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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.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

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.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

 

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.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

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.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

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.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

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…

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

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!

Warcry – What’s all the Shout About?

Introduction

Games Workshop released Warcry a few months ago, and it is our habit to let the commotion calm down a little before throwing our own review into the arena.

Warcry is the latest skirmish game from Games Workshop, set somewhere in the vast expanse of a world gripped by Chaos, where warbands of cultist, warriors and beasts battle for control, fame, glory and the attention of the ruinous Gods of Chaos.

Don’t confuse Warcry (the topic of this article) with WarCry, a collectable card game set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting (Sabertooth Games, 2003).

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

What are Skirmish Games?

For those not in the know, skirmish scale games involve small teams of miniatures played on smaller wargaming tables. This is compared to much larger armies of potentially hundreds of miniatures over wargaming tables that will fill most people’s living room. The idea behind skirmish games is that they usually involve more tactical thinking, with a focus on in-depth actions or sequences of events for individual miniatures in the game. It’s a bit like micro-managing a battlefield. Skirmish games are generally perceived as faster to play, ideal for those who have lives beyond the armchair general.

Lore

Warcry takes place in or around a portion of land known as the Eightpoints, the seat of Archaon the Everchosen (one of a handful of characters still around from the shift from Warhammer Fantasy Battles to Age of Sigmar – controversial article here). The lore is fresh, but a little ropy at the moment – that said, it doesn’t need to be grandiose, we’re playing a game where warbands slaughter each other and that’s the simple message.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Game Mechanics

From what we can tell from playing a number of games, the rules are quite straightforward, even for beginners. Arguably you could introduce a young player to this game without much of a problem. 10+ years would be fine (give or take) depending on their ability to understand turn sequences and planning ahead. There’s very little mathematics, and what there is, is quite straight forward.

Setup

Players create their warbands using information cards, representing their miniatures. Each card comes with an image for reference with an associated points value and attributes. Attributes include the number of attack dice they roll, the damage they can cause and how far they move in inches, along with symbols to show what special abilities they can call upon (more on these later).

When each warband totals 1000 points (anywhere from 3 to 15 miniatures) the players can determine the terrain, the goal of the skirmish and any twists to the mission parameters. Once these are set up, the players divide their warband into smaller groups, some of which will be reinforcements for the second or later turns.

The terrain setup, mission type and twist are all randomly generated. If you have bought the complete box set you’ll have some nice card decks to do this for you, or if you purchased just the rule book you can roll dice to determine the setup.

The missions are usually pretty clear and straightforward, with deployment of the miniatures normally split up between an initial group with 1 or 2 reinforcement forces. Often these are on opposite sides of the battlefield, forcing the players to get stuck in very quickly or risk losing the game.

Starting the Game & Turn Sequence

Each player keeps a pool of six dice, with a further dice acting a ‘wild dice’ (more on this later). The purpose of these dice is to allow the player to perform special functions with their miniatures. These abilities require multiples of the same number to permit use of these special functions, often a double, triple or even quadruple.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

For example, a special ability that adds bonuses to an attack action may require a double. It doesn’t matter what the number on the dice is – it could be a double 1 or a double 6. Some abilities require a triple or even quadruple score, which are obviously rare and unlikely to be rolled but possess much more significant power. A few of these abilities use the number on the dice that score a multiple.

Special abilities are usually faction-specific, although we noticed that some abilities are the same just by a different name. There are several universal abilities which any faction can use, found in the rule book. Oddly, some of these are more powerful than the faction specific ones.

A strange but interesting mechanic of the game is determining the initiative sequence, that is, who will go first that turn. The dice pool is rolled at the start of each turn. The player with the most single dice rolls acts first. So, if you roll an amazing dice pool of a series of multiples, you forfeit taking the first turn.

The wild dice mentioned earlier comes into play here. You can use it to seize the initiative or risk it to score a multiple dice result… or save it to add to your next turn. A player can bide their time and on the final turn potentially at 3 to 4 more dice to their initiative roll. This game is all about the small gambles.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Activation & Actions

Players take it in turns, activating a single model, with the winner of the initiative roll going first. A model always has two activations, which can be used to move, attack, rest or wait (a bit like waiting in readiness). Only when a model has finished their two actions, does the other player gets to activate one of their own models. This goes back and forth until all models have activated, which ends the turn.

This brings in a nice tactical feel and eliminates the one sided crush an unfortunate player may feel from other tabletop wargames. It brings its own challenges however, since the ability to plan further ahead and be able to adapt that plan to unforeseen circumstances will greatly help win the game.

Wounds & Casualties

Models in Warcry have many more wounds than they do in larger tabletop fantasy battles. This simulates the more personal scope of fighting. Generally larger or more expensive models have more wounds, but even a simple thrall has 8 wounds, which is usually enough to survive a couple of turns.

Models can rest to recover wounds, but some missions forbid this, making those games brutally fast and efficient!

There is no armour save attribute as such in Warcry, instead toughness is the primary “defence” attribute. A simple table tells the attacking player what they need to roll on each dice; if your strength matches the toughness, you need to roll a 4 or more to successfully wound your target, if it is lower you need 5 or more, and if it is higher you need 3 or more. Rolls of a 6 are always considered a critical hit, dealing more damage.

Most attacks cause 1 or 2 wounds on a successful hit, whereas an attack dice that rolled a 6 causes 2 to 3 times that damage, known as a critical hit. The element of random damage rolls is taken away, meaning players can predict the level of attrition their warriors can endure.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Game Duration

The game recommends 40 minutes give or take. We found this about right, although missions are much faster due to very simplified goal, such as nominating a model, which is the target of the other warband attention to win.

Experienced players could probably zip through a game in 20-30 minutes, but some missions are very tactical and time to mentally plan eat into this.

Each scenario is limited to 3-5 turns, so each game ends regardless of the kill count, assuming you do not wipe your enemy out – but slaughter doesn’t always win you the game.

What’s Different?

To those familiar with tabletop war games, particularly those from Games Workshop, Warcry is a little different. The general mechanical system of tabletop war games is a pool of dice that are rolled to determine attacks that hit, then wound and then a roll to determine if the targets armour saves their lives. These pools of dice are often ever decreasing as only some will score hits, even fewer will score wounds and a few may succeed in rolling a miniatures save. As you can imagine, the process takes a little longer for large scale battles.

Warcry has gone further to reduce the dice rolling, even for the fewer miniatures involved. Now a miniature rolls to attack and wound with the same dice, with a required score based on the strength of the attack and toughness of the target.

Although there is a section in the rule book that supplies rules for campaigns, Warcry is not a reskinned version of Mordheim – it simply doesn’t have the complexities and intricacies of that beloved skirmish game. Who knows, maybe Games Workshop will publish future rule sets to make it closer to the original?

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Game Feel

Warcry is a brilliant little game. Its simplicity and speed of play gives you a wonderful sense of satisfaction. No need for a lengthy setup, no need for hours of tortuous game play, no losing before you’ve taken your first turn!

The small scale and game setting / lore keeps the focus on gritty combat, and the feel this provides is kind of cinematic. I get impressions of dark and gritty anti heroes fighting in rain slick ruins of slate ala “Iron Clad” style (film, 2011). This is good, as games that instill emotion beyond prideful victory gives us more reason to play it and keep playing it.

The tactical choices of the variety of mission goals appear balanced, if a little contrived: the deployment zones make it hard to avoid combat, and you can lose a game if you keep VIP models too far out of the way, even if they’re meant to survive to win the game. Not such a bad thing, but we’re feeling this is a manufactured response from Games Workshop – you’ll see the same kind of missions and quests in just about all of their recent games. Meh, you can play the game anyway you like.

That said, working out a tactic that has to develop each turn is closer to real-time battlefield tactics than any full scale tabletop war game. Several games we’ve had to clutch at our faces and rock back and forth trying to figure out how we can win and the tension is palpable. For us, this is great.

The lack of variety in the choice of your warband composition takes away the “math-hammer” aspect of most battle systems by Games Workshop. A massive plus if you play for a games theme, vibes and narrative, but not great if you want specific structure to your warband. There’s an excessive amount of name generating lore in the core rule book, which frankly seems a bit of a waste of paper and money…

Games Workshop, stop padding out your books with this nonsense, we know how to make up names!

Costs

We need to say this right now: The core rule book is NOT everything you need to play the game. Not even close. What annoyed me the most was that the rule book contains no stats for characters or models… it doesn’t even explicitly say that you need to buy these elsewhere.

No, to play the game, you need to have a minimum of 1 rule book and 2 gangs, or if you’re lucky and your Age of Sigmar faction has them, add two card sets with the abilities and attributes for the gangs.

That needed to be said, because we think it is bloody cheeky of Games Workshop. Effective at getting you to spend money no doubt, but even Kill Team (the science fiction version of Warcry) provides all the stats and attributes you need to play the core elements of the game.

Boxed set, £100: with terrain, play mat, 2 war bands, a rule book, dice, cards. A lot of stuff, but how much are you going to play?

Rulebook on it’s own: £25 but you get no cards for any warband, which will set you back an extra £5 for a regular age of Sigmar faction, or…

A boxed warband: £30 which includes the miniatures and game cards. Some players have reported that not all boxed warband add up to the 1000 point limit – keep this in mind when you’re assembling your warband, particularly for tournaments where the miniatures equipment must be represented exactly as on the warband list.

Minimum spend without glues etc, £35 – £55. That’s quite a bit of 10 miniatures and some card, but if you’re into your gaming it’s not a huge outset.

Best Advice – buy from a 3rd party where ever you can.

That said, we’re already seeing expansions coming out for Warcry. So as previously mentioned, the GW Sale M.O suggests extensive additional content, and likely if you don’t keep up, you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage..!

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Final Thoughts

We like it, but we’re open about liking games generally. If you’re already into Games Workshop products, you’ll like it because it’s a little different (and the miniatures are, as always, amazing).

If you’re looking for a fast way into the tabletop hobby this is a great start, but it’s going to cost you at least ££85 starting from nothing to get into it. That said, the complete box set gives you everything apart from the glue for £15 more.

Definitely worth a group share if you chip in with friends, but then you’ll need more gangs or one of the £5 card sets.

What Gives?

It seems that despite all its good points, Warcry is fitting nicely into the Games Workshop sale modus operandi, in that the basic game is very simple, leaving questions such as to the details of the warbands, or lack of special rules or “Why didn’t they just…?”

This is because we should be expecting expansions to the game to include all these wonderful things. This is great if you love the game and want to see more, but the sale M.O. means if you want to stay up to date you’re going to have to fork out more of your precious pennies. Veteran players will hear an echoing voice telling them to “pay to win…

This leads me to the small card sets you can purchase for some pf the current factions in Age of Sigmar, Games Workshops mainstream fantasy battles game. These card sets allow you to use your faction in Warcry, such as the Idoneth Deepkin. Great, but again we’re paying for content we don’t need, such as all the special abilities in several different languages. You can’t even sell on these cards, because there’s one for each language, and each miniature card is entirely pictorial. Games Workshop, stop making us buy stuff that we’re going to throw into our recycling.

We’ve recently learned a rumour that these card sets will not be continued. This forces a choice on players: buy a box set of a faction you won’t use in any other game, or just don’t get involved and avoid playing Warcry. What gives? Comment below if you’ve got any ideas what this means!

Finally, we’re already seeing more content coming for Warcry in the form of monster hunting and mercenaries. Seems GW are already using the same methods to promote Kill Team. Expect more soon…

That’s it for now, we’ll go into more detail of the campaign mechanics of Warcry another time, but for now, thanks for reading and we hope this has given you something to think about before buying into Warcry!

Ferris, CC.

Terrain Ideas here, with UK supply suggestions here.

(All miniature images taken from Games Workshop, 14/9/19)