Runewars Miniatures is the new big thing from Fantasy Flight games. A skirmish and upwards scale table-top miniature wargame, set in FFG’s in-house Terrinoth Universe, Runewars Miniatures looks to bridge the gap between Miniature Wargamers and Board Gamers. Is it any good? Is it worth getting? And does it have a future? Let’s find out.
What’s in the box: all the pieces!
Runewars Miniatures definitely arrives in a non-assembled state, and there’s plenty in the box: Command Dials for each unit, loads of miniatures (generally in 2-4 pieces), and bases to stand them in. More ready-to-play are the other cardboard components: decks of cards, punch-card tokens, and various booklets.
A Command Dial before and after assembly
As you’d expect from FFG, the card components are all top-notch, the decks of cards are clear, printed on sturdy materials, and the dials fit snugly together, feeling durable and clear.
Despite the full-colour images on the box, Runewars Miniatures arrive unpainted. You will need to clip the various pieces together before you can play, and FFG strongly going all-out to maximise the visuals.
Preparing for Battle: How Long have you got?
If you just want to do the minimum to get playing, then assembling the figures that come with Runewars Miniatures isn’t going to be too much of a problem – most clip together fairly easily, and you should be able to get the whole thing table-ready in under an hour.
A rune Golem before assembly…
After this initial assembly run, there were only a couple of units I was worried about – the Carrion-Lancer had a chunk of excess casting inside the assembly slot which would need cutting out before the pieces could properly be pushed together, and the Skeleton warriors had a few arms and shields that looked very flimsy/kept falling off. Fantasy Flight encourage you to superglue all the components together, before your first game of Runewars Miniatures, which is probably a good idea, and shouldn’t take too long.
An hour or 2 of prep doesn’t strike me as at all unreasonable for a game of this size, and it gives you an entirely presentable-looking pair of armies ready to face off. However, back before I was a Board Gamer, I spent a fair amount of time in the world of table-top wargaming. A world where miniatures are painted, and the visual spectacle is at least as important as the gameplay – in this light, the Runewars Miniatures look a bit different.
The head on the left will only go with the torso on the left, and vice-versa
For one thing, before you paint you should tidy the figures up. Runewars Miniatures, like any game full of plastic minis has lots of lines of excess casting around the seams – at this point, the number of prep hours involved jumps exponentially from about an hour per army, to about 10 minutes per figure.
The detailing on the figures in Runewars Miniatures is decent, and there are generally multiple poses available (2-4 per troop type, unless it’s a unique figure), but there is very little scope for customisation. If a figure has 2 different poses, chances are you’ll have 2 different heads to attach, but only one will go on each body, which is great for quick-and-easy assembly. Personally, I find 2 poses for the bigger models and 4 for the rank-and-file enough to make an interesting-looking army.
However, if FFG are looking to attract people to Runewars Miniatures from something like Warhammer, they will be used to figure ranges that allow full customisation of figures and poses, and this may feel like a bit of a let-down.
So we’ve got the bits: How does it play?
More-or-less everything that happens in Runewars Miniatures is done via the command dial – each round, players will secretly set up the dial for each of their units, then reveal them in turn, activating the various units as they go along.
On the left of the dial is the Action the unit will be taking and on the right-hand side are the modifiers. Compared with something like X-Wing, where each miniature has a single dial, this twin dials system allows for a much more varied range of options to be made available to players. The variety is not infinite – both sides of the dial need to be a matching colour (White is wild, and goes with anything), but I definitely liked the amount of choice on offer.
Apart from taking longer to kill, bigger units are more powerful in combat – extra width increases your “threat” – the damage you do per hit, and extra depth gives you re-rolls
Every unit in Runewars Miniatures can do basic actions: move, fight, shoot if equipped with a ranged weapon, or perform special actions. That said, the details will vary from unit to unit: some will have lots of high-value movement actions, whilst others will be slower. Equally some will have a variety of close combat actions, and be able to modify these with defensive and offensive bonuses, whilst others will have only a single, last-ditch ability to take a stab at the enemy opposite. This all helps to give a sense of different capabilities for the various units, without needing to remember great numbers of rules.
Me first! No, me!
Do the cavalry take the shorter move, guaranteeing that they will activate before the archers? or let them get a shot in, to guarantee that extra distance?
Your action also determines your priority in the round: each action has a small white number next to it on the dial, which indicates how soon it will activate. When the round begins any troops who have chosen a priority 1 action take their turn, then any 2s, and soforth until every unit has activated. Powerful units like Heroes will generally have lots of low numbers on their dial, giving them a good chance of taking their action first. By contrast weaker units, or those wanting to do fiddly little manoeuvres may find themselves attacked long before they can ever do anything.
Again, this was an aspect of Runewars Miniatures that I really liked: it provides a way to differentiate between the strength of units that was more concrete than dice, and it provides an added level of decision-making, as you balance what it is you want to do, against the importance of acting early in the round.
How do we move? On sticks!
There is no need to bring a tape measure with you to a game of Runewars Miniatures: all movement is done according to templates. Place a movement template alongside the unit then, holding the template firmly in place, pick up the unit, and place it down at the other end.
As a default, movement is straight ahead for a designated number of units, and ends without crashing into anything. However, different units can modify this by turning, wheeling sharply, or even charging in to the enemy – wheels and turns provide a curved movement stick instead of a straight one, typically at the cost of slowing you down, whilst charges allow you to crash in to your opponent’s troops and immediately take a swing at them.
Movement is always an issue in a tabletop miniatures game, and Runewars Miniatures is no exception. People are bound to slip when holding their templates, and if your local scene is too competitive, this can degenerate into arguments. That said, the movement and the terrain rules in Runewars Miniatures are generally pretty-well streamlined, and I’m optimistic that they are precise enough to stop people from taking the mickey, whilst still being broad enough to avoid pointless arguments over millimetres.
Once a unit is “engaged” (essentially “in contact”) with an enemy unit, they can fight. Combat in Runewars Miniatures is done with custom dice, and each unit’s card shows how many dice of which colour they roll. Large units, or those who have crashed into the rear of an enemy unit can get extra dice, hit harder, or choose to re-roll, then you remove figures, based on the amount of damage done (from the back rank first), and then removing trays once they are empty.
Dice also come with “surges” that different units can spend to trigger unique abilities printed on their unit cards. Again, this seemed like a smart way to give individual units unique abilities without over-complicating the dice-pool.
Aside from getting figures removed, combat can also trigger panic amongst your troops, allowing your opponent to draw morale cards and play them on you. This was one point where I felt the rules and the terminology used were a little bit awkward, with a lot of the cards being ineffective most of the time. I’ll be interested to see whether larger-scale games fix this at all.
Most of the time in Runewars Miniatures, you are looking to wipe out your enemy, but with the round-limit fixed at 8, it will often come down to a points victory, based on who has the most left. The game does come with special cards for alternate deployment set-ups and objectives to work towards, but these will come in to play a lot more once people are playing full-sized games.
Building an Army? Give it time
The core box for Runewars Miniatures contains 3 units + a Hero for each of the two main factions. There really isn’t a lot that you can change about that.
The one space where you do have flexibility is in the upgrades that you attach to your various units. Upgrades typically come in card form, and give a certain bonus power or stat to your troops, in exchange for a few points – as these points could also have been used to pay for more troops, the long-term dilemma is where to draw the line between endless ranks of generic hordes, and smaller forces of tooled up elites.
The upgrade abilities in Runewars Miniatures are structured in quite an interesting way. The reference card for each unit will show the various configurations you can buy those troops in, as well as the upgrades it is eligible to take. Interestingly, you’ll notice that the range of upgrades often increases with the size of the unit, meaning that a 2-tray unit is likely to come with a fairly vanilla set of powers, whereas a larger one can be more skilled.
As well as figures, the expansion boxes will contain plenty more upgrade cards for Runewars Miniatures, which should generate a lot of options for army-building.
At present time, there are half-a-dozen expansions due for each faction from the core box, along with a whole new faction, the Latarii Elves due later in the year. As the Daqan hero allows you to include a non-unique Elven unit in your army, and the Waiqar Necromancer allows a non-unique unit from anywhere, there will be a good amount of scope available for customisation by the time it’s all come out, with very few rules laid down on how forces need to be structured.
Of course, all this comes at a cost, and even for someone familiar with modern board games that come with a lot of expansions, the financial burden can be a shock to the system. For a “standard” 200-point game of Runewars Miniatures, you’ll essentially need the contents of 2 complete core boxes, or a whole swathe of expansions.
Runewars Miniatures: Final Thoughts
Runewars Miniatures is a game with some great mechanics: the gameplay is remarkably streamlined, information you need is on a card in front of you, and the overall experience blends quick-and-simple with some surprising depth.
If you’re looking for a game to play at home out of a single box then you can certainly do that with Runewars Miniatures, although the range of options will be limited. However, FFG is keen to get organised play up-and-running, and if you can find a local group to play in, and have the cash to spare to build a full army, then this looks like it has plenty on offer. Sadly though, unless the price comes down, only time will tell whether this game can grow a sustainable community for organised play.
8/10 a fun game with a lot more to come.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.