At EGX, the lovely folks from Esdevium Games were kind enough to play a demo game of RuneWars with me. If you don’t know, RuneWars is an upcoming miniatures game from FFG which will have you assembling and painting minis, building army lists and fighting skirmish battles.
Like every other FFG game out there it uses custom dice. Each unit is controlled by a dial on which you choose your actions for the turn. Every round essentially has 2 phases: choosing a unit’s action on its action dial and resolving those actions. Once actions are assigned they’re resolved in ascending initiative order. Each action has an initiative number next to it. Lower numbers happen sooner and higher numbers happen later.
Every action dial has a second wheel on which you set modifiers. Choose to move? You can use the modifier wheel to change the movement into a charge or a turn. The colour of modifier you set has to match the colour of the action you’ve set. For example, you set a 3-speed manoeuvre on the action wheel (left in picture) then you can set that manoeuvre to turn 45 degrees, at the cost of reducing its speed by one, using the modifier wheel (right in picture).
Peripheral fluff aside, the core mechanics of the game are quite simple. There’s no messing around with tape measures, manoeuvres are handled with preset templates and the dice system is relatively straight forward. It’s exciting to set your moves with a plan in your head. Anticipation builds to tiny moments of triumph or defeat as you move through the initiative activations. You predict your opponent will move up quickly so you set your unit to charge at initiative 5 (white number on the dials). If you’re opponent moves first they’ll be in charge range, if they’ve opted to do something else or their move has a later initiative you’ll charge at nothing and perhaps put your unit in a bad position. The tactical strategy is incredibly satisfying and it seems knowing the initiative of every action on your opponents dial will be crucial to victory.
If a unit moves and collides with an enemy unit they become locked in combat. If your unit was simply moving then your unit takes a morale debuff and does not get to attack. However, if you set your unit to charge then they will perform an attack on the enemy unit they collide with. If you set an attack action on the dial the unit will simply attack any units they are locked in combat with.
The most interesting part of the game is setting your action dials. Considering initiative is essential. If the enemy charges you, crashing their unit into yours and engaging in combat and then your unit activates revealing a movement action, that action is wasted. Instead, if you predict the enemy charge and set your unit to attack, you’ll get to retaliate. Similarly how far away are the enemy? Perhaps they’re not in charge range now, but what if your charge has a late initiative? Meaning by the time you charge the enemy might have moved forward. Early game, activating later can have its benefits though once you’re locked in combat activating to attack early is essential.
Magic in the game is influenced by casting runes each round. The runes are little cardboard coins with a different symbol on each side. These symbols interact with any magical powers that a unit might have. For instance, my spearmen could reanimate at the end of the round; one spearman for every green
squiggle rune result (provided there were empty on the unit tray). The runes seem like an easily changeable part of the game should designers need more flexibility. From the demo, it wasn’t clear if the runes were fixed or if players got to create the pool at the start of the match. Either way, the fact that the runes are simple cardboard makes it easier for the designers to tinker with the mechanic in a way not possible with custom dice. However, if you’re relying on certain magical abilities that need specific rune results you could end up faced with frustratingly bad luck at critical moments.
The game I played was around an hour and a half including a very brief rules explanation. I controlled the evil looking, skeleton people and all of their forces from the core set. My army consisted of a skeleton riding a large worm, an undead lord/hero, two blocks of skeleton archers and a 2 block by 2 block unit of skeleton spearmen. My opponent controlled an army I would describe as “Fantasy Good Guys” – heroic looking people in gleaming armour. His forces consisted of cavalry, a hero, a large stone man and a 2×2 block of spearmen. I was able to pincer his spearmen with my Lord and spearmen, tie up his cavalry with my worm chap (preventing a rear charge on my Lord), while my archers just plinked away at his troops with the odd bit of friendly fire. I managed to wipe his team losing only one tray of spearmen. According to the guy demoing this was only the second undead win all day. Hurray for the shambling hordes!
While we played a very simple match ignoring objectives and proper deployment. It didn’t feel like there would be a huge amount of variety in the core set (RRP £99.99). Standard matches will be 200pts and the core set allows each side to field ~100pts at a push, so every game you play you’ll be using every unit in the core set. It seems then that much like the X-Wing Miniatures game the core set is a mere morsel of the game meant to tickle the appetite rather than the hearty main course that comes in the Imperial Assault core game.
It’s a shame the minis aren’t pre-painted like the gorgeous ones I got to play with in the demo. FFG has yet to comment on whether you’ll have to paint your models for tournaments. Even so, the game is very easy to pick up and the core of the game feels incredibly tight compared with the endless tomes of rules that Warhammer comes with. It’s not a game I think I’ll be jumping into as I’m already split between X-Wing and Warhammer 40k Kill Team, but it seems like a great game to jump in on for anyone looking to get into a miniatures game.