Runebound clocks up another half a dozen expansions in the form of the wave 3 expansion deck releases. But is the game running out of steam or is this release as fresh as ever?
The wave 3 expansion decks represent the 22nd to 28th expansions released for Runebound, and follow the same pattern found with the previous ‘small box’ releases - 2 Market deck expansions, 2 challenge deck expansions and 2 expansions which provide a variant, or new adventure, to play.
Rituals and Runes
Ritual and Runes provides 30 new market cards but only of two types – 10- new Runes and 20 Rituals, which is a new kind of item.
The runes function the same as normal, being activate-to-use items with the majority being on the more expensive side of the spectrum. A rune's greatest asset is that it doesn’t use up any Weapon or Amour slots, so they are always useful especially in the late game. Most of the runes focus on magic, so those who feel magic users are weak will find a fair bit to be happy about here. Other runes don’t deal with combat at all but make movement easier, help heal your party and one even stops you from ever being totally broke. The standout of me is the Recall rune, which allows you to teleport back to town just before a fatal swing is about to take your head off.
Rituals are a new kind of item in the game and introduce a new, very clever, mechanic.
The twist with rituals is that you have to ‘charge’ them before you can use them, which is done by assigning the symbols you roll on travel dice to them instead of using those dice to move. I love how thematic this is, as it basically represents your hero spending time to gain the effect of the ritual, be it brewing a potion, training a horse, performing a magical ceremony, etc.
You can carry as many rituals as you like (there are minor rules which stop you from combining certain types however) and they cover a wide range of costs, a wide range of effects and come in all types (discard-to-use, permanent and activate-to-use). All of the rituals are useful, with the two most expensive (at 12 gold) in particular being game winners – one turns you into a melee monster, the other a magic one. Other rituals give you skill bonuses, improve your armor, allow you to transform into animals, heal you, earn you money, and so forth.
Overall all 30 cards in this deck are good, with no obvious duds and nothing seemingly overpowered to the point of being broken.
Weapons of Legend
Weapons of Legend is bit of a misleading title as this deck mostly comes with Allies, though there are some weapons and other items in here as well. The majority of this deck is expensive stuff (5 or more gold) so this is the deck to get if you are after more powerful gear. Most of the cards are quite good, the only exceptions being “The River Dragon”, an OK ally made useless by the fact you lose him if you stray too far from river spaces, and the odd “Chest of Plenty” which lets you draw 3 items from the market deck and keep one – a nice effect except that this card costs 8 gold, which is too pricy for something that amounts to a lucky dip. Other cards of note include the cute “Sword of the Heir” which you have to draw from the stone before you can use it, and “Bone Crusher”, a 15 gold mace which gives you a +3 bonus to melee combat rolls and damage, possibly making it the most powerful weapon yet in the game.
The “gimmick” of this deck are 6 Equipping Ally cards, cards which when purchased can either be an Ally with no special abilities or a basic piece of equipment. The idea is to give you more choice in the market deck, but frankly I just found the whole mechanic a bit trite and a slight pain to track (if you take the card as equipment it will be orientated wrong) which really added nothing to the game.
Apart from the Equipping Ally mechanic disappointment this is a worthy deck for those after stronger, more expensive market cards.
Beasts and Bandits
This is a pretty standard Challenge Card expansion with 2 things of note. Firstly, the title doesn’t joke when it comes to the ‘bandits’ part – many of these encounters deal with being robbed and losing gold. Some encounters even take gold of you per successful attack rather than life! The second thing to note is the cards in this expansion seem a fair bit harder than normal – several green encounters do 3 damage per combat round, and the encounters and events tend to be nasty. The most ridiculous card is the “Ferocious Fey”, a GREEN challenge which has a value of 16 ranged and a special ability where you must continue to fight in ranged until you win, meaning if you have a low range value your in trouble. To make matters worse if you have an ability or item to allow you to skip the ranged phase, it does 9 damage in melee. WTF?!??! Nothing in the game has ever come CLOSE to doing 9 damage in one phase, so I sure hope that is a type-o and not intentional. It’s both unfair and grossly un-thematic.
Offsetting the difficulty of this deck is the fact the rewards tend to be very good. Overall if you’re a more experienced player who wants harder challenges this is a good deck to get.
Traps and Terrors
This challenge card expansion gives you more adventure cards of all four colors, with an emphasis on traps rather than monsters. Traps mechanically work the same as fighting a monster, but they have a much greater emphasis on skill rolls and weird effects. For example, you can make a Tinker roll against the “Gutting Garden” to automatically defeat it, “Sudden Seperation” makes you lose a turn rather than a life and the “Cursed Hoard” forces you to make a resist roll or lose 1 life a turn until you get rid of all your gold. Overall the encounters are lots of fun and not as difficult as those found in Beasts and Bandits. My only complaint with this expansion is I would have liked to see a bit more innovation for the concept of traps – you still have to fight them as if they were a monster, which is a little silly to me – exactly what am I making a ranged attack against when I’m fighting the “false floor”? I think traps would have been a great opportunity to develop a totally new kind of mechanic rather than rely on combat again, maybe branching choice skill tests or something? Alas it was not to be, but what we did get is a more than worthy purchase.
The Seven Scions
This is one of the more ambitious adventure variant created for Runebound, giving you a new way to play and a new endgame. Here, a great storm is coming in on the horizon consuming all in its path (shades of The Never Ending Story?) and the players must defeat the Storm Lords that lie at its heart to save the world.
This adventure comes with a built in timer – one that works much better than the doom track found in the variants section of the base game. Players power up their hero until the time runs out, then fight the storm lords, with the hero who kills the most winning the game. The timer is quite ferocious and brings the end game on quite quickly, so those looking for a shorter game will love this expansion.
As the time runs down “Storm events” occur at regular intervals, be they horrid heralds of the storm that must be defeated or Acidic Fog which threatens to burn your skin. Interestingly the heroes all fight these Storm Events together, so the game almost becomes co-op in these sections. In fact there is even an included co-op variant if everyone wants to play together against the game, though I haven’t tried it so I’m not sure how well it works.
Between the strict time limit, the storm events, and the powerful endgame Storm Lords players may feel overwhelmed, but luckily they can get help from the Six Scions sleeping throughout the land (Wait, only 6? Well the 7th one is a spoiler!) These scions can help the adventurers in 2 ways; when asleep the hero can call the scion for aid and be granted a temporary bonus, such as The Archer increasing your ranged attack or The Protector shielding you from wounds. Alternatively the heroes can try and awaken a Scion, which involves meeting certain pre conditions such as defeating The Barbarian in battle, succeeding at a Diplomacy test for the Crusader or being the weakest player and near death for The Protector. If the hero manages to awaken a Scion then they become a very powerful ally for you, and are practically a necessity for defeating the Storm Lords.
This really is a fun and flavorsome variant to the game. My only complaint is that perhaps the timer may be too strict and makes the game a bit too hard, but I’ll need to play it more to confirm.
The second adventure variant is no less ambitious than the first. This time a strange comment has fallen from the sky and smashed some towns to smithereens, and placed curses on others. Each town that is cursed has 6 different curse effects on it, ranging between 3 levels of difficulty. These curse effects are basically quests you take on, with level one quests being a series of tests and maybe a fight, the second level quests having you explore the board and maybe pick up or deliver something, taking several turns to complete, and the level 3 quests being a punch on with the big bad who is causing the towns curse. These cards are very thematic and tell a little story; for example one curse involves a town becoming frozen, so the quests involving that curse has players attempting to scale the frozen wall of ice surrounding the town, tunneling through to it, fighting an ice giant and his polar bear friend who is guarding the entrance, searching around the board for a ‘summer seed’ to restore the town, rescuing a Dawn Goddess who can also free the town, and finally taking on the Winter Lord who cause the town to freeze.
Beating these quests earns you bonuses and victory points, with the ultimate goal being to be the player who reaches a set number of victory points first.
The other interesting rule change in this variant is that because the towns are all cursed, heroes have to look for little refugee camps to buy goods and healing. This is done by assigning movement dice to seeking out such camps instead of using them for movement, and is similar to the mechanic used in the midnight expansion.
This is another tough variant, and will probably go for longer than the normal Runebound game, but it drips with story and is an absolute blast to play through.
Overall I give wave 3 a big thumbs up. This is probably the best wave released to date; it doesn’t have as many useless cards as wave 1 did (coughbannerscough) and the adventure variants are my favorite out of the all of the small boxed variants released so far. Newer players may want to get the easier wave 2 decks first, while experienced Runebounders who are looking for more of a challenge should pick these decks up pronto. And of course those who hate the game shouldn’t waste there time here but rather go fuck their copies of Return of the Heroes.