This was not the first time I ever played Runebound, but it was the first time I did so with intent. In the early days of Quarterstaff Games’ renaissance in 2005-2006, there was a run of informal pick-up games on Saturday afternoon. On two occasions, the game of choice was Runebound and on both occasions, we failed to finish the game after four plus hours of play; a significant cause was one or more players being called away from the table repeatedly, but the game’s length played a role as well. I don’t know if I ever got beyond green encounters, to be honest.
In addition to wanting to play the game continually through, without endless delays, I was also curious to compare it to Talisman, the prototypical fantasy adventure game. 80% of Runebound‘s gameplay revolves around a player’s character traveling across the world of Terrinoth to combat evil and generally have interesting encounters. Most of that consists of killing monsters to gain experience points and gold, which in turn are used to build up a character’s traits and purchase more effective equipment, respectively. You can see just how strong the similarities to Talisman are.
There are some differences, in that Runebound uses a world map with a hex grid overlay across which adventurers wander, in contrast to Talisman‘s left-right location tracks. Most noticeable are the differences in tone and theme. Runebound has an epic, high fantasy storyline of dragonlords and dark masters rising from death to menace the world. Heroes are just that and are expected to work to defeat the evil powers. The encounters and challenges match that for style and content.
Consider then Talisman, which has what I think of as a more parochial feel, and I mean that in a good way. Adventurers can be turned into frogs, get lost in the woods, visit the chapel and so on. The power level of the game gradually escalates as heroes may dice with Death or face a vampire to reach the Crown of Command, but even those encounters feel familiar and reassuring to me in a way that Runebound‘s — part of that, I’m sure, is the vintage Talisman‘s gentle, caricature-ish art, unlike the hyper-real style Runebound uses.
There isn’t much to say about Runebound‘s mechanics, which partly why I’m so focused on comparing it to Talisman, the only comparably game I’ve played lately. There are ability scores, skill checks and all that. It’s pretty straightforward and there’s tons of dice rolling to get through a combat, so it’s traditional and unremarkable in that regard.
We still didn’t get through a whole game last night in four and a half hours. We were close, since Alex managed to defeat two of the three Dragonlords needed for victory shortly after Jon made a valiant attempt to take down High Lord Margath himself for an instant win, but it was time for the game space to close by then, so we tossed it all back in the box.
Runebound isn’t bad, per se, but it’s very samey in that you’re essentially doing the same thing every turn. Some games manage to make that more fun than others, but unless the thematic element has really exceptional content, I don’t feel any strong desire to play again. It was good to get it out on the table and work through for myself what was going on, though. Previously, I relied on more experienced players telling me what to do without explaining the whys and becauses.