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Runebound 3rd Edition
Board Games 10138
"Meaningful Decisions" Murder the Story
tl;dr — A solid storytelling/adventure game that's best with 2 players; the token-casting combat system is better than dice. Can end up feeling more mechanical and rushed than evocative, however.

There's something deeply satisfying about taking a whip and an axe to a necromancer.

Say, friend—are you looking for a game with

- expendable sidekicks
- wizard-scalping
- the "Festival of Scabs"
- and a French-kissing ettin?

Well, this is it! I found these things in the box—and more!—and so can you!*

*DISCLAIMER: Specific instances of absurd fantasy tropes may or may not actually be in box and may instead reside in very specific skulls, one of which may or may not be yours. Horrible Black Void where prohibited.

After 10 plays: (5x 2p, 3x 3p, 2x 4p)

Comparison with 2nd Edition.
I am a HUGE Runebound fan—having burned through 1st Edition and collected a complete set of 2nd—and I really like what 3rd is up to. It's an entirely different game, and doesn't supersede or obsolete 2nd in any way. I will continue to play both, for different reasons: 2nd to bask in a fully-realized fantasy adventure world, 3rd to explore the new thing. Comparisons between the two at this point are useless—remember how thin and spare 2nd was when it first came out? 3rd is just a new beginning...

Emergent narrative.
When it comes to games in general I'm most interested in the stories they tell; when it comes to adventure games it's all I care about. I don't give a fig for the systems, mechanics, or underlying math—I just want a good story. My only questions are "Was it fun?" and "Was it memorable?" 3rd nails both, and so far the stories have been fantastic.

Build the character you want.
Everyone I've played this with really enjoys the fact that you can build pretty much any kind of character you want to play. Though each character starts on a path you are not forced down it—you can change it up based on how skills and gear come out. Lord Hawthorne can become a powerful mage even as Master Thorn deviates into a combat monster, leaping from wall to wall lopping off heads... It's cool to hunt for killer combos of abilities/skills/gear—there's a lot of very powerful synergy hidden in the game.

Play time.
Count on at least one hour per player; you can knock 30 minutes off the total if everyone's experienced. This means 2p in 90 minutes (!) but you're still looking down the barrel of 3½ hours for 4p.

Player count.
This is, first and foremost, a story game—and as such it suffers at max player count where there's just too much story to pay attention to. With 2p you have your story and your opponent's story (as well as being engaged in every round of combat, either doing it or running the monster); delightful. With 3p you have two other stories to pay attention to; a stretch, but not unreasonable. With 4p you have three other stories and I find it's just too much story flying around as all the action becomes a mishmash of narrative elements to no good effect. The sweet spot is definitely 2p.

Final analysis.
While I could go into more detail about what I've come to love about this, I won't, for the simple reason that it's a game of exploration and adventure—and that means it's best experienced in person over time rather than laid out for you here. You're going to have to figure out for yourself how to become a hero in this world—how best to prepare for that final fight as the clock ticks down; how to interleave movement toward your next goal with mundane pick-up-and-deliver jobs and exploration quests; how best to utilize and sequence your interactions with the three kinds of encounter decks... and so on. You could sit down, read all the cards, and min-max your way into an empty, soulless win bereft of surprise or novelty—or you could just play, explore the world organically and become that hero through trial and error across many raucous sessions with friends. The resulting stories are the real treasure here.

After 20 plays: Utlimately, this ends up as a third-tier adventure game for me—meaning I would rather play Talisman or Runebound 2nd Ed. instead. There are two key issues: 1) the mass of mechanical processes and 2) the countdown timer, both of which actually make it harder to experience a satisfying adventure. The game's various systems—included here to increase the number "meaningful decisions" and ameliorate any feeling of lack of control—end up working at odds with good storytelling, rather than enhancing it. Often I am left with the soulless sensation of moving cardboard levers in service to math, and find myself struggling to keep my head in the glorious mind-movie I originally sat down to experience. This is a personal failing, and one you might not suffer from, but for me it leeches all the gold from the magic circle. And the countdown timer, a great idea on surface, ends up making the game feel rushed—there's no time to luxuriate in the world, or explore its corners, or take side quests "just because"... In other words, there's no time for adventure. The whole thing feels like a bucket of mechanisms to be rushed through as the clock ticks down.*

*"Balanced" has all the letters in "Bland"—and in the right order, even.

Don't get me wrong—I will still gladly play this, it's just that it's much more of a struggle to find and maintain the narrative thread than in other adventure games. And sometimes I don't want to have to put in the extra work this one requires.
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