Unbreakable Bonds is the first big-box expansion for Fantasy Flight’s Epic Adventure game, Runebound. If you’re not already familiar with Runebound, check out our recent review here.
Unbreakable Bonds adds 2 new scenarios for Runebound, and introduces official co-op and solo modes for the game. It’s been hotly anticipated, but is it any good? Let’s find out!
Unbreakable Bonds – What’s in the box?
Unbreakable Bonds packs a fair amount into a small box. There are scenarios decks for 2 completely new scenarios, along with additional cards for the 2 scenarios which came in the core box, as well as the Caught in a Web scenario from the mini-expansion of the same name. There are 2 new heroes, with their cards, miniatures and tokens, new equipment, and new skills both for individual heroes, as well as new “party” skills. Lastly there are a whole lot of additional combat runes for the various monsters your heroes will face, along with 4 combat boards.
Runebound, Caught in a Web, and Unbreakable Bonds, all comfortably inside the original box
Overall I was really pleased with Unbreakable Bonds content-wise. The cards are good quality, and will mix in with the existing components without standing out. I only have one of the 3 small-box expansions released to date, but everything from my collection comfortably fits in the core box, and there’s a bit of room to spare.
Sounds good – but how does it play?
The main appeal of Unbreakable Bonds is that it makes Runebound a game that can be played fully cooperative or solo. There are certainly other things going on, but that’s where the main thrust of the game lies.
New Ways to Fight!
New Runes for Tricksters (Green), Mystics (Purple) and Savages (Red) alongside the original runes, now designated “Warriors”
In order to facilitate these changes, there are a number of new features in Unbreakable Bonds, and the most significant to my mind are the new Combat Boards and Combat Runes.
In the original version of Runebound, an enemy was an enemy – they all got 5 runes, adding a 6th mid-game when you reach Act II, and end-of-scenario bosses tended to have a 7th. When you fought, one of the other players would cast the Runes for you, and decide in which order they should be spent.
Unbreakable Bonds divides enemies into 4 groups: Warriors, Savages, Mystics and Tricksters – these traits were always on the Encounter cards, but they didn’t really have a mechanical impact. Now, the original Runes are the “Warrior” Runes, with 3 new sets of Runes for the other 3 groups. Straight away, this makes different enemy types more dangerous in certain situations, or more resistant to particular types of attack, and generally goes a long way towards making combat more varied.
Aside from having 4 categories of enemy with their differing Runes, there are also new combat boards in Unbreakable Bonds which determine how those Runes will be spent. When you cast an enemy’s Runes at the start of the combat round, you arrange them on the corresponding board, and each time the enemy has an action, you spend the next rune down, resolving the token furthest up the board that will have an effect.
Different Enemies are now resistant to specific types of damage
I really liked this aspect of Unbreakable Bonds. For one thing, having a fixed order for spending enemy runes ensures that everyone’s fight is conducted on the same terms, with no need to feel bad about pounding a fellow player, nor worry that someone is going easy on them. More to the point, the enemies now really do feel different – Tricksters and Mystics will do strange things to you, manipulating the combat and your pool of Runes, whilst Savages will strike with brutal abandon, generally leading to short and bloody encounters, quickly resolved one way or the other.
What Time? Party Time!
It’s one of the classic tropes of any epic Fantasy, the party of adventurers banding together to make common cause as they take on a threat too big for any one of them. In the past, Runebound has always kept player interaction on a fairly low level, but Unbreakable Bonds changes this around with the opportunity to join up properly.
On your turn, you can chose to form a party with any other willing hero in your space, allowing you to move together, which can make covering long distances across the board less of a challenge. Aside from shared movement, a joined-up party can also benefit from party skills.
There are 10 party skills in Unbreakable Bonds, and they look quite a bit like any other skills your heroes learn in Runebound – you pay a number of trophies (some of specified colour, some of any colour), and you gain a bonus ability. The difference with these cards (aside from their colour), is that they only apply to heroes in the same space who have banded together to form a party. Party skills can be paid for by any member of the group, and once learned, they apply to any and all parties of heroes in the game, meaning that they don’t suffer the same restrictions in terms of the number of skills an individual hero can possess.
So far, we’ve not made all that much use of Parties since adding Unbreakable Bonds to our Runebound collection – we mostly play the game 2-player (and I’ve tried it out solo), and there’s often just too much of the map to cover for us to be in the same position long enough for this to be beneficial. However, I still think it’s a great innovation for Runebound – previously I’ve shied away from playing this much with large groups, as it’s already a long game, and I was concerned about the downtime. With the Party mechanic, I think Unbreakable Bonds makes it a much more appealing prospect to try a 4-player game, with a lot more potential for meeting up, and interacting outside of your own turn.
New Scenarios – New Horizons
Although the basic actions (move, explore, fight, trade etc) are common to all games of Runebound, the narrative of each game, along with the contents of many of the card decks are driven by the scenario chosen for that particular session.
The Scenarios of Unbreakable Bonds are really interesting. The Locust Swarm sees the countryside of Terrinoth being laid waste by Uthuk warbands and your Heroes need to confront massive warbands before they can desolate the whole land – this one had a really nice escalation feel, as you carefully try to balance levelling up your character against the additional destruction that the Warbands will cause as they gather more and more strength.
As good as Uthuk Warband was though, I was most excited about the other scenario in Unbreakable Bonds, The Red Death. In my review for the base game, I said that Runebound was a good game that could become really great if it managed to find interesting alternatives to just “fight against a really big enemy” for the finale. This scenario does that perfectly, sending you on quests to find ingredients to cure a plague that’s ravaging the land, and forcing you to balance all the normal concerns of a game with treating plague in the towns you encounter, all without getting too distracted from the big picture. Both the scenarios are good on their own, but this one really hints at the potential Runebound has for future growth in this new fully-cooperative world.
Feeling Uncooperative? There’s Still Plenty Here
Personally, I only picked up Runebound after Unbreakable Bonds was announced – it was a fun enough Player vs Environment game, but I probably wouldn’t have bothered without the knowledge that there was a fully co-op version coming.
These can all be used regardless of whether you’re playing cooperatively or not.
For people who have owned Runebound a while, and who value the more confrontational aspect of the game, Unbreakable Bonds was seen as more of a disappointment – finally the game gets a big expansion, and most of the content is “wasted” on making the game co-op.
Hopefully it’s clear by now, from what I’ve written above that the co-op/solo experience is a big part of this box, but it’s far from being the only thing included.
Even something as simple as the new “prepare” mechanic (essentially, save an action for a later turn) can make a big difference
The combat boards and runes are a big plus, whichever way you’re playing the game. If you like the dog-eat-dog aspect of controlling enemies, you can still do so, but now you have a greater variety of strategies to adopt.
There’s a remarkable amount of game-play packed into Unbreakable Bonds – aside from new gear, there are random events that crop up when your hero is shopping, and there are also 3 new skill sets. As you use six in every game, and there are six in the base game of Runebound, I’d never even noticed that it was possible to swap skill sets in and out, but this immediately adds a whole extra layer of customisation, as you can either just swap out like-for-like sets to increase variety, or you can deliberately weight the deck towards skills based on 1 or 2 of the 3 attributes.
Unbreakable bonds also comes with 2 brand new heroes, who add life to the game, regardless of which mode it is being played in. Tatiana, a ‘wild’ human, has some very strong stats with a larger hand-size and a really nice surge ability, although she is only the second hero to have a blank side on one of her Starting Runes, meaning that she really needs a decent weapon early on to really shine. Fun to play though, and definitely potential for some cool tricks.
Eliam, the Elf, takes a slightly different approach, drawing Social Adventures, which definitely offers an alternative way of approaching this. His combat ability is somewhat situational (and I’m never keen on abilities that burn cards), but it can be nice for getting around high-defence enemies, and overall I was impressed with these 2.
Some things, like the Envelopes for trading, or the Party skills won’t really be of use in the non-cooperative version of the game, but for the most part this is still a box with value – The Uthuk Warband (one of the new scenarios) would be easy to play competitively (winner is the one who takes down the most Warbands), and even the challenge of curing a plague could probably be made competitive with a bit of creativity.
Ultimately it will be down to the individual as to whether you’ll be getting use out of enough of the components to make it worthwhile shelling out for the box. I’d still encourage it, but if Fall of the Dark Star is your favourite Runebound scenario, then it might not be for you.
Unbreakable Bonds- Final Thoughts
When I wrote my review of the base game for Runebound, I said that it was a really good game, but that I was hoping for the expansion to come and make it great. Unbreakable Bonds has ticked just about every box on my wishlist in that respect – the 3 scenarios I already had (Ascendance of Margath, Corpse King, Caught in a Web) all get new ways to play, and above all there are 2 completely new scenarios which need to be played in a completely different way, and which end with something other than a Massive Boss fight.
In expanding the skill decks, Unbreakable Bonds gives Runebound customisation possibilities in an area I hadn’t even thought of before, and pretty much without exception, each change in this box is a definite improvement.
Overall, I’d give this 9/10 – an expansion that makes a good game into a great one!
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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.