Runewars Miniatures Game Review
on Apr 25, 2017
If I could sum up my reaction to Fantasy Flight Games' hotly anticipated Runewars Miniatures Games in one word, it would be "relief".
I'm relieved that the game is not devastatingly compelling, that it is not going to rope me onto the SKU treadmill that will inevitably churn out new units and heroes for the foreseeable future. I'm relieved that it isn't going to distract from my hobby time pursuing other fantasy wargames (specifically Age of Sigmar) and that I don't have to worry about figuring out how to store another miniatures collection. And I'm relieved that it is at least a competent miniatures game, even if it is not one that I will be following or playing.
It comes like this, but all in light gray. And without the trees. Or ruins. And not assembled. Welcome to miniatures gaming!
On that last point, it shouldn't be much of a surprise because Runewars is pretty much another iteration of Fantasy Flight's "Flightpath" system, which was of course bowdlerized from Wings of War to form the chassis of X-Wing and then later the superior (and masterful) Armada. More than that, it features a number of elements from FFG's house design template that will be readily familiar to anyone who has played any of their popular titles- movement templates, action dials, surges, threat tokens, upgrade cards, custom dice, putting an entire rulebooks' worth of rules text on decks of cards to fool boardgamers into thinking that what they are playing isn't as complex as a full-on miniatures game...it plays out almost like a "greatest hits" collection of FFG tropes.
But this is the company's first attempt at deploying their house style toward a full-on miniatures game, and one you've got to assemble and paint at that. It is almost across the line bog-standard stuff as far as fantasy settings and tabletop wargames go but with custom-engineered components and the disappointingly typical clutter that comes with them. Make no mistake, this box is packed with components, but as a player of other miniatures games I can't help but wonder why much of it is really needed- other games do with a line of text, a D6, and a table what it takes this game a full deck of cards to accomplish. I'd rather keep track of a nice hardback book than a deck of scenario cards, a deck of unit cards, a deck of status cards and so forth.
I kind of just want to put a spinner on these and make it really exciting.
The standout innovation- really more of a refinement- is the command dials that players use to control the Waiqar (undead) and Daqan (humans) included in the starter box. This time around, you have TWO dials to spin up to determine how your units, which are arrayed in interlocking plastic trays to keep them in rank-and-file, will move. The first dial controls their general pace, maneuver and actions, while the second modifies them. These modifiers are color-coded to match up with specific actions, creating a range of strategic possibilities and considerations beyond the usual programmed movement schemes. Just like with its predecessor games, everything that is dialed up goes off in an initiative order, creating a somewhat more fluid battlefield than the standard IGOUGO style of play.
As far as battle, there are some good concepts going on even though it boils down to the usual colored dice and icons chuck-off. The size and composition of a force and how each tray of figures is arranged with its squadmates makes a difference, with wider formations rolling more dice against an opposing unit, but deeper formations allow for rerolls. This is pretty cool, and it causes you to consider how you are setting up your army on the field. There are also morale effects, which give the opponent tokens that YOU spend to pay for negative morale cards, and surges that you can spend to trigger special abilities. There's really quite a lot of depth in the combat- even before you figure in how these randomly cast magic tokens impact martial affairs for both parties.
Unit differentiation- one of the key things that makes miniatures games work- is handled primarily through the dials they have and whatever unit abilities are on their card. But since this is a FFG game, there are also tons of upgrade cards that you can litter the table with. Folks that enjoy customizing their X-Wing squadrons to maximum effect will surely find a lot to like in the options available here as well- because there's even more to consider.
Coming from Age of Sigmar in particular and being an avid player and fan of that game, it all just seems too cumbersome and weighted down with fiddly bits. Age of Sigmar is four pages of rules, your figures, whatever surface you are playing on, some terrain models, and a tape measure. Resolutions are all D6 based. All of the unit rules are on Warscrolls, which you can pull up on your phone. It's really a simpler game in terms of rules and physical components, but equally complex and deep. Maybe some folks think all of the extra stuff makes it more strategic or whatever, but I look at all of the clutter out on the table including the double dials you put out by your units and just kind of shrug. Yep, it's a Fantasy Flight Game.
I'm also not particularly enthusiastic about how movement works in the game. The Wings of War/Flightpath system works great- brilliantly even- in depicting the maneuver limitations of a vehicle moving with velocity. Further, the "blind bid" of both sides dialing up a programmed move perfectly reflects the seat-of-your-pants decision making, instinct and anticipation of a dogfight or even of commanding a capital ship. But I'm not sure it's really all that great for pushing groups of land-bound, slower moving troops around. It just kind of doesn't make much sense that you can wind up charging a unit and actually MISSING the entire group because it moved before you. And then you get a Panic token I guess because your unit had no one in it to say "hey guys, they moved." You can also accidentally collide with scenery if you misjudge a move and incur a Panic penalty, which is just kind of laughable.
Please don't call these chaps "skeletons" or "undead" They are Waiqar Reanimates. For the Lore Guide tells us so.
As for the setting and fluff, the less said about it the better. FFG makes their best attempt yet at making Terrinoth a viable game setting with a full lore booklet, but my hat goes off to anyone who can read the whole thing without rolling their eyes or dozing off. The best miniatures games capture the imagination with exciting lore and inspire you to collect certain armies, factions or units and make them your own through the hobby portion of the game. In this, it sort of feels like the chief hobby decision is whether to paint your human dudes blue like on the box or wing it with a different color scheme.
I'll not be trading in any of my Age of Sigmar armies for Runewars booster packs primarily because I think this game- which already seems destined for popularity- feels almost completely redundant with other games. It feels far too much like a "me too" product put on the market chiefly to appeal to three kinds of players. One is the massive X-Wing fanbase, who would likely prefer that this game were set in the Star Wars universe and featured land battles with AT-ATs and ranks of Stormtroopers rather than the embarrassingly bland Terrinoth setting. The second type is board gamers who are reluctant to play games that have tape measures and army books or have not gotten the memo that buying stacks of board games is just as expensive as buying a miniatures army. The third are players who are still (to speak quite frankly) stupidly aggrieved that Games Workshop smartly rebooted and streamlined Warhammer Fantasy Battles into Age of Sigmar.
So what this means, ultimately, is that Runewars is a shrewdly marketed, well-made and accessible- albeit overly clunky- miniatures game that could garner a good sized player base, many of whom might be getting into this type of game for the first time. I also believe that players who are very invested in X-Wing, Armada, Warhammer, Frostgrave, Kings of War or whatever else in this genre will not likely find much here to sway them from their usual beat. Miniatures games are a big time and money investment, and there simply isn't anything here that I can point at and say "this is why you should play this one over the other one".