If your board game tastes include thematic gaming designs, then you’ve delved into the world of Terrinoth before. You’ve braved journeys into the dark and descended through dungeons or you’ve been bound to a quest across plains to slaughter dragons. It’s a world of high fantasy where chaos and order battle over the fate of the world, where magic is a strong force in deciding the outcome of any encounter. While Battlelore: 2nd Edition used the streamlined Command and Colours system to create battles between good and evil, the success of X-Wing and Star Wars: Armada have paved the way for the FFG to try something bigger in the world of high fantasy army combat. With the recent divorce breaking the shackles, in strolls the younger, sexier miniatures game promising to make all your dreams come true.
I’m by far not the most qualified reviewer to assess the overall quality of this new miniatures system rank and file game, but what I lack in experience I make up for in potential depth of finances. The only ongoing expanding game universe I’m currently following is the Arkham Horror LCG, and I don’t own a miniatures game such as Warhammer Fantasy, Guild Ball or X-Wing. I’m possibly the key demographic that FFG is trying to target as I have little to no knowledge of the service manual of rules that belong to many miniatures games and I am not committed to an existing universe that I’ve invested years of my life into – I’m primed to be enticed by their new shiny. So when armies were assembled across the tables and Paul and I sounded our horns, the stakes were high and very, very pointy.
So for those of you who haven’t seen the beautiful images of wartime propaganda that Fantasy Flight Games has sent to the far corners of the internet, allow me to introduce you to the basics of Runewars: The Miniatures Game. In our two player battle scenario, players each controlled asymmetrically powered armies on a 3×3 foot terrain mat, Paul playing the Waiqar Undying Units and I playing the Daqan Lords. Each army lines up in a rank and file system, meaning figures are placed inside trays that click together to form units in formation that will move around the battlefield, which is littered with terrain that can provide strategic cover or simply block your units attack or retreat routes. The game lasts over 8 rounds, and in each round players program their various unit actions during the command phase using various dials hidden from the view of the other player. During the activation round, players will activate units based on initiative to play out the various strategies in accordance with the commanders instructions.
In the core set each army contains 4 different unit types with very unique strategic options open to you as the commander to achieve victory. Each army has 16 (4 units x 4 trays) melee units, 1 brutal killing machine in the form of a commander style unit, 1 unique large and strong unit (Rune Golem & Carrion Lancer) and then the Daqan Lords have the highly mobile Oathsworn Cavalry whilst the Undead had an archery unit to pepper the enemy with shards of steel from the sky. Should I charge his flanks with Cavalry while attempting to draw him in with the defensive line of spearman? How to avoid the spitting carrion worm from spitting at my units, corroding their armor whilst getting close enough to strike with my Rune Golem whilst the waves of Magic are strongest on the battle field? These are the choices you must make in the command phase.
Waves of magic? Indeed! At the beginning of the round, the player with initiative will roll 5 tokens to indicate the amount and type of magical runes that affect the conditions for the armies that round. The amount of these runes present will affect certain units in special ways, for example that Rune Golem’s attack modifier and movement is affected by blue and red runes respectively, while the green runes benefit the reanimate figures that can regenerate when the taint of evil is on the battlefield. After runes are cast, players then plan each units actions by selecting from the options on the action dial and then selecting any associated benefit from the modifier dial. The action dial will allow you to move a number of spaces or shift your unit in orthogonal directions, reform your unit to face an entirely new direction on the spot, attack an engaged enemy or fire off a ranged attack, Rally the morale to remove negative tokens and panic (banes) or receive inspiration (boons) and lastly perform specific skill actions unique to that unit. These can be coupled with a modifier that can give your movement direction at a loss of distance, instruct your units to charge into whatever is in front of them to engage, add defense benefits to protect them against the enemies attacks or provide them with an enhancement that can turn the tide of battle. All of the actions have a specific activation phase number from 1-8 which denotes the order that these actions will occur in the round. Weaker actions will have lower numbers, whilst powerful attacks can be initiated only later in the round so judging an anticipating your enemies strategies is crucial in making sure that your units action will have the optimal effects.
After players have both locked in their activation choices, players will count from 1-8 aloud. At each number, players will activate the units that have actions corresponding to the current activation phase. In the case of both players both having units to activate, the player with the initiative for that round will activate his units first following with each player activating a unit in turn until all units programmed for that phase have moved. You’ll charge cavalry, use the magic of runes to charge your Golem across the battle field and slither your Carrion worm close enough to spit in the faces of your enemies using the FFG ruler system, similar to that used in X-Wing. Place the correct shaped ruler and move your unit to the end of that movement and if units collide, they become engaged in bloody combat!
On their melee attack action or on a successful charge, players will roll the dice corresponding to the attack value of the unit, being red die, blue die and white die. Damage and deaths of units in the trays is determined by adding up the number of hit icons and multiplying it by the threat multiplier of the attacking unit (determined by how many front line trays are in the formation of the unit). Re-rolls can be used in some cases (number varying by reinforcements: the number of trays behind the front line of the unit formation) and after these are decided, damage checks are made against defensive ratings of the defending unit. You’ll divide the attack value by the armor of the attacking unit to work out casualties. For example, a Rune Golem with a threat of 3 rolling 3 hit icons has an attack score of 9. Reanimate figures each have an armor value of 1, meaning of the initial 16, 9 units will die to a brutal attack of the magically animated stone warrior. As with many Terrinoth games, surge icons can trigger unique player powers that can create devastating effects in combat.
After 8 rounds of commanding your units in a variety of strategic actions, players will compare the remaining strength of their armies to determine a victor!
As a beginner to the world of miniatures combat gaming, and specifically rank and file, FFG have done an amazing job of creating an accessible yet deep system for fans of Fantasy battles to enjoy. Within 2 rounds, our questions changed from, “what are the options” to “how can I maximize my army strategy to achieve the most devastating result on my foes” and by the end of the game while mastery was far from achieved, we chatted across the table as to where we had gone wrong, and where we felt the other excelled (I excelled by kicking Stuart’s butt – Ed). While the game is simple to learn in comparison to many of its miniatures game brethren, there is a satisfying amoung of depth for those who will choose to lead armies week after week across the tabletop battlefields.
Some of the elements that I enjoyed were the boon and bane icons, and more specifically the panic mechanic (groan-inducing punnery is my domain – Ed). If players would use the charge modifier but are short of their target or should your enemies use special abilities, your troops will receive panic tokens. Defending players panic tokens can stack up through the course of battle, and a successfully attacking unit can trigger the panic of the defensive player. The defending players will then draw the number of cards corresponding to the number of panic tokens, and then the attacking player (if able) can spend the required panic icons on any of the cards drawn to trigger its effect. These panic effects can cause armies to flee, armor to be reduced and a plethora of unfortunate events for defending players, which makes morale management essential.
In the Tournament version of Runewars Miniatures Game, players will be able to build 200 point armies and then assemble units in accordance with the strategy of their choosing, respecting Champions limitations. Building bigger units allows players to choose unique upgrades for your troops, with a 32 strong army of walking Undead able to add a myriad of special buffs to that unit that make it a true force of “un-nature”. You’ll also be able to combine different unit types, like adding your Champions to your soldiers’ rank and file, providing them with defensive bonuses. Essentially army building with multiple cores or the individual unit packs that FFG is releasing soon will open such a wealth of new strategic options that elevate this from a casual miniatures game into a full hobby. Players will also compete in different scenario objectives that change the simple slaughterhouse rules into more technical elements of area control, with players fulfilling the specific objectives inside the 8 rounds getting additional points to add to their army value to ensure victory. Adding to this different battleground terrain for defensive and offensive bonuses and constraints on deployment, and you have an elegant system with a surprising amount of depth.
This is where Runewars: The Miniatures Game succeeds so well in my opinion. For those who don’t want to get deep into army building, there is a streamlined miniatures game system that can be setup within 5 minutes for an engaging 90 minutes of slaughter on your dining room table. Those who love painting these glorious miniatures, building custom terrain and doing the mathematical min/maxing to develop strategic options to give them a stranglehold on their enemies, there is enough depth here to compete with most miniatures games, but without the tape measures and charts. Will it make other existing franchises flee as soon as it enters the arena? Not likely. What it does offer though is a streamlined miniatures experience that will appeal to new comers who can dip their toes in the blood of their enemies for as long as they want, while offering the full array of maps, strategies and long term campaign wars for those who have been waiting for the true miniatures war game in Terrinoth. As a gamer who has shied away from all system games for numerous reasons, it’s solid praise in saying that I look forward to unleashing my hordes upon my foes soon again.
I’ve largely avoided tabletop wargaming for similar reasons to Stuart. The temptation has been strong, to the point that I’ve even enjoyed reading the lore behind games like Warmachine under the premise that one day I’ll actually get around to trying it. As with CCGs and LCGs, it’s not only the potential damage to one’s finances, but rather what on the surface appears to be a cryptic and sometimes opaque set of rules. When you get down to it, it’s not unlike attempting to join a secret society – there’s a lingo and a swagger that’s equal parts seductive and intimidating.
So you can imagine my surprise when, just three rounds into the game, I wasn’t performing my actions as a tribute to the hail mary style ‘let’s just see what happens’ strategy, but genuinely understanding the strengths and weaknesses of my units and beginning to grasp the flow of the game. And more importantly, reveling in the experience. Is Runewars alarmingly easy to acclimate to? Absolutely, but it’s not an ease that’s built upon shallow foundations – the game has staying power.
The first few months are going to prove vital to the system’s success – as much as Runewars isn’t going to be a direct competitor to Games Workshop and will appeal to that group loitering on the fringe, it’s going to need a fair bit of support to find a foothold and I’m just not sure it will draw in enough of the established wargamers. Fantasy Flight have a tremendous track record with X-Wing and Armada, but both capitalised on a gap in the market with a massively popular franchise. I don’t doubt they know what they’re doing, and I do hope to see Runewars bear fruit.
Many thanks to Etienne from Solarpop for arranging a demo, and his compatriot Steven for his expert tutelage and fantastic painted Runewars set.