Greetings, fellow gamers and friends! It’s been a while since my last entry, but I break my hiatus today to give an impassioned review of the very recently released game from Fantasy Flight: Runewars: The Miniatures Game!
For those who don’t know, this game has been getting all sorts of attention from the very day it was announced, although initially it was mainly surrounding the Games Workshop/Fantasy Flight split. Was Runewars made in anticipation of the split long ago? Was it the reason behind the split? The initial reaction was more speculation on the nature of business than it was about the game. I too was more interested in pondering the implications of the release as opposed to the game itself. Poor, poor Runewars…
I’ve never been one for wargaming; when I was in my early teens, I purchased a few Tau Fire Warriors for Warhammer 40K (much against the advice of my mother), as well as a bunch of Necron Warriors. After a failed attempt at painting them, I quickly lost interest. This would be my one and only foray into Warhammer.
As I grew older, Warhammer interested me, but the precise (or more correctly imprecise) nature of it, the daunting prospect of painting my whole army, and the fact that it mostly seemed to be “chuck a bunch of d6, chuck another bunch of d6, and then maybe chuck some more” did not appeal to me at all. Apologies to any Warhammer fans reading this!
Yet now, some ten years after my first encounter with Warhammer minis, I am looking upon what is to me a mostly generic fantasy wargame and raring to play it. How is it that a simple theme and familiar prospect has got me so excited?
The mechanics, of course!
For a while, I tried my hand at being an ace starfighter pilot for the Rebel Alliance in Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing. The way the templates worked, while still not perfect (you can still knock stuff and fudge measurements slightly), was a huge success in my eyes. I could finally move away from a grid based game and have more free movement in a wide open space. There was something liberating about not being confined by lines!
Runewars continues that trend with the dial-based movement of X-Wing, but ups the complexity a notch; instead of simply showing a move which you execute, Runewars has quite literally doubled down in dial town. Each unit now has a main dial which is then supplemented with a secondary support dial. This dramatically increases the amount of actions that each individual unit could take; for example, the basic warrior of the Daqan Lords has around 22 different combinations it could take! Sure, some of these are very similar to one another, but still, it’s a very clever system, and a very innovative evolution of the dial move from X-Wing!
(Left) The main action. (Right) The modifier to that action.
Taking inspiration from another of their miniatures games (Armada), Runewars continues the trend of using objectives to flavour the combat. Whether you’re going on a bounty hunt to take out the commander, or you’re charging into the fray, there are objectives to cover a plethora of strategies. Hopefully, more and more will come out as the game matures!
The final part of Runewars which truly has me excited is the tray system! Trays of units increase the power of each of your hit results; effectively, the wider the rank, the more damage each result does! For each rank behind the side you’re attacking from, you can reroll your dice! This is a fantastic way of scaling up damage from larger units without the necessity to arbitrarily chuck more dice.
On top of that, it also means that you have some implementation of the ever desired “get weaker as you get damaged” style gameplay. As you lose soldiers left, right and centre, you’re battalion gets notably weaker. “But Kenny”, I hear you say, “Isn’t it more a case of you just losing units? Aren’t the units still effectively “the same strength” but just fewer in number, like Stormtroopers in Imperial Assault?”.
Well, not exactly. You see, ultimately, each cluster of units in Runewars acts entirely as one; there are no separate actions to be taken, or individual unit HP to track. Your battalions fight as one, and as the brave warriors fall in combat, the group they were a part of now acts weaker. It might seem like I’m splitting hairs, but perhaps an example will demonstrate this better.
In Armada, the “Devastator” is on its last limbs, with only a single hull point remaining. Fortunately, it has avoided any critical effects, and thus despite being bombarded, there is very little that reflects the impact the damage has had on the unit itself.
In Imperial Assault, a group of three Stormtroopers has fallen to two. Activating the group is now less efficient than it once was, but ultimately, each of those units activate individually and are still as strong as they once were.
In Runewars, a group of 36 Spearmen has been reduced to just 17. The loss of men affects the entire group, as they activate as a single, cohesive unit, as opposed to acting on their own. As the battle rages on, every casualty that has been inflicted adds up, as formations crumble and the power of unity is shattered by division.
This is not a universal rule, however; large, single units, such as characters, manage to fight valiantly all the way throughout. Yet to me, this feels more like the emphasis of the difference between stock standard troops and heroic (or villainous) legends. It ends up being a mix of the above, yet I think it emerges triumphant.
I said that was the final point, yet still there is more to talk about; the chaos of morale checks and magic that really shake up the game, the variable setup, the way upgrade cards work with unique models in units, the fact that more upgrades become available the larger a unit is…the list goes on and on!
Maybe, just maybe, Runewars will manage to not just be the game I wish I had time for…