A Review of The Siege of Runedar

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The Siege of Runedar is an odd duck of a game for many reasons. It was originally a German game that came out some time ago (2021), but it took a while to get the United States: I got my copy as soon as I could in the United States in mid 2022 (but I admit have been sitting on it for a few months … not literally). The theme (Dwarves trying to escape a fortress filled with gold) suggests that this would be what an Ameritrash game or thematic game. The game, however, is by Reiner Knizia, who tends to design games with a more euro tilt. And the main mechanisms of the game are stylistically at odds with each other: deck-building (typically Ameritrash), gather resources (typically euro), rolling dice for combat (Ameritrash), precise management of upgrades (euro), combat (Ameritrash), and Dwarves (maybe both).

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Even weirder, this is a cooperative game by Reiner Knizia. If you didn’t know, Reiner Knizia is known for designing hundreds of board and card games: cooperative games are only a very small portion of the games he has designed. Knizia hasn’t done very many cooperative games, but many people would argue his cooperative Lord of the Rings game was a watershed event in the history of cooperative games. Lord of the Rings (2000, my version is the Fantasy Flight edition) brought the notion of cooperative games to the forefront in the year 2000, using a respected IP and a respected designer.

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Let’s see what Reiner Knizia is up to in the cooperative sphere: will he revolutionize cooperative games again?

Unboxing and Gameplay

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The box itself is part of the game!  Players cooperatively play dwarves defending a castle, and the box itself is the castle!  So, this box is a little bigger than most “standard” boxes (see the Coke can above).

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This game is a deck-builder game: each player plays a Dwarf with exactly 12 cards (and that count stays at 12 throughout the entire game): see below.

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Each card in the deck allows at least 2 things, usually more: see above. Most cards can be used for movement (note the 2 in the upper left corner above for the base cards).  The other two symbols on the left side are other choices players can make instead of movement  Basically, the symbols dictate what you can do! You can either:

  1. Gather resources (bars, wood, leather) 
  2. Hand to hand combat (axe)
  3. Dig (pick symbol)
  4. Shoot Arrows (crossbow)

Every action has to be performed on the appropriate space to be relevant.  To gather the appropriate resource, you have to be in the appropriate place in the castle: one of the three workshops (see below).

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If you want to fight hand-to-hand, you have to be in a Location with an enemy: a troll, goblin, or orc. 

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To fight, you add up the number of the axes from your card(s) that you want to use, and that’s how dice you roll!  In hand-to-hand, you need 2 hits (red blops) to do one damage.   Orcs die from one damage, but trolls and goblins have different profiles (each different) to defeat.

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To use your crossbow (red crossbow), you have to be on one of the three towers on the board, and you can shoot things adjacent to the towers (but not inside the castle).   See below where the purple dwarf is on one of the towers (left): he can target the orcs at the front of the castle or the left of the castle (but not the right, as it’s not adjacent).

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You still need to roll the dice: you get one die for each crossbow symbol. Each arrow does one damage.

To win the game, you have to dig your way out of the back of the castle.  You have to “dig” a certain number of symbols to dig out one big block, and you have to do that five times.

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After you dig out one block, some goblins show up.  Each Goblin has very different  criteria “get rid of them”.  In the case above, you have to bribe the Goblin to go away with 2 of each resource.

As this is a cooperative game, there are bad news cards: these are called Siege cards and essentially bring Orcs into play and move them (as well as Catapults and Siege Towers and other bad things). See the yellow Siege cards below (right).  The Siege card below puts an Orc at the front of the Castle .. and the little arrow in the upper left means ALL ORCS MOVE!!

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Interestingly, the Siege cards are only revealed if your deck reveals an Orc (grey card on left above)!  Every player must have exactly two Orcs in their deck, so you may, on your turn, reveal 0, 1, or 2 Orcs, which causes 0, 1, or 2 Siege cards!!  You can never cull the Orcs from your deck: they are just always part of your hand. On average, you get about one Siege (bad news card) per turn.

If you can dig your way out of the castle before the Orcs steal all your gold, you win!

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Your score at the end of the game is how much gold you end with (the gold is there in the middle).

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You lose essentially if you run out of any resources:

  • reveal the last Siege card (run out of bad news cards)
  • reveal the last Catapult card (run out of Catapult cards)
  • reveal the last troll tile (run out of trolls)
  • put the last Orc from the reserve into play (run out of orcs)
  • lose all the gold nuggets (run out of nuggets)

There are a few other rules to help the players:

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You can hire Mercenaries to help you “clean up the castle” (kill a troll, or kill all orcs inside, or kill a Catapult, etc) for two gold: each Mercenary cards is a little different, but you get to choose when you want to use them!!! It essentially costs you 2 victory points to call a Mercenary (and they are out of the game at that point), but sometimes it can make a big difference.

There are a few other rules (for the Catapults and Siege Engines and Trolls), but that’s the crux of the game.

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Overall, The Siege of Runedar has a great table presence and plays like a hybrid deck-builder/euro game.

Rulebook

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The rulebook was pretty good.  The word choice in a few places made me think that this is a translation (to be fair, we know this game was originally in German, and the game came with a Spanish rulebook).  If it was a translation, it was still pretty good.

It starts with a list of components (see above and below).

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The next page(s) (below) shows a very good set-up! There’s a picture  of set-up to the left, and all the text to set-up is on the opposite page to the right.  Thank you for doing this!  It’s so much easier to set-up when you can see the picture AND the text is on the opposite page!!!

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The rulebook proceeds through rules and shows lots of nice, annotated pictures.

Overall, the rulebook was pretty good.

There were a few grumpiness moments:

(1) The special rules for the Goblins and Trolls tripped us a few times, as they have “more hits” and the distinguishing between hand-to-hand and long-distance  when dealing with Trolls and Goblins seemed to need a little more exposition.  It seemed like the gap of damage between arrows and hand-to-hand seemed too wide for the rules to be correct, but maybe they were.

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(2) The orientation of the Upgrade Board (see above) changes depending on the number of players. Basically, it costs more or fewer resources for some upgrades depending on the number of players.  The Upgrade Board orientation is VERY POORLY explained, and it makes a big difference in gameplay!  We wasted far too much time correlating the tiny picture in the set-up with the number of players.  A simple sentence or better picture would have gone a long way towards explaining this better.  (See the little number of players in the bottom corners of the Upgrade Board above?  Neither could we!!!)

In general, this a good translation, but it  still felt like it was a translation in a few places.  Generally, this was a pretty good rulebook.

Solo Play

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Solo rules on last page of rulebook

Luckily, The Siege of Runedar has a very simple set of solo rules on the very last page of the rulebook (thank you for following Saunders’ Law). Basically a solo player plays a single Dwarf playing the game with the normal rules and flow, but solo play make the Catapults or Siege Engines “lay fallow” for one round when they enter/activate.  This gives the solo player an extra round to deal with them.  Other than that, the game plays normally!

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As usual, I played a solo game first so I could teach my friends.  See a solo game set-up above.

As a solo game, the game flowed well. The very minor “extra rules” for Catapults and Siege Engines made perfect sense in the context of a solo game.  I was able to get through a solo game and learn all the mechanisms: I did have to look up a lot of clarifications (especially the Trolls).  In fact, I think I cheated in my first game because I think the Upgrade Board was oriented wrong and was “too easy” (see our discussion of the Rulebook above).

The solo rules present a good solo game.  It’s a good game.  I think solo is probably the best way to learn The Siege of Runedar, as you can lookup rules as you play solo without holding up a group: there are enough rules and complexity to bog-down a “group first play”.  However, once I played once solo, the game made perfect sense to teach.

But I didn’t “love” the solo game.  See my discussion of Issues in a few sections later as to why.

I would play The Siege of Runedar again solo, it just probably wouldn’t be my first choice.

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See a winning solo game above!

Cooperative Play

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I think this game shines best with cooperative play.  Although each player plays their turn separately (giving each player their own agency), players discuss what needs to be dealt with:  Should I take out the Orcs? Collect Resources?  Start Digging?  Spend some resources to help buy upgrades?

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One of the best cooperative mechanisms in this game was that you can spend resources on your turn to help buy an upgrade for the next player!  See the upgrades above!!  And you can supply some of the needed resources so your compatriot can fill-in the rest!  This is so at odds with other Deck-Builders!  In most deck-building games, if you can’t buy something on your turn with your money, you just can’t get it.  Here, you can supply some resources for your compatriots and those resources stay (on the card) until the card can be obtained!!  This single mechanism really encouraged cooperation.

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But of course, the discussion of “what are we going to do” worked really well too. 

I think I prefer this game as a cooperative game over a solo game.  The sharing of resources and the gameplay discussion elevated the cooperative game for me, but each player still had agency to play what they wanted on their turn. We all felt engaged on other players turns, but still had agency on our own turn.

Cooperative Deck-building Games

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One of the primary mechanisms in this game is deck-building.  Currently, there are a ton of cooperative deck-building games: see our own Top 10 Cooperative Deck-Building Games here. What makes this different?

Interestingly, the buying of upgrade cards and the culling  of old cards are part of the same action: when you buy a new card, you immediately have to get rid of another card in your hand.  (You also immediately get the card in your hand so you can play it right away).  This might be my favorite new mechanism for a deck-builder: you always have exactly twelve cards, so your new upgraded cards will come out almost immediately!  One frustration with most deck-builders is that your may not see your new upgrade card for some time … not so here!  You immediately get to use the new upgraded card AND your hand is so small, it will come out right away as well as again soon. 

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As a cooperative deck-builder, another one of the better mechanisms is that you can directly help others buy upgrades: you can place resources on the cards for others!  (All cards must be bought with a combination of leather, wood and some other resources).  See above: a few of the upgrade  cards have resources from previous turns from previous players.  This also means that your buying power can extend from turn to turn, whereas most deck-builders your buying power is only what you have that turn.

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I think these are some major advances in deck-building fro The Siege of Runedar:

  1. A player’s deck size is small (and set at 12), so upgrades always come out quickly
  2. The culling and buying are part of the same action, so your deck upgrades quickly
  3. The upgrade effects are felt quickly as cards go directly to your hand (rather than the discard). Other games have done this, but it’s still not as common.
  4. The resources for buying upgrades are shared among all players, so players cooperatively share resources to help each other buy said upgrades
  5. To replenish upgrades supply, your character has to end movement in a certain location.  This mean that upgrades do NOT automatically refill! You have to go out of your way to make sure they refill!

I have to say, I think Knizia has done a nice job of moving cooperative deck-building mechanisms  forward.  This may not be a watershed moment like Lord of the Rings, but The Siege of Runedar  definitely advances the state-of-the-art.  I hope we see future deck-builders incorporate some of these advances.

See our Top 10 Cooperative Deck-Building Games for more discussion of deck-building with some of our favorite older cooperative deck-builders.

Issues

Interestingly, this is a hybrid dice and deck-building game.  The cards tell you how many dice you can roll to try to get successes/hits.  Honestly, the dice are my least favorite mechanism in the game.  The game’s success succumbs to the randomness of dice.  I can’t tell you how many times I rolled poorly and basically just wasted a turn.  It felt like I was at the whim of the gods of randomness. Either :

  • I had only one die (because of the randomness of the deck) so it’s better to try at least once, but the odds were very much against you.  You really have no control over how how many dice you get on a turn
  • I had many dice but rolled poorly.  (My worst example: I rolled 8 dice and could not roll a single arrow)

If you could save up cards to try to get better odds, I may like it better.  But there’s really no way to mitigate the randomness of the dice.   A suggestion:

Allow players to keep some cards for the next turn so they can have some form of dice mitigation (in the form of allowing more cards which can add dice to the roll)

You may not have a problem with this randomness and dice-rolling: you could argue it’s very thematic for a fighting game, and the luck of the dice keep the game interesting.  Most of the people in my group didn’t have the problem with the dice like I did: they liked it.   To each their own!

Conclusion

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The Siege of Runedar is a good game! It seems well-balanced, has lots of good decisions, and most turns feel like you can do something interesting. The game also has a real presence on the table. There is also some real strategy in the game. I also think that Reiner Knizia has really pushed the state-of-the-forward for cooperative deck-builders. I’d love other cooperative deck-builders to use some of the mechanisms of the Siege of Runedar: they make deck-building more fun, more satisfying, more immediate.

In the end, The Siege of Runedar was just a touch too random for me. I think I would give this game a 7.5/10 objectively because it is a good game! Unfortunately for me, the randomness of the dice coupled with the randomness of the bad news deck and the randomness of the upgrade decks and the randomness of the deck-building drops it to a 6.5 or 7/10. I think if there were a way to mitigate dice rolls (using our suggestion), this game would be a solid 7.5 or maybe even 8. I got a little frustrated a few too many times because of the dice. It wasn’t a major problem, but just enough of an issue to make me drop my score a tad.

Let me clear, my group enjoyed our plays of this game, and we would definitely play this again! Heck, I might even play it solo again! But I think it is better as a cooperative game than a solo game.

The Siege of Runedar is a deck-building and dice game, much like the G.I. Joe Deck-building Game, but it is so much better than the G.I. Joe Deck-building Game! (See our review of the GI Joe Deckbuilding Game here). I am actively trying to get rid of my G.I. Joe Deck-building Game (you want to buy it? It’s on the Geek Store on BGG) but I will be keeping my Siege of Runedar.

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