guide on the template to your unit tray, and then lifting your unit tray to align it with the end guide on the template. Whether you’re moving forward in a straight line or wheeling to one side, it’s an easy to use system that takes seconds from start to finish.
When opposing units come together, they are considered ‘engaged’. The first thing the attacking/moving player will do is ‘square’ their unit up with the enemy so they are facing one another. If the engagement was not planned by the moving player, i.e., their command was a move action and not a charge action, then they will receive a panic token for essentially running into the enemy by accident.
Panic tokens can be spent by the opposing player to deal out negative effects on your units via the morale deck. For example, a unit with one panic token may become immobilized, which cancels movement, whilst three panic tokens can cause betrayal, meaning the targeted unit attacks itself, causing damage to its own army. Morale tests usually occur at the end of an attack and have specific symbols on the combat dice to determine the strength of the test.
If the moving army has used a charge action, or if it’s engaged and used the melee action, then combat will ensue. Depicted on the attacking player’s unit card are the number & colour of combat dice that they will roll. Depending on the number of unit trays that the attacking army has and how they’re arranged will determine how much damage will be dealt. For example, two damage symbols are rolled but the attacker has two trays of units in their front rank, meaning unmodified damage will be four. Added to these four hits could be hits from the command tool or from special abilities denoted on the attacking unit’s card, usually through surge results on the combat dice. These hits are compared to the defender’s defence value, and either casualties are removed or wound tokens assigned. If a player knows that they will be attacked during the next round of play, then that player may decide to give that unit a defensive boost by using the defend modifier on that unit’s command dial.
For ranged attacks, the process is pretty much the same apart from the attacking player needing to be in range, as denoted on their unit’s card & measured by the range ruler, and it must have the enemy within its firing arc. Line of sight is achieved if the range ruler can touch any part of the attacking unit’s trays and any part of the defending unit’s trays without passing over terrain or other units. This makes line of sight exceptionally easy and should put an end to constant bickering as to whether line of sight has been achieved or not.
The last action that I will explain is the skill action, which allows units to use their special abilities, such as engaging extra enemy units or causing enemy units to suffer banes. As with the movement and attack actions, the skill action is chosen using the command dial during the command stage. This is also where the energy tokens come into play as some units will need specific magic runes to activate their skills.
I have already mentioned panic and immobilised tokens, and along with stun and blight these are known as banes. They all have negative effects on your army but will be naturally collected throughout gameplay. To counter these, we are provided with an inspiration token known as a boon, which allows players to remove banes from their units. Some command dials also have ‘rally’ actions on them, which give the same result as the inspiration token.
Once all units have activated, players will enter the end phase, which is basically checking for victory conditions and re-casting the energy tokens ready for the next round. The number of rounds played is followed by the round counter with some objectives needing to be completed in a specific number of rounds.
The game will continue round by round until certain objectives are met or one army is fully destroyed.
Those are the basic mechanisms of gameplay in RuneWars, before going into my summary, I’ll offer a few thoughts and opinions.
Firstly, Fantasy Flight have done what a lot of other publishers have not when it comes to a tabletop miniatures game, and that is provide terrain with the base game which comes in the form of four double-sided cardboard tiles depicting a lake, fortifications, trees, etc. For those of you who have read my review on Malifaux by Wyrd Games, you’ll know that not providing even the most basic of terrain in its starter sets was a massive bugbear, especially considering that terrain was such an important aspect of the game. Hats off to FFG.
Secondly, all the components used during gameplay are very well designed, from the movement templates to the unit trays; everything fits & works together making playing the game a doddle. I love the dual command dials which massively help to separate each type of unit from one another and offer a completely different feel for each. The Oathsworn cavalry feel fast & manoeuvrable, whilst the Rune Golem is slow & cumbersome but is the ‘tank’ of the game.
Combat is easy, uncomplicated and very quick to resolve, which stops the game from getting bogged down. The morale deck is a great idea and can have huge implications on your units should you allow those panic tokens to stack up. The energy tokens may divide opinion, they do serve to mix the game up slightly from round to round, but they also prevent a level of strategy for particular units who rely on them. The game would play just as well without them, especially this base game, although I think their importance will only grow through future expansions.
Another cool aspect is the use of the banes, or more accurately, your opponent’s use of the banes as it’s they who decide when and how to use them as opposed to an automatic effect such as we are used to.
I mentioned the objective and deployment cards earlier: One of each are chosen at the beginning of each game, the objective cards will usually offer objective tokens should certain events be achieved which can help with points scoring at the end. These objectives could be escorting a specific unit through enemy territory or breaking through the enemy to reach their deployment area.
The deployment cards simply show the space in which players may deploy/set-up their army at the start of the game, as well as show what type of terrain can be used.
Neither of these cards are crucial to the game. The objective cards do offer something slightly different to a straightforward battle but aren’t exactly in-depth scenarios, which they could have been. I can imagine that the deployment cards are simply ignored by a lot of players.
My initial impression of RuneWars Miniatures Game was ‘This is a fantasy version of X-Wing’, and that is how I described it to friends when asked. After playing the game, however, I can tell you that it is nothing like X-Wing; sure, the movement is similar and some actions are determined through command dials, but the gameplay and the feel of RuneWars are completely different.
RuneWars is a slugfest, with the winner being the player who has set up their army correctly using upgrade cards or being able to catch their opponent napping and hit them on the flanks. In general, once you’re engaged with an enemy unit, then you remain so until one of you have been destroyed. There are ways to disengage, but doing so can quickly put you on the back foot.
Whilst RuneWars is nothing like X-Wing, it does have a very similar feel to BattleLore Second Edition, which is totally not the eventuality that I would have predicted from the beginning. They are both two player strategic battle games using the same units from the same universe with similar special abilities and so on, which leads me onto the reason I probably (I say probably because I have limited will power in such matters) won’t invest in RuneWars. It’s not that I don’t like the game, in fact, there’s next to nothing to dislike about it, but already having a substantial Runebound collection in the form of other games and the fact I already painted the exact same minis for those games, I don’t feel the need to start again.
If I get the itch to play a two-player strategic fantasy battle game, then I’m more than happy to play BattleLore. If I didn’t already have BattleLore, then I’d have already ordered more RuneWars expansion packs without a doubt, as it’s not only a very good game but has great components, and with fantasy Flight Games seemingly committed to this tabletop route, expect a lot more to come your way.
Designer – Andrew Fischer
Artist – Henning Ludvigsen
Publisher – Fantasy Flight Games
Release – 2017