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Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes – Heroic Battles in A Frozen Apocalypse

Our streak of luck is maintained as this week we were able to get our hands on the early version of a rather cool and epic sounding board game, Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes! Runaljod is brought to us by Tempo Games, a Spanish company.

In the competitive world of indie board games, it is quite common to see some interesting and beguiling game mechanics. Runaljod is one such game, but we think it stands out as a game that most of us will enjoy more because of its fusion of tactics and chance.

Runaljod is an adventure board game. It combines tactical combat with dice rolls and special abilities, board exploration with random encounters, and casting runes to provide power to your characters actions and abilities.

If you have played; Hero Quest, Star Wars: Imperial Assault or Mice & Mystics you will be familiar with the mechanics of this game. Runaljod does all of these games justice too.

It is worth mentioning that the prototype game we played is still going through adjustments and testing. The rules were also hastily translated from Spanish to English, so we hope we got things right!

Let’s take a look at the game as a whole.

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What is Runaljod?

Runaljod is a cooperative game, putting the players and their characters against enemies and creatures found in Norse mythology. The game takes place on small board sections which are revealed as the game unfolds. The game is broken down into the hero phase and the enemy phase. The heroes do not follow a turn sequence as in other board games, instead they decide who will perform an action before deciding who can carry out the next action.

This player driven sequence means players must discuss and weigh up their options, because the enemy follow a simple artificial intelligence system… which we found to be quite lethal.

Now for a little more detail…

Narrative

In Runaljod, four heroes attempt to stem the flow of monsters and enemies who are flooding into their realm for reasons as yet unknown. Spoiler: there’s a big ass giant.

The game can be played in several modes, from single, one-off adventures, to campaigns where several adventures are linked together in the form of a narrative. Don’t have four players? No problem, the rules we received cover special circumstances so you can play the game all by yourself if you can’t find budding heroes to help on your quest.

We think it’s early days for the creators – there’s still very little out there regarding the rest of the story, but we think Runaljod to be a sleeping giant, an avalanche of story potential to really pack the game with world lore!

Setting Up

Runaljod seems a little complicated at first, but in hindsight this observation proved false. The process involves creating a deck of exploration cards, which determine the board pieces you use, the starting location of the enemies, monsters and heroes. The exploration cards also shows where there may be treasure and where to move to when you’re ready to try the next board section.

 

This exploration deck always contains particular start and finish cards, with random cards assigned to the middle of the deck. We liked this because it provides an element of chance to the game, providing us with different scenarios and challenges – in theory each game should be unique depending on how many cards are provided in the final released version of the game.

There are several other decks, which provide abilities for characters, equipment, random events and finally the enemy data cards and artificial intelligence deck. There’s also a host of tokens, which are used for special abilities, such as stun or bleed tokens, tokens for wounds, trance tokens (used by the Volva character) and coloured cubes for the hero character cards to keep track of health points and glory points.

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The board pieces vary in size and shape, from rectangles of 24x11cm to squares as large as 30x30cm. They’re also double sided, so the box isn’t quite so heavy, and we save ourselves a bit of deforestation – all new considerations to the board gaming world! There’s also the “Altar of the Gods” which is where the extra runes are placed, and acts as a home for the exploration cards and time tracker.

Finally, the miniatures are all placed on the board – and these are pretty well sculpted – but more on those later!

Your Characters

The four characters available are classic Norse / viking archetypes, each with their own special abilities and equipment: the berzerker, with a powerful axe and very little armour, the shield maiden with her stout shield to defend her allies, to the spell weaving Volva (a type of Witch) and the keen eyed Hunter with his bow.

Each character comes with their own “dashboard” which is where most of your planning and actions will take place, and of course a finely detailed miniature. Now, we know that these are prototype miniatures but the detail is rather impressive! Take a look at the 3D render of some of these miniatures, and compare them to the hastily taken photographs I took – check out that chain-mail detail!

The level of detail in the miniatures is carried into the enemy and monster miniatures too, more on those in a moment!

Their Abilities

Each character has their own specific deck of cards, which provide certain abilities to perform as actions. These actions require you to use a particular rune to activate, and once activated, that rune cannot be used again that turn – or even the turn after! This is because at the start of each phase you recast the runes, which we’ve described below.

Characters can purchase additional equipment which provides greater offensive and defensive measures during the game, which leads us nicely to the…

Novel Mechanics

There are several novel game mechanics which we found particularly pleasing. Not only are they novel, they’re also a bit of very cunning game design expertly disguised as fun game play elements.

The one we want to talk about the most is casting runes. Yes, much like in a real reading of the runes, you as the player takes up the handful of rune stones, shake them vigorously in both hands, and cast them down onto the table in front of you!

How these runes land determine how you may use them: if they land face up you may use them to perform actions and abilities – some abilities require specific runes to use, so if that rune landed face down, you cannot use that rune! However, if the rune landed on its edge, you can collect extra runes to throw later, or even harness the power of the gods by activating a specific godly rune which possesses a powerful ability.

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Why do we like this unusual system?

It feels good, it feels real and brings you to the table in a way that other games cannot. It’s a great way of bringing energy to the game too, because you’re all hoping to get to use as many runes as you can – Runaljod is a cooperative game, so to succeed you need to cast those runes as best as you can, or rely on others to help you when you don’t.

A good rune casting can also make you feel like a hero, without a poor rune casting making you feel like a useless chump – there’s always something you can do, even if you’re just formulating a plan and being the voice of that plan.

Interestingly, any runes you do not use to access an ability or skill are saved for the next turn, so if you’re struggling to throw some good runes you can save some, guaranteeing you actions on your next turn.

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There’s a time wheel in Runaljod, which marks how many turns you have left to complete the current section of the board – run out of time and you lose the game. Different events and exploration cads may reset this time tracker, or it may only partially reset the time tracker – we actually liked this, because it means you are sometimes forced to make decisions which you normally wouldn’t in a typical board game.

The attention to detail in Runaljod is great, because the time tracker uses a serpent motif with the head of the serpent approaching the tail, bringing the world to its end – if you’re not familiar with Norse mythology, this is Jormungandr, the world serpent who takes part in the end of the world, Ragnarok!

With a single turn left, you may have to decide who dies and who lives from amongst the heroes, as the goal is to defeat the enemy in time. Make a poor choice, or attempt to heal your allies and you potentially waste time. Don’t be put off by this though, as it’s part of the game challenge and shouldn’t be seen as a negative impact – it adds tension and a dash of excitement.

Your Enemies & Artificial Intelligence

Enemies in Runaljod are savage. The enemies act depending on the draw of a card. This makes the game particularly blood thirsty on occasions, particularly when enemies are told to target a specific character over others!

Each type of enemy is given up to two actions, sometimes stating the direction or target they should take. And it’s not always the nearest hero they have to target! What we liked about this card system is that some detail the order in which the specific heroes are targeted, using the different coloured shields present on the character cards.

Sometimes an enemy miniature may be told to move and attack a hero with a specific damage token. When no target has that specific token, what does the enemy do? It simply defaults to the nearest target it can, and performs actions accordingly.

The exception to the A.I deck are enemies or monsters that have their own decks, which provides in detail what actions that miniature does. This gives them specific attacks and allows them to act differently from the rest of the enemies.

Combat in the Frozen Land

Combat is straightforward in Runaljod, but that doesn’t make it easy!Every offensive action or item has colour coded squares present on their card. Thee translate into dice. There are three types of dice, white, black and red.Each dice has a face of different weapons, which roughly translate to 1, 2 or 3 points of damage.

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Each enemy, monster and hero has a defence value, which deducts the damage dealt by the dice. But be warned! Each dice also has the infinity symbol, which allows the attacker to perform special attacks, which can include powerful abilities such as being unable to defend against the dealt damage.

Damage is translated to health points, and when a hero uses up all their health points, they are knocked down! But there is an action to get yourself up again!

We like the combat dice, they are reminiscent of good old Hero Quest (remember those dice with skulls and shields on them?) So there’s a nice nostalgic feel whilst being efficient and quick. That isn’t to say making the choices or having the runes available make it the combat easy!

Appearance & Artwork

The artwork is superb, evocative of the cold northern climate that Norse sagas are famous for. It also adds an epic element to the game, as we see titanic wolves, colossal giants and other nightmarish creatures.

Rodrigo Flores is responsible for the artwork here, but much like Tempo Games, I cannot find a link to showcase his other artwork. I’ll be in touch and see what I can find for you! For now, enjoy some of the samples Tempo Games have to offer…

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Miniaturas Alemany produced for the excellent miniatures for Runaljod – the same company who produce high quality miniatures for Avatars of War and Chaos Factory. These are not your regular run of the mill miniatures, and I suspect that the resin casts are probably going to be just as well defined in the final product. They’re awesome miniatures!

Final Thoughts

We think Runaljod is a game for gamers. It is a little more complicated than the likes of traditional or abstract board games. That said, once we got started the game become more intuitive and easy to follow. We tried the game with four players and a “games master” to speed things up. With a proper translation and some proofing, we think this issue will be resolved easily.

The game feels great, it is a high fantasy sword and sorcery style board game with a focus on combat, but also includes some character advancement. It can be fast paced with practice, and it really can punish you for a mistake. We love it because it was atmospheric, a challenge and delicately balanced. The artwork and miniatures are evocative and perfectly detailed, making this game the best polished game we’ve tried so far – even CMON would struggle to get this level of detail!

We’re told that Tempo Games are hoping to create Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes for German, Italy and Spain, covering the entire of the EU, or as close as they can!

Runaljod kick starts in 22nd October, assuming no delays!

If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. We’d like to thank them for giving us the opportunity to play the game early!

That’s all from me, drop us a comment and tell us what you think of Runaljod so far!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites for Twitter, or our Facebook page!

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich – Horror that won’t let you win

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich (HiD) is a stand alone deck building game for people who find fun and mirth in being repeatedly defeated.

Allow me to explain…

HiD is set in the Cthulhu mythos, based on the legendary cosmic horror from the fiendish mind of H.P. Lovecraft. The mythos is a popular area to explore for anyone wishing to be caught up in the dark cults and weird extraplanar horrors found in any of Lovecraft’s stories.

If you’re not familiar with the narrative of Lovecraft, the best way to explain the concept is that normal everyday people get caught up in supernatural tales utterly beyond their control. Humanity is so insignificant, it simply will not last should the dark and awesome power of beings far stronger than any human concept of Gods, awaken.

HiD is a game that brings this existential dread to the fore, and it does so with an abundance of gritty flare!

Synopsis

HiD is a stand alone expansion to Cthulhu: A Deck Building Game. This just means that it is a continuation of the story, as Investigators (you) are thrown into the unbearably harsh task of defeating the Elder Gods and their horrific minions.

The investigators are called upon again to defeat the terrors of the night in Dunwich, a place well known to readers of The Dunwich Horror (Lovecraft, 1928). Invited by Dr. Armitage of Miskatonic University, the investigators must research strange and terrible spells and tactics to defeat nameless and cosmic forces to save the world.

Characters

Each player assumes a character which posses a set number of sanity and health points (counted with some funky Cthulhu clips that attach to the character card). Each character also has a special ability and an ability which can be used each turn even if the investigator has died in the cosmic struggle, the After Death ability.

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Setup

There are many variables here that the game could be played so many times before getting the same game twice!

Depending on the number of investigators, a number of Elder Gods are randomly deployed. These Elder Gods are the likes of Cthulhu himself or Dagon from under the sea. Elder Gods are picked at random.

Next, a Location is randomly picked. Locations offer up effects for the duration of the game. In our play through we fought in an ancient tomb, where minion creatures had double their health points!

Finally a deck of Mythos cards and Library cards are shuffled a stacked up. Mythos cards are bad stuff that happen each round, helping the Elder Gods in their diabolical schemes, and Library cards are the skills and tactics that you use during play.

 

 

Mechanics

HiD is pretty standard for deck building games. Players begin with a simple and very small deck of cards, and take it in turns to purchase more cards from the library, with Moxie as the currency.

Interestingly, not all the starting cards in the investigators library are good cards. Amongst the cards are three damaging cards (Stagger cards) aimed at wounding the investigator – sometimes an event during the game, such as a Mythos card, will force a player to use all of the cards in their hand – woe betide the investigator who gets an axe to the ribs!

 

 

The game is split into 3 phases: planning, combat and cleanup.

Briefly…

Planning is when cards are “bought” from the library, but only the cards on display. When all the cards are bought that’s it for the turn, no more until later! During planning the investigators use their Moxie as a currency. Be warned however, any moxie you spend now can’t be used in the later steps so spend wisely!

Combat is when the elder god and its minions act! This also includes drawing a mythos card which is usually a special twist to the combat round… to the detriment of the investigators, no less! After the elder god(s) have beaten you to a pulp or shredded your mind and their minions have taken their fill, it’s your turn to fight back, assuming you can!

Finally in the Cleanup phase damage is calculated, the corpses are cleared away and the investigators get to check out what other tactics or spells they can use next time (assuming they made it thus far!)

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How does it feel?

From the outset it feels difficult. You need to create a deck of cards quickly. This is a frenetic feeling, so when you combine this with the systematic destructive powers of the elder gods the game gets dark fast.

The odds are stacked against you before the start, and randomly picking the elder gods and location create an amusing sense of tense dread. It’s nice to know that you’ll likely never play the same game twice.

This after death malarkey for each character is actually quite good because it allows unfortunate players who are out of the fight early on to stay in the game as more than just an adviser or spectator. Kudos to Wyvern Games!

The artwork really inspires the Lovecraftian theme, with the spells, action and equipment cards looking dark and detailed. The fact that you can play the Hobo wearing chain mail and carrying a rifle really helps too!

Ideally you’d play this game as a group of 3 – this optimises your chances of winning… well, not that your chances are good!

Cthulhu horror Dunwich Lovecraft deck builder building pulp creator consortium

Cost

At the time of writing, the Kickstarter has already closed and late backing is no longer possible. We were told by Wyvern Games (via Twitter) that you can talk to your local gaming store who can place orders through Impressions – I suspect this is US based only, so I’ll poke for more information!

We estimate the game to cost around £40, using the Kickstarter pledges as a guide.

Find Wyvern Gaming here!

Conclude…

If you want to watch us bumble our way through the first game you can follow the YouTube link here, by Summoned Games. Mr Dodd is steaming through his reviews and we’ll be working closely with him to bring you more helpful content.Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our micro review, if you’ve got any questions or comments you can post them below!

Bye for now!

Ferris, CC

 

Themeborne: Those Rising Dark Stars…

If you’re familiar with Themeborne and Escape the Dark Castle, you can jump straight to the section entitled “Escape the Dark Sector!”, there’s a nifty banner to help you find it!

A couple of years ago I was cruising through Kickstarter town when I came across some great looking, creepy and nostalgic artwork. I investigated, sipping my breaktime tea to find a small tabletop card game… a very simple, pleasing to the eye game.

I read deeper into this game, Escape the Dark Castle (EtDC), and fell in love with it – at this point I hadn’t even played it, or read the rules enough to fully understand them… because it did something that most new games these days fail to do…

Create an immersive atmosphere.

Fast forward a year or so and the box lands at my door. I was surprised, because the game fit into a relatively small box, but that didn’t matter, not all great things come in huge packages (know what I mean?)

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EtDC was made and published by Themeborn. Who are Themeborne, and what about their game makes it so engaging?

Themeborne are a small design studio located in Nottingham, UK. They have a small portfolio of games on their website, but it is one that is growing. Three individuals, each with very different skills as either a writer, artist and musician make up the studio. Whoever they are, it seems to create a perfect blend of creativity. Thomas Pike, Alex Crispin and James Shelton put their heads together and created this atmospheric and easily engaged card game.

They’re exploding onto Kickstarter again, this time for a space themed game, a spiritual successor to their first, with Escape the Dark Sector – more on this later!

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So what is Escape the Dark Castle?

Imagine waking up in a cell, in the dark. Perhaps you’ve been there for months or years suffering torture and starvation. One day, the door to your cell is open. Several others blink as they walk out of their cells. Now, how do you escape?

With this premise, player’s characters encounter situations as they flee, sometimes given choices and other times being forced to fight monsters or jailors. The game is based on a deck of well presented cards, with the players either taking it in turns to reveal the next card or deciding amongst themselves who should draw the next.

These cards acts as chapters in their escape, detailing the story as they sneak, run and fight their way through various chambers and obstacles.

Specialist 6-sided dice are used to determine survival, with each character, such as the Bishop or the Cook, having their own character cards and special dice. When fighting or struggling to overcome an obstacle, the dice are rolled against the “chapter dice” which act as a randomised challenge. If your dice roll matches one of the chapter dice, you can remove it, hopefully whittling the monster away to move onto the next chapter… or die trying!

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Not equal, however – the dice are spit into might, wisdom and cunning and each character will have a better chance at rolling one or more of these attributes, meaning some combinations of characters can hinder the escape.

The chapter cards are drawn at random during game setup, meaning there is almost limitless possibilities in the escape story. Expansions to the game, which came out this year, means there are even more cards to randomly create the story.

And finally, as your make your get-a-way, you will encounter one of several special end of game enemies, each acting differently to immolate, terrify or devour the escapees.

The chances are you’re not going to make it, with less than  25% of our stories resulting in the characters escaping the dark castle! Why? Because if one of the characters dies, everyone loses and chances are that by the time you get to the ultimate encounter, you’ll be struggling already! The odds are not stacked in your favour… and it’s great!

etDC Kit

How does it feel?

Escape the Dark Castle has many great features, which I’ll go over briefly here. The important bit is that combined, these traits create a wonderful, narrative and enjoyable game play reminiscent of Knightmare, a UK kids TV show.

Easy to learn

The rule book is slim and easy to read with direct examples of how to play. The nature of the game focuses on getting started as a group and jumping into your first game. The storytelling aspect of EtDC means that just about everyone and their grandma can learn to play. Each player is encouraged to read out the chapter card they draw and are written in an old sword and sorcery style.

Quick as you like Pace

They say that the game takes 2 minutes to setup and around 30 minutes to play. I disagree with the 30 minutes but only because the game can be played as quickly or as slowly as you like. We’ve played many games of EtDC and frankly, when you’re sat around a table in a dimly lit room, the atmosphere suggests you take it slowly… but as you near the last chapter card, the pace quickens… almost as if you’re running blindly through a dark castle and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Social, Inclusive, Cooperative

This is a game for everyone (assuming they can read, and even then, others can help). Because it is truly a cooperative game, where everyone or no one is a winner, it’s very easy to get involved. Who draws the next card can be decided democratically, people can look at the state of their character and think: I can’t survive another round of fighting! Others will openly declare that they can take whatever happens next, effectively ‘taking one for the team’ so there’s room for limelight too.

The inclusion of ‘equipment’ cards adds an extra dimension to the escapees: who will take the rusted sword, or who needs to eat the stale bread?

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Even Grandma can learn to play…

Variety

There are 45 chapter cards in the basic game, of which 11 are randomly drawn to create each story. The chances of drawing the same 11 cards each time are so astronomically low that you’d have to play thousands of games to get an exact same combination. But worry not, there are several expansions already out for EtDC and each one adds even more chapter cards, end of game bosses and even starting cards to the story. Cult of the Death Knight, Scourge of the Undead Queen and Blight of the Plaguelord are great additions, each one bringing more themes and story to your escape.

Value

With 3 expansions, a collector’s box, play mat, card sleeves, a book of character deaths (I know, right?) a story book and even an 80’s style musical cassette you’d be forgiven for thinking that the prices are going to match the likes of Fantasy Flight Games. Except that they’re not.

The Core game is priced at £30 – and this is truly all you need. The expansions, which you could buy several years down the line, are priced at £15 each and everything else is £20 or less, depending on what you want – Themeborne have made a great little game that is affordable and so re-playable you’ll never get to experience every possible combination of game.

And now they’re going a step further and taking us into the timeless void of space, where no one can hear you scream…

Escape the Dark Sector!

Escape the Dark Sector

ETDS Logo

Escape the Dark Sector is a science-fiction adventure, pitting the beleaguered crew of a ship against a detention block space station. Again, if anyone dies, the game is over, presumably because the ship can’t be flown without a full crew!

Themeborne suggest that the story and game-play comes from popular science fiction of the 80’s, including Alien, Startrek and Star Wars combined with the literary adventures of the amazing Fighting Fantasy novels and classic Dungeons & Dragons – much like Escape the Dark Castle!

Whether you like all of those titles or not, it seems there is something for everyone.

What’s different?

The core storytelling concepts from EtDC still run through Dark Sector, but Themeborne have introduced several new and easy to learn mechanics to the game and its setup. They make sense too, creating cinematic shootouts with aliens. So what’s new?

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The Setup

The characters are familiar to those who played EtDC – each character has a dice specific to them to roll during actions and combat. However, adding onto the basic character concepts, players can choose ‘cybernetic implants’ which give their characters an edge in certain situations.

The story aspect has been developed to include not one single stack of story chapters and instead is now made up of three acts which, we’re told ups the tempo and intensity the deeper into the escape story the players drive their characters.

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The Gameplay

Since the theme of Dark Sector has catapulted the story into space, so too has the technology level, introducing tactical combat actions and  ranged combat.

Tactical combat actions include shooting, charging, reloading. re-equipping, and flanking, giving the game a much more tactical feel without detracting from the flow of the game. As is the way of Themeborne games, the action to charge is carried over for each character, meaning when one of you declares a charge, everyone has to go with them! It’s all or nothing!

Further, the action to heal some wounds can only be taken by one character at a time. No one gets to sit out for more than a round either. This seems to have upped the challenge! To balance this, certain actions such as reload or flank mean your character is not targeted by the enemy, but at least one character has to choose to fight or shoot. Actions come in the form of cards, where the character dice are placed in order to keep track more easily.

Ranged combat involves equipment and dice specifically related to the weapons, which, we’re told are not always positive effects for the characters. They seem to include ballistic, beam and explosive symbols, so no doubt each one comes with risks!

Some monsters and enemies are affected by or deal special damage depending on the type of ranged attack being made, so teamwork is still at the centre of the game mechanics – pile it up together or decide who should be shooting what weapon and you’ll crack the chapter and be able to move on!

If you want a copy of Escape the Dark Sector you’ll need to back the Kickstarter, there’s less than 40 hours left! Otherwise you can wait for the official release online, sometime next year!

Alternatively, you can grab yourself a copy of Escape the Dark Castle!

You can find the Kickstarter here

Themeborne website and shop

@FerrisWrites for Twitter and our Facebook page.