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.
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…
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!
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.
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!
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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!
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