When Fantasy Flight announced their intentions to publish a fantasy miniatures game supported by ongoing expansions, I was a bit skeptical. The hobby already has Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Can the hobby seriously support a second such game? Then Cool Minis or Not got the rights to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. They too announced they would be mining this fantasy setting in order to publish an ongoing, expandable game. Can the hobby support three such games? Let’s take a closer look and see…
Runewars Minis versus A Song of Ice and Fire Minis
In this corner: Runewars Miniatures Game
Fantasy Flight announced the release of Runewars Miniatures Game about a year ago. I hypothesized that it was one of the reasons for Games Workshop’s decision to split with its former North American partner. Runewars Miniatures Game represents a direct competition between the Minnesota based Fantasy Flight and the Nottingham, UK based Games Workshop. Very specifically, direct competition against Games Workshop’s primary IP: the Warhammer universe.
The base game for Runewars is now available along with several expansion packs. We can take a critical look at the game.
The base set of Runewars comes with 48 unpainted miniatures. The miniatures, unlike Games Workshop’s Citadel minis, are preassembled. The miniatures are molded plastic in light to dark greys.
The game also comes with the several tokens, dials and other necessary accoutrements. As is standard operating procedure at Fantasy Flight, the game comes with two rule books: a learning to play book and a rules reference.
Runewars takes place in a setting created and owned entirely by Fantasy Flight. The universe is called Terrinoth. It is the setting for several FFG games including Runewars the board game, Battlelore 2nd Edition, Descent and Runebound. It is your standard issue fantasy setting with elves, undead and humans struggling for supremacy. The base set comes with a smattering of humans (called the Daquan Lords) and undead (called Waiqar).
The game comes with a staggering price tag: $100 MSRP. This price point is comparable to other lifestyle games from FFG like Star Wars Armada and Twilight Imperium. And Runewars Miniatures Game does bear several similarities to the former. Both Armada and Runewars are miniatures games and not board games. Both use custom 8 sided dice. And both use a very similar measuring system instead of a tape measure.
I love custom dice. I prefer them to normal dice which normally require a spreadsheet to add/subtract all your modifiers. Custom dice such as Runewars let you intuitively add or subtract your modifiers. Also, I prefer 8 sided dice to 6 sided dice. You get more results and can more easily tweak your modifiers with 8 siders than 6. Don’t believe me? Play X-wing or Star Wars Armada; then play any miniatures war game from the 80’s or 90’s; then report back to me which you prefer.
A game of Runewars is based around building a 200 point army. Each figure or unit has a point value. The stronger the figure or unit, the more points it costs. Your opponent will do the same with a different army. Each unit (a unit is a group of figures), sits in a tray. These trays are made to be easy to move. You can move an entire unit quickly. Gone are the days where you had to move individual 15mm Grande Army figures.
The game comes with dials for each unit. This is the true innovation of Runewars. These dials are free-standing so you can place them facing you and not your opponent. You select an action from the left side and a bonus modifier from the right side. The actions are all icons so you will need to familiarize yourself with the rules reference. When you select an action, you can select a bonus modifier. The modifier must match the color of the action. White is a wild modifier so it can be used with any action.
See the white number above the action icons? That is the initiative number. When selecting an action you also must select your initiative. The red crossed swords icon is a melee attack. It is slower (initiative 7) than the orange crossed swords (3). But the slower attack has a damage modifier on the right dial–the orange attack does not. Pretty innovative. But you would expect nothing less from Fantasy Flight.
And in this corner: A Song of Ice and Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game
Cool Minis or Not uses Kickstarter to fund all its games. They announced recently the launch of a new project: a miniatures game in the Game of Thrones universe. The project is already full funded with a couple of weeks to spare. It’s now just a matter of the game going to the printers.
Cool Minis or Not has made many cool games with awesome minis. Blood Rage is a perennial favorite. Its sequel, Rising Sun, broke Kickstarter with the amount of internet traffic clamoring to back it.
The Hand of the King pledge is the highest backing level for this project. Its cost is an exorbitant $150. It comes with 103 assembled but unpainted miniatures, several tokens and decks of cards and special rulers for measuring.
Like Runewars, ASOIAF also has trays that the minis sit in. Again, this is a nice improvement over the games of yesteryear. Figures can be placed into a slot to make your armies. Casualties can easily be removed.
ASOIAF comes with standard 6 sided dice. Players will be doing mental arithmetic all game long as they add or subtract various modifiers. The lack of innovation here will have to be compensated for in other areas of game play.
There are three innovations in ASOIAF worthy of discussion. The first is: the game is ready to be played immediately after opening. Each army is uniquely colored. Lannister is red and Stark is light grey. This allows you to play the game weeks or months before your army is painted.
The next innovation is the political board. The combat in the fields are often subject to intrigues in the backrooms. And ASOIAF takes care of this with a political action system. You will have a non-combat related character (Tyrion, Cersei, or Catelyn for example). Your action can be to activate these characters instead of activating a military unit. In so doing, you will get some advantage such as drawing tactics cards or healing units. Each space on the political track will hold only one figure so if you choose a political action first, you will get to pick whichever one you want.
The last innovation is the tactics cards. Players have a hand of three. Each round you will fill your hand back up. These are surprises you can keep from your opponent. This allows for some fog of war since you don’t know what your opponent is packing. You develop your deck along with your army ahead of time so you will tweak your army and strategy to match the cards in your deck.
A Song of Ice of Fire the Miniatures Game is really a streamlining of Warhammer Fantasy Battles 8th edition with some gotcha cards.
ASOIAF hasn’t been released yet. Also, I have not played either game. I’ve watched some play videos and studied some reviews about these games. So we will have to do some conjecture here.
As far as cost goes, Runewars gets a slight advantage. However, ASOIAF gets the advantage for value. You get much more with your $150 spent on ASOIAF than you do for $100 on Runewars.
The quality of the components will probably be comparable. Runewars looks awesome. And CMON has a good track record for quality.
The real question will come down to two aspects: game play and theme. And here is where the two games diverge completely.
As far as game play goes, Runewars looks like the winner hands down. The unit dials offers enough fog of war so you can outplay your opponent. The dice are innovative so you don’t get brain burn from all the modifier computations. Fantasy Flight has already made two similar games (X-Wing and Armada) so we should expect Runewars to be mechanically as sound as its two predecessors. The tactics cards in ASOIAF look like they add zaniness to the game instead of tactical surprise. For all the tactical maneuvering you do on the field can be undone by your opponents hand of cards. This would make me feel very unsatisfied.
As far as theme goes, A Song of Ice and Fire is the winner all day long. Who in the heck hasn’t heard of A Game of Thrones? Who in the heck has heard of Terrinoth? For fans of the books or the show, this game is a no-brainer. The game will attract collectors as well since the components will be beautiful.
So can the hobby support both of these games and Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battles? Probably not. WHFB isn’t going anywhere, despite me loathing it. So these two games will be competing for customers who don’t want to play WHFB. It’s possibly that some game groups or communities will play both games of these games; my prediction below is based upon this being highly unlikely.
My prediction: Runewars will last longer than ASOIAF. I believe the superior mechanics along with a massive parent company (Asmodee) will help Runewars Miniatures Game survive longer. I do reserve the right to revisit this topic after ASOIAF is released. I’ll post another blog about this if I’m proven right or wrong. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, you can go here to argue with me…