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RUNEWARS MINIATURES GAME Runewars Miniatures Game is the inevitable and most recent manifestation of the world of Terrinoth.  Ov...






Runewars Miniatures Game is the inevitable and most recent manifestation of the world of Terrinoth.  Over roughly the last 13 years, various aspects of this fantasy realm have been explored through a series of distinct games.  Runebound in 2004 was the first to take us to this world with a relatively conventional map board divided in to hexes to game on with cards and tokens and it retained these basic features through three editions.  Next came Runewars, which moved play to a map generated by the players made up of large hexagonal tiles, while the focus on individual characters questing through the land transformed into warring races.  So far, so competitive.  More recently, Descent: Journeys In The Dark and then Descent: Journeys In The Dark 2nd edition [see my earlier review for my thoughts on the latter] took us in a new direction to the largely cooperative world of [mainly]dungeon quests played out on various sized tiles with plastic heroes and monsters, cards and tokens. 

I have to say that my own journey has been a steady progress upwards.  Runebound did not satisfy my interest in fantasy gaming and as result I have to admit that I did not venture into Runewars at all.  However, Descent: Journeys In The Dark 2nd edition was a very different and positive experience.

So, where are we now?  That should be pretty self-explanatory from the legend on the box:  A Miniatures Game of Epic BattlesThis is fairly conventional tabletop figure gaming where the focus is on the figures and the fighting.  No board, because, as is the norm with this genre of game, your table top literally is the board.  Again typical of such starter packages for professionally marketed battle systems, there are a few [in this case four] items of cardboard terrain provided.  These are perfectly satisfactory, but again conventional. The key factors for any such product is the quality of the figures and the rules.

The four cardstock pieces of terrain

As I usually do, when there's some solid hardware like figures to be evaluated, that's where I'm going to start - and these for me more than pass the test.  They are good solid plastic, well-sculpted with minimal assembly.  To give some potential comparison, though I love the game and figures in Deadzone 2nd edition, they were a nightmare to assemble, with multiple pieces for most of the figures, glue necessary for all the figures and no assembly diagrams in the normal retail box itself [they had to be sought for online and were essential to avoid making mistakes with many of the figures].  The task took me hours and hours and hours, though worth it in the end, and that was before even thinking about painting them.

Here, the job is really easy.  Many of the figures come in just three pieces - head, torso and legs.  In many cases you can simply snap them together and you have a very solid figure.  [Personally, I still prefer a spot of glue on all my models for added security.]  What's more the Learn To Play manual contains clear diagrams for assembly and even a couple of pages on painting the figures and creating terrain.

In all, this core package gives you the beginnings of two opposing armies, featuring two standard types of unit and two individual characters for each race. 

The Daqans are essentially the humans, with 16 spearmen and four cavalry and their two individual characters are a Rune Golem and a Wraithstalker.  Opposing them are the Waiqar Undead in the form of 16 Reanimate infantry and 8 Reanimate archers, plus for their individuals, a Carrion Lancer and an Ardus Ix'Erebus.

Daqan spearmen in fairly compact formation.

Daqan Rune Golem

[Here are just the first two pictures to wet your appetite.  I'll seed more photos through the review.  The terrain I've placed them on is part of my substantial collection of Kallistra hex tiles] 
In terms of numbers of figures, this is a reasonable quantity for the average price of the game [£80-£85], but in game play terms it gives you only two units and two individuals on each side.  The limitations of this will be discussed later when I consider game play in more depth. 

The models themselves I do like, especially the Undead archers, both for the detail on them and the four poses.  This variety of poses which is a feature of all the groups of figures is a definite plus and adds considerably to the effect on the tabletop.

Not the clearest shot, but I think the dynamic quality of the poses is still effectively seen here, as is displayed by the Daqan cavalry below.

A unit of Daqan cavalry

You can see with all the models that they come with base trays for ease of manoeuvre about the battlefield and also to help in constructing the various formations that they can adopt as each holding tray is designed to connect easily with another in all four directions.

Along with each unit and character figure comes the other essential piece of hardware - what they've chosen to call the Command Tool.  Those familiar with X-Wing, as I am, will have no trouble in recognising the mechanism for giving each of your forces its orders.  It's a development moving from a single dial to pre-plan a unit's move to a double dial that combines the effect of the essential move dial with the second dial's modifiers.  All is done by symbols, many, though not all, being fairly self-explanatory.  Among the changes that I like is the fact that the choice of move has an accompanying number that determines play order rather than the fixed initiative rating in X-Wing.

Here is the Command Tool for the Daqan Spearmen unit with its pair of dials, one  for issuing its order on the left and the dial on the right adds modifiers.   Each order is set by the dials and then placed near to its corresponding unit. 

If you feel that this disrupts the aesthetics of the battlefield, then it's very easy to set them at the rear of your playing area, as the picture of your unit on the Command Tool makes each easily identifiable.  
Should you be fielding more than one unit of the same type, a simple corresponding numbered marker is used to identify each one.  However, for that, you're going to have to invest in the additional packs of figures, stands and Command Tools that should soon be available.

Above, in its entirety, is what you get to fight with in the core set - attractive, but very limited.  My immediate reaction was barely enough for a Skirmish game and certainly not a battle.  That reaction was spot on, as I later read in the Rules Reference booklet [one of three booklets in this core set], where you are introduced to what is described as "a faster, smaller alternative to a full battle."  This is - a Skirmish.  This limitation is the major uncertainty that I have with the package.  Once inside the package, it is made perfectly clear that to play a "standard" game expansions sets will be necessary.

The creators obviously envisage that you may be playing with a friend who also owns a copy and so, between you, there will be enough for a standard game.  Their intention too is that this first purchase will be part of an army building process where individual players will tend to focus on one race and enjoy expanding their range of units and characters to support that race.  So, be advised of these limitations of play, if you are thinking of venturing in to the world of Terrinoth.  You will initially be able to play only a small skirmish game.

In all honesty, this is highly typical of all figure-based games that I know and so perhaps the key question is whether this new entry into the field of fantasy army figures offers at least as good an experience as what is already out there and perhaps better.

Before giving my personal judgement, let's look at the rest of the contents, some minor, some major.  As always there are tokens - in this case a fairly modest number, but certainly adequate for the number of units in the game.

The majority of these are the Boon & Bane tokens [i.e. good & bad bonuses] and the Bane tokens greatly outweigh the Boon ones.  Perhaps there is nothing particularly original in their effects, but what I like one hundred percent is that when your unit has acquired one or more of these adverse-effect tokens, it is up to your opponent when to call them into effect.   As an example, one type of Bane token [Stun] cancels the modifier dial's  effect.  So, your opponent may decide that the current modifier isn't significant enough to be worth cancelling and wait, hopefully, to cancel a more damaging modifier in a later turn.

There are the inevitable wound tokens [the purple tokens with red crosses in the picture above] and another item that I warm to are the five Energy tokens that represent magic in this game [bottom left of the above picture].  These are double-sided and randomly thrown at the end of each Turn, to form a pool ready for use in the next turn.  The symbols on them match with ones in some of the rules or on some of the cards and components in the game.  Each identical symbol in the pool increases the effect of the symbol that you are using.  So, if you were using a card with a symbol that caused damage and there were 3 matching Energy symbols in the pool, then you would cause 3 damage.

Equally to be expected are the dice used in combat.

Differing numbers of dice and colours are thrown depending on the type of unit attacking.  The symbols are easily learned as there are only five - Hits [the starbursts],  Morale [the coiled circles], Surges [lightning bolts], Mortal Strike [left hand symbol on lower white die] and Accuracy [visible on top white die - on same face as Hit symbol].  Nearly all are self-explanatory and the Surge symbol, which has become fairly familiar from games like X-Wing, allows a unit or character's special ability to be activated, as noted on the card associated with the piece.

Equally familiar from X-Wing are the different measuring sticks for movement, such as those below. 

Attractively produced, the addition of the small protrusion at the top and bottom also make them easier to use than many such measuring sticks.

Before looking at the three game booklets, it's worth returning to the Command Tool as this may be a deciding factor for some buyers.  The simpler, single-dial iteration of this design in X-Wing [and the somewhat similar manifestation - though only really a data device not a method of giving orders simultaneously -  in the multiplicity of Heroclix designs] was a huge success and introduced an attractive compact game piece that added greatly to the swift, smooth issuing of secret orders.  The new Command Tool does all that the earlier design did and more.  I genuinely think that this development of the double dial does take us a further step down the road of streamlining game play. 

First of all, the double dial caters for the much wider range of movement actions that land-based figure gaming demands with none of the ambiguity that so many rules systems seem to stumble into.  Secondly, one of the reasons that there are relatively few tokens in this game is that the second dial fulfils the task that multiple tokens often did duty for.  What's even better is that to be able to employ a particular modifier on the second dial, it must match the colour of the order given on the first dial.  No more having to remember a wide range of exceptions/limitations to what this type of unit can or cannot do [a drawback, not just in the figure gaming world, but with many, many sets of board wargame rules].  Instead, if the colours match, then they can be combined.

Finally, it's the turn of the three booklets:  titled Learn To Play, Rules Reference and Lore Guide.  The first two are fairly self-evident.  The Learn To Play booklet takes you through all the basic elements of playing the game and including how to assemble your figures and a very brief section on painting and terrain.  Like all three booklets, it is lavishly illustrated with plenty of very good examples of play and one enticing shot of all the figures based and painted on a tabletop, well supplied with terrain, that will have you positively itching to get painting and started in play.  The rules themselves are clear and well explained and of moderate complexity, made even easier for the reasons I've mentioned in the paragraph above.  With them under your belt, you're good to go with your first Skirmish.

The second booklet , Rules Reference, takes you a step further introducing you to the concept of Army Building in order to have a full Battle game as opposed to the small Skirmish already learnt.  In essence, the latter is a 100 pts game while the former is up to double that at 200 pts - though you can obviously field even larger armies if you want to.  The basic play area for a Skirmish is 3' x 3' and for a Battle 3' x 6' - once again players are free to modify according to their needs and wishes. 

High on my list of likes in this booklet is the ability to customise different sized formations for your various types of figure.  The more stands in your formation obviously the more costly in points to spend [e.g. the smallest formation of Spearmen costs 18 pts, while the largest costs 59 pts].  Nothing out of the ordinary, you might say, but the important corollary is that the size of formation also increases the number of types of possible Upgrades that you can purchase for the formation.  Neat idea.

The Waiqar Carrion Crawler individual character

I sincerely hope too that it will be possible to buy additional Command Tools, so that you can field different sized formations of the same type of unit in your Army.  What I find disappointing is that, continuing to use the Spearmen as an example, even with two core sets of the game you don't have enough figures and stands to field the largest formation.  In fact, if you have only the core set, you would have to buy three expansion packs in order to have the largest possible Spearmen formation in your Army.

After this introduction to Army building, the rest of the booklet is essentially an excellent alphabetical glossary.  Each entry significantly expands in detail on concepts/rules introduced in the Lets Play booklet and in a few cases introduces new ones.  For  gamers familiar with figure systems, you'll probably not need to refer much to these entries, but for those less familiar they really do spell everything out and for those "argumentative" gamers out there, it should stop a few squabbles before they start!!

The last booklet is The Lore Guide [featuring a picture on the front of a character looking remarkably like Leoric of The Book from the game Descent: Journeys In The Dark 2nd edition.]   This is a 32 page immersion in the world of Terrinoth.  It blends elements of a fictional story with imagined extracts from letters, chronicles, transcripts of an oral recital and more.  Personally, this sort of inclusion does not add greatly to my experience of a game.  But both as a completist and as a reviewer I read steadily through everything and, as expected, the text covers all the familiar tropes of fantasy fiction.  It is beautifully presented and extensively illustrated and represents a significant investment of effort on the design team's part.

Waiqar Infantry

So, to my concluding thoughts.  The more I've delved and explored this product, the more I've warmed to it.  The single downside is the cost to field a full army is fairly high.  So, getting a friend who wants to explore this game too would be a handy asset.  Quality throughout is great and I've highlighted what I think is special, as I've gone along.  To emphasise : very good figures and those I've seen painted-up look superb.  [Oh, no, when am I going to find time to start mine?]  As always that's a hefty task, but identical to any figure painting jobs.  The dials for command work very, very well and greatly simplify game play and the rules are clear and execution smooth.  If you are looking for a fantasy figures system, I think that this is well worth your attention.  If you already have a system of choice -BEWARE.  Sample this one and you may just find yourself starting a whole new collection!