Escaping the Madness
As regular readers of Fistful of Meeples will probably know, I like plenty of theme in my games, and I don’t really do things by half-measures.
Last autumn/winter, was a big Arkham kick for us, starting with Elder Sign, running through Pandemic Cthulhu and picking up Mansions of Madness 2nd edition, Eldritch Horror and the new Arkham LCG in November. I also picked up the beautiful Lore book that FFG put out, providing various backstories for the investigators.
Those remain popular games: even though Mansions took a bit of a back seat whilst I attempted to get the latest batch of monsters painted up, the Cthulhu Mythos is still the setting for the 2nd 4th, 5th and 6th most-played games this year (by hours. By sessions would be 2nd, 4th, 11th, 13th, as it’s just easier to squeeze in 15 minutes of Dungeon Time than find 3 hours of Eldritch Horror…), and the Arkham Horror Files make up more than 25% of gaming time overall. That said, I’ve probably calmed down slightly from the peak of obsession of last year.
Looking round for something new, I was starting to wander in one direction when a new game caught my eye.
You don’t have to have spent much time on Fantasy Flight’s Website in the last couple of months to have noticed the Runewars Miniatures game. The core box was launched to great fanfare, and barely a day went by without a new expansion being announced or previewed.
It looked like a good game: taking a few mechanics from X-Wing and creating a rank-and-file Fantasy Wargame. I was lucky enough to pick up a review copy (see here for the full review, which summarises my general thoughts) which removed the initial obstacle of the heavy buy-in cost.
New Tales and Old
The thing which really interested me about Runewars Miniatures was the fact that it came with not just 2 books – FFG’s standard “Learn to Play” and “Rules Reference” – but 3: this time out there was a new feature, a Lore book.
Terrinoth is Fantasy Flight’s own little Fantasy world, a place that they have been using as the setting for board games for a number of years, but which hasn’t historically received that much development.
Terrinoth tends to attract a certain amount of derision for being very generic, but it feels like it’s still a significant place, simply on account of being the home of some fairly important games, including Descent, Runebound, and Battlelore Second Edition.
As I already mentioned, Terrinoth hasn’t been the most developed setting up to now – I’d been meaning to have a go at Descent since we realised how much we liked Mansions of Madness last year, but had absolutely no notion of where it was set.
I’d also, like a lot of people, tried and failed in the past to get hold of Battlelore 1st Edition, which should have meant that when FFG finally announced that they were putting out a second edition, it should have been a big deal. However, by 2015, I’d gone full circle and decided that I own more than enough of the Commands and Colours series already (I’ve downsized my Memoir ’44 collection, still have C&C Ancients with a couple of expansions, and I sold Napoleonics as it didn’t get to the table often enough). As 2-player head-to-head games get pushed out by cooperative and 3 or 4-player offerings, I let Battlelore second edition pass me by, without even reading enough to know that it was set in Terrinoth
Now though, it feels like FFG have decided to really push Terrinoth, with added theme, just around the time I found myself getting my first games set there:
Around the time that the Runewars Miniatures game was gathering steam for its big release, FFG also announced a co-op expansion to Runebound due for the autumn – this was enough to make me start digging into the world, and I was intrigued by what I found there.
I decided to start getting some the Terrinoth games: I bought Rune Age via Facebook, (as it was cheap, and offered co-op play) acquired a copy of Descent (traded for Star Trek Frontiers), got the aforementioned review copy of the Miniatures game, and rounded out the set by taking delivery of Runebound 3rd edition, courtesy of eBay.
So what is this place?
I won’t lie. Terrinoth is quite generic, certainly at first glance. There is a human faction, an undead faction, and an elven faction – the humans (almost always the most generic faction in any setting) are mostly spearman and cavalry, whilst the elves have bows, ride wild beasts, and hang around with Ents. The undead are mostly endless ranks of skeletons that do their best to regenerate, aided by dread Necromancers, but they also ride giant, angry-looking worms, which is a bit of a twist. The final ‘main’ faction, the Uthuk are a bit more unusual, a sort of human-demon hybrid group, but as they’ve yet to be spoiled for the Miniatures game and I haven’t played them in Rune Age, I can’t offer too much more detail about them yet.
Despite all these tropes, it definitely does feel like there are things about Terrinoth that stand out. An obvious one is the Runes that seem to power most of the magic in this world – remnants of a mighty artefact from an earlier age, destroyed in order to keep it from the hands of the man who now leads the armies of the undead. Thematically, it’s an interesting idea of power being harnessed from an object whose creation is now long-lost.
It also makes for some interesting game mechanics: in Runebound, you cast Runes (~flip cardboard discs) rather than rolling dice, and acquiring better Runes is a key element of the game. In Runewars Miniatures, the Runes play a slightly more passive role: round-by-round they are re-cast to determine the ambient levels of different types of energy: certain units will then be able to gain movement, combat, or even healing abilities equal to the number of rune-symbols of a certain type in play.
I’ve also come across a lot of references to Dragons in Terrinoth, and they look interesting, albeit based on relatively sparse information at this point. The dragons certainly don’t owe allegiance to any of the main factions above (in fact, it seems that they were in charge of the whole place, in eons past), but they do sometimes pop up to intervenene in the ongoing conflicts of the humanoid folk, so I’ll be watching with interest to see whether they ever appear as anything more than enemies to fight.
Descent from where?
Terrinoth is probably not helped by the fact that Descent, which seems to be far-and-away the most successful of the Terrinoth games, is also probably the one which leans the least heavily on the setting. Descent: Journeys in the Dark – 2nd Edition, (to give it its full name), is a top 100 game with lorry-loads of expansions, and which got a big boost to its popularity with the release of a companion app last year, making this 1-vs-many game playable solo or fully co-op. Descent has been rated over 15,000 times on BGG, with an average rating of 7.8, that puts it at 65 in the overall ranking.
The trouble is that whilst the Heroes you control in Descent are tied into the races of Terrinoth, most of them wouldn’t feel at all out-of-place in a game of D&D.
So far I’ve only played the introductory campaign of Descent, and made a brief, if so far rather unsuccessful start on the main campaign, and I’m hoping that as we go along, we’ll start to see a stronger sense of setting for where all this action is taking place.
Although Descent is the big name in FFG’s Terrinoth offering, there are plenty of other games available, and they make more of a point of referencing their setting.
Runewars (not the miniatures game) only has around 6,500 ratings, for a fractionally lower 7.7 average, which puts it at 120 in the rankings.
Battlelore 2nd Edition is actually placed just above Runewars in the rankings at 118, thanks to a 7.9 average, although that’s based on a mere 3,500 ratings.
Rune Age is probably the lowest rated of the various Terrinoth games (I’m deliberately ignoring older editions), with only a 6.9 average, although the 3,600 people who have rated it were still enough for it to make it inside the top 200.
Runewars Miniatures is still too new for ratings and rankings to mean much – it’s got an 8.1 average, but based on only 186 ratings, it’s only recently squeezed inside the top 3000 games out there!
Runebound is notionally the flagship product in this series (all these boxes feature a reminder that you’re in the “Runebound Universe” rather than referring directly to Terrinoth). However, it barely scrapes into the 500 on Board Game Geek, with ‘only’ 1,800 or so people having contributed to its 7.6 average rating, and I was a bit dubious about what made this the ‘lead’ title.
I’ve only managed to play Runebound a handful of times since getting it, but my initial suspicions were quickly dispelled – Runebound definitely feels like the game that gives you the best sense of the place these games are taking place in, and the level of scope on offer for simply exploring the world is great. As already mentioned, it has currently been rated fewer than 200 times, which leaves it languishing somewhere just inside the top 500, but I’ll be watching this one carefully as the “Unbreakable Bonds” expansion lands sometime in the next few months – given the success of reinventing Descent as a fully-coop/solo compatible game, I’d expect that FFG are hoping for a similar success with Runebound.
Of the Terrinoth games, Rune Age seems to be officially out-of-print (not listed on FFG’s website under the list of Runebound games), whilst Battlelore is languishing, having seemingly reached the end of the release line (there seems to be a general understanding that there’s nothing more coming for this game, although I couldn’t find an official announcement). Descent seems popular despite no new content on the horizon, and it seems only logical that the changes to make Runebound co-op/solo-able, will broaden the audience. Runewars Miniatures is still pretty new and being marketed hard, but the vague bits of information I’ve been able to glean from industry insiders suggest that it’s not selling all that well, possibly because of the price-point.
Working on the basis that there are (essentially) 4 games active in the range right now, only 3 are really on my radar – The Runewars board game (which may or may not still be available) seems to have some shared ancestry with Twilight Imperium, which instantly flags it up as being too large, long, complex and heavy to make it to my dining table more than once.
Descent we’re already playing: half-a-dozen games isn’t really enough to form a detailed opinion, but overall I like what I’ve seen, even if I have a few concerns about the components. Rune Age I’ve played solo and I hope to introduce it to others soon. Runewars Miniatures I have a core box & a couple of expansion bits: I’ve really enjoyed the handful of games I’ve played, and it looks like it’s got some really interesting mechanics, along with some really interesting army-building decisions to be made once you have more miniatures. That said, it’s definitely one of those games where I’m only going to be able to play at the FLGS (my wife doesn’t really go in for table-top wargaming), and it has the potential to be a real money-sink, so I need to decide soon how far to plunge down the expansions rabbit-hole.
Right now, it’s fairly clear that Terrinoth simply doesn’t have the depth of the Arkham Horror Files, and so it isn’t going to capture the imagination in the same way. That said, I am curious to see what FFG do with this setting, and whether there will be more to come in this universe: games that make more of the narrative and the setting, more explicit links and crossovers between existing games, or even some good-old tie-in fiction. With the end of the FFG/Games Workshop partnership, it definitely feels like FFG have a gap in their range that they’re looking to plug, and it will be interesting to see just how far they will go in tying this setting to some of their signature products – Runebound LCG anyone?