I somehow got my hands on a copy of Rune Age, the new deck building type game from Fantasy Flight Games (www.fantasyflightgames.com). Don’t ask how (insider connections?). Instead, ask is it good enough to stand out from the plethora of deck building games out there?
My answer is a resounding yes.
Rune Age starts with the same basic nature of all deck building type games. If you’re unfamiliar with this new genre of game, all the players start the game with a basic deck of cards. Over the course of the game, they draft different cards to add to their decks while whittling away less useful cards until eventually the game is over. The action is simple, and players strive to create the most effective deck as time goes on.
So what makes Rune Age different than its fellow deck builders? Plenty, and that’s what might just make it my new favorite of the genre.
To begin with, Rune Age has a real war game type feel to it. Each player chooses a faction, and each faction has its own specific units to build its army from. Each army type has its own feel, and each must strive to find a reliable balance of weak and strong cards. Players send their armies to attack each other, siege city cards, and often, enemy objectives that will appear as the game progresses. While it is an abstract war game, it certainly has that war game thrill of sending armies into battle.
Rune Age also has two types of commodities to buy cards. It has Gold, used to buy your army cards, and Influence, used to gain more gold and powerful neutral cards available to everyone (though in limited amounts). Influence is highly valuable and the only way to really get it is to control neutral cities. But neutral cities are never truly secure. While initially difficult to conquer (but predictable), once they are under your control, you have to be able to defend them or else, lose them to other ambitious players.
Like all deck building games, there’s a balance to the cards you draft. Draft too many units, and you’ll without reliable Gold (and thus, unable to expand your army). Buy too much Gold, and you’ll find your army isn’t big enough to come to your rescue. But beyond this, Rune Age has tactical decisions to be made during your turn. Do you siege an enemy city? Use your influence to bring a powerful dragon to your side? Or fill your treasury with more Gold cards to help build up your army? Do you launch a diversionary attack, meant to weaken your opponent before attacking your real target? Or do you go all in against a single objective? And dare you risk attacking the final Objective card in a gamble that could win the game for you or end up crushing at your pathetic forces?
What makes Rune Age particularly interesting is that “weak” cards remain valuable throughout the game. Even the lowliest foot soldier can remain worthwhile (if only to have a card to sacrifice on the front line), and sometimes, it’s worth having a few cheap Gold cards in your hand to pay off your Manticore’s special ability or power your Siege Engines.
A very cool rule worth mentioning is that Influence can be spent to hold onto cards at the end of your turn (which are normally discarded). Thus, an influential player can develop a reliably stronger hand. Especially if no one is attacking him.
Finally, the topper on this game is the Scenarios. There are four different Scenarios, each with their own win condition as well as play style. They are:
The Resurgence of the Dragonlords: a competitive battle to build a powerful enough army to repel the dragonlords. Players are less concerned with attacking each other, though fighting over cities isn’t uncommon in the struggle for precious influence. However, the dragonlords are not sitting idly by, and if players fight too much amongst themselves or simply take too long getting their act together, the dragonlords can win and all the players can lose.
Rune Wars: the most directly antagonistic scenario where players are trying to be the last faction standing. The event deck in this scenario forces aggressive play, and while players will once again struggle over Influence, they’re ultimately out to destroy the other players and steal their valuable runestones.
The Cataclysm: a completely cooperative experience (though players can still attack each other’s cities if they really want that Influence) in which all players must survive to the end of a certain amount of turns as the world itself falls into chaos. If one player is eliminated, all players lose.
The Monument: a less directly competitive scenario where each player is racing to get enough Gold to complete their holy monument and please the gods. More indirectly competitive since Gold is the key and direct confrontation is forbidden. Though those precious neutral cities are still up for grabs.
Each Scenario offers something for everyone. Not only does it give the game a lot of replay value, it also allows the game to be adjusted to whatever most suits your group of players. Some players will love the direct confrontation of Rune Wars, while others will enjoy the more tense Dragonlords struggle where you can’t trust the other players and the game itself is out to get you. The options are very well thought out and a lot of fun.
Two of the scenarios are perfectly suited for solo play even, without having to really change the rules at all.
Rune Age is similar enough to any other deck building game that if you’ve played the genre, you will be able to understand it in a minute. It’s easy to teach if you haven’t. But it also brings enough new to the table that I have to give it my highest recommendation. It’s not just about building a great deck. It’s about fighting great battles, about making strategic decisions of how best to employ your forces, and about balance.
Bottom line: It’s terrific and one of the best new games I’ve played in a while. And I’ve played some really great games recently. I give it my highest recommendation. So if you’ve played a game like this before, you might want to give Rune Age a shot. And if you haven’t, this would be a great first step into the genre.
Check it out. Thank me later.