Many years ago I got introduced to Mystic Wood, which was a really cute game where you get to be a knight on a quest and explore a forest by flipping large, randomly arranged tiles representing paths and glades within the wood and drawing cards to see what you encountered on your journey. It had most of the good elements of Talisman, and played in a fraction of the time. Plus it was so big you generally had to play on the floor, and my friend, whose game it was, had blinged his set by replacing the uninspiring pawns with painted up 15mm wargames miniatures of mounted knights.
Anyway, I’ve had an eye open for this long out of print game ever since (and more recently I thought it might be something Miss B would enjoy), until over the Christmas holidays I found a second hand copy in good condition in a shop in Oxford, so bought it right away.
We got to play the game a few days later, spreading it out on the sitting room floor and, at Miss B’s suggestion, using miniatures from Runebound to represent our characters.
The game plays as quickly and easily as I remember, and although there are times when you miss a turn or have nothing to do but trudge across the map or roll a die to escape captivity, turns generally take so little time that it doesn’t matter too much. We did implement a house rule or two to reduce some of the duller “miss turns” effects, but there aren’t many of those. Probably our biggest problem was when one magical effect rotated half of the map tiles, meaning that our previous routes around were no longer possible, causing some very minor frustration for a while until Miss B found a way to start getting herself teleported around.
There is another potential problem in that the quests of the knights can be scuppered by the others. For instance, Miss B was on a quest to find the Prince, but I located him first and could, possibly, have persuaded him to come along with me, meaning that Miss B would have had to catch me and joust in order to steal the Prince from me. This isn’t really a problem as such, but we chose to sidestep this by deliberately evading the objects of each others’ quests. Maybe next time we will play the game a bit more as intended.
In the end, Miss B won easily, with me stuck trying to get past a nasty monster that was blocking off a whole section of the wood while I tried to complete a side quest. It probably took us a little over an hour of actual playing time (we paused mid-game due to a visitor arriving), and felt fun and engaging throughout. Hopefully this will come out a few more times in the next few months. I’m definitely happy with this find.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “I think it was really good, I would give it a 9 out of 10. I give it a 9 because there is a bit that could be improved. I’d give it a 10 if it didn’t have the mystic objects like mystic horn and mystic fog. If I compared it out of Runebound and Talisman it would be good if you mixed them together. Out of the three, I’d think the best would be Runebound because you get special abilities and some of the quests you get are special so I’m always really lucky because I usually get a card that says that if I defeat it then I can defeat another card that has a word saying Ferrox. The card was Mistress of the Ferrox.”
The game: Mystic Wood (Ariel), 2 to 4 players aged 9+.
Close on the heels of Rune Age, we have finally had a play of a game set in the same world, which I’ve been wanting to play for some time now: Runebound. This is a fantasy adventure game, where heroes wander the land fighting bad guys and trying to be the first to defeat the Big Bad. It is often spoken of in similar terms to Talisman, though it is clearly less on rails and attempts to introduce a narrative which develops through play.
There is a good selection of characters to choose from and Miss B chose the all-rounder Red Scorpion, who seems to go into battle wearing a +1 bikini of somehow-not-freezing-to-death. The rules are pretty straightforward, using a novel dice system for movement around the map and dice-plus-modifiers versus a target number for combat and other skill checks. Miss B mostly got her head around this, but needed constant reminders of what was going on in combat. She was, however, getting really into the decisions of what type of attack to launch each combat round and clearly enjoyed all the dice rolling.
The real juice of the game happens when you move onto a space with an adventure token. You then draw a card of the appropriate colour (the adventures are colour coded according to difficulty so you can choose how much risk you want to take), which might be an interesting encounter, a world-affecting event, or a combat challenge which needs to be defeated (actually, you keep drawing and resolving cards until you reach a combat challenge). I rather like the event system as the cards do steadily develop a plot, making it feel that things are happening in a world that is heading towards a terrible cataclysm.
I knew Runebound was likely to take a long time to play, so we had ensured that we had the whole afternoon available, had taken a “shorter game” option which meant that our characters would gain experience more quickly (though next time we’ll go even further with this — and I think starting with more gold should help make for a quicker start), and we’d decided that we’d finish when someone gained one dragon rune, instead of the rulebook-mandated three (or the defeat of the boss). In the event it still took well over three hours and we only just managed to get things rounded off by dinner time. Towards the end, Miss B got a bit of an injection of chutzpah and dove into the red (most difficult) adventure deck, which nearly ended up very badly. But thanks to judicious use of her Rule 17b counters (if you don’t know about that, Google is your friend) she managed to get through and defeat a dragon to gain the first of the dragon runes, which we ruled to be a victory for her.
Given the length of the game, we scheduled a tea-and-snack break to allow us some time to recharge, but I was slightly surprised that this was the only break we needed (other than a few short toilet trips). The game held Miss B’s attention throughout and, although there were a few moments of frustration due to bad die rolls, etc., some Rule 17b counters dealt with that and all went well overall. I don’t think we’ll be playing this very often in the near future, purely because of the length of the game, but we definitely will when the time is available.
And in comparison with Talisman? I’d definitely prefer Runebound. I think Miss B is torn, though likes the characters in Runebound more.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6¼): “It was quite scary when I just did one purple card and then went straight on to the red. Green is the easiest level, yellow is next, next is purple, and the winning cards are the reds. You need to collect three runes which are in the red cards but we only did one this time because we were running out of time. I really liked this game because you have different skills and everyone’s different and when I played it I was Red Scorpion. She’s called this because she’s red and she’s got a scorpion on her arm. And Red Scorpion can change a wound into an exhaustion once a turn.”
The game: Runebound (Fantasy Flight Games), 1 to 6 players aged 14+.
Hmm, if you’d asked me a few years ago I would have told you that I was unlikely to ever play Talisman again. It’s a massively random game with relatively few meaningful choices to be made and it’s entirely possible you will bump into a dragon or demon in your first turns, plus the ending… well, the least said the better. I quite enjoyed playing it when I first encountered it in the mid-eighties, but since then I got into different types of game since then. I think part of the problem is that games of Talisman often went on for two or three hours and, for an essentially simple game, that was just too darn long.
Talisman’s not an awful game, just one I didn’t enjoy playing. The last time I played it was about a decade ago and involved a later edition of the game with all the available expansions, which I felt just made the game bigger and more chaotic without adding anything that appealed to me. But I’m not the target audience, not by a long shot.
And yet, for many years I have had a copy of the second edition of the game languishing in the back of the cupboard. I don’t know what made me keep it. Maybe there was something in the back of my mind that dreamed of those teenage years when it was actually fun. Either that or I’m just a magpie who hates to get rid of things.
Some time after I started writing this blog I found the old box sitting there and I thought, maybe Miss B would like to give it a go. After all, she likes Dungeon!, so another adventuring game may go down well. I mentioned it to her a couple of months ago, and this afternoon she decided to give it a go.
We agreed to not attack each other, plus I invoked Wil Wheaton’s Rule 17b and gave Miss B three re-roll counters (she used one after she’d misunderstood her options at the City). She wanted to play the one “good” female character in our set, the Prophetess, which worked out fortuitous as one of her special abilities mitigates well against bad luck in drawing adventure cards. I proposed that the winning conditions should be just to get to the Crown of Command in the centre, or to stop if we ran out of time or energy.
So we played for a little over an hour until S came back from work and we packed up so I could prepare dinner. That hour of play zipped past, with Miss B being thoroughly engrossed in the game. She finished the session off by building herself a raft and crossing the river to the middle region, which seemed a reasonable point to finish. She ended up full of excitement about some of her exploits and very keen to play again to a conclusion.
All in all this was a great success. I expect that when we do try to play for a conclusion we will schedule a snack break after an hour in order to keep the energy up. This is generally a good policy for us during longer games.
So there we have it: a game that I don’t like very much has really justified its place in the collection, providing entertainment, excitement and smiles. We’ll certainly be playing this again and, to my surprise, I’m OK with that. Actually, more than that, I’m looking forward to it.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “Really, really, really, really good!”
The game: Talisman (Games Workshop), 2 to 6 players aged 9+.
Back in days of yore, TSR’s The New Dungeon! Game came out on a pretty regular basis as a fun, fairly sociable game for us hardcore gamers. For an hour or so you trundle around on a dungeon crawl, beating on innocent monsters and stealing their stuff. Sometimes you help other players, sometimes you ambush and mug them. It don’t get much better than that. This is a 1980’s upgrade to a 1970’s game and is pretty dated (though who cares much about that if it’s fun?), but has the advantage of having basic and advanced rules. It also has a large board, which meant that we had to play on the dining table instead of the coffee table, which we usually use.
So we went for the basic rules, which means no magic, no ambushing other players or helping them with big monsters, and simplified combat (though it’s pretty simple anyway). It didn’t take long for Miss B to get the hang of moving and fighting monsters, and she was positively delighted to get hold of the magic amulet that gets you through secret doors (plus a spare, which she was even more pleased with). The victory conditions require amassing (for the warrior characters in the basic game) 20,000 gold pieces worth of treasure, and this is a bit of a big ask for a 5-year-old to keep track of, so after we had collected a few treasures, I did a regular tot-up so we both knew how things stood.
As is often the case, it is the details that attract Miss B the most. The variety of treasures we found were of great interest and she spent some time coveting the gold ring I found and hunting for one for herself. The illustrations and labels on the board were also the subject of much discussion as Miss B wanted to know more about the King’s Private Chamber and other such locations, wondering what had happened to the King and Queen. We could well have a roleplaying adventure based on this one day.
I have to confess to one little cheat: Miss B got beaten in a fight for the last piece of treasure she needed to win the game and the damage roll would have made her lose half of her treasure. This would have been distinctly un-fun for everyone given the stage of the game, so I let her re-roll on this occasion. This goes against my general approach of “tough luck, kid, that’s the game”, so we’ll have to see if there are any repercussions from this later.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¼): “I liked the special treasure that gave you +1 and the special treasure that allows you to go through the secret doors. I also liked that my warrior only got wounded a bit.”
The Game: The New Dungeon! Game (TSR), 1 to 6 players, aged 8+.