Drawing on the Runelords fantasy novels of US author David Farland, The Runelords board game is an ambitious undertaking because it effectively combines two distinct and very different games in one. Players (2–4, playing competitively, tho' there's also a solo and co-operative option) first play a Sovereignty game where they'll be building and equipping their army for the Combat game.
Of course there are plenty of games with multiple phases but Sovereignty in Runelords really does feel like a standalone game; and, what's more, it stands up well as a game in its own right. At its heart, this is a deckbuilding game but it also incorporates a worker placement mechanic as well as 'encounters' that can dish out punishment or rewards.
We had great fun just playing Sovereignty and creating our armies but that's like going into a restaurant and filling up on the starters. Ideally, you will want to leave room for the main course: the Combat game where you'll be pitting against each other the armies you generated in Sovereignty. And just as you can play Sovereignty as a standalone Runelords game, so you can play the Combat game without the deck building by instead using pre-constructed decks.
In either event, the Combat game is a skirmish played out on a hex grid. You get to play through a variety of scenarios, each with their own objectives and point-scoring requirement, so, coupled with the almost infinite variety of player decks, Runelords is a game with huge replayability.
Players use standees on the battlefield map, each representing the active cards the players have on their individual boards. These comprise each player's Runelord plus three active reinforcements. Reinforcements that are killed in combat are replaced with another card from the player's deck. You'll also each have a separate support deck, equipment tokens and a board tracking your individual Runelord's special abilities and enhancements.
There's an element of programming in that players predetermine the order in which their four characters will be activated. And when a unit is activated, it will generally have three actions available to it: a movement, attack and a 'utility' action (this typically allowing you to switch items in your inventory or interact with an obstacle). The rules for flanking make it important to be clear which hex side your avatar is facing at the end of their move, and coupled with the terrain on each map, the rules give ample scope for battlefield strategy and tactics. The combat itself, however, is refreshingly straightforward. You roll a single 20-sided die and apply its result with any equipment modifiers to the effects shown on your card. This makes for a well-designed streamlined combat system which keeps play brisk.
Designers John DAngelo and Shawn Engles, and publishers Red Djinn, have done a cracking job with Runelords, and kudos too to the artwork and clear iconography from John DAngelo and Pavel Leksin. Shown here on Board's Eye View is a pre-production prototype prepared in advance of the game's upcoming Kickstarter launch. We'll be keen to see what further enhancements emerge from the KS campaign, and we'll publish a link to the campaign when it goes live.