Rune Stones Board Game Review

Rune Stones – Magical deck building

Rune Stones CoverThe faun works its magic with the very last of its strength. He has served me long enough, but now I must let him go. Through his spell I am able to materialize the last necessary magic stones. Because only these stones are what the greedy little dwarves want. Unfortunately I need the dwarves, because only in their magical forges it is possible to forge what all druids desire: Magic artifacts! The magical energy stored in them creates the impossible and brings the old Rune Stones back to life!

Druids, magic creatures, races and a deckbuilder: All this is offered by Rune Stones, the new board game by Rüdiger Dorn. We took a look at the SPIEL’19 novelty from Queen Games. If the board game has enchanted us, you can read in our article.

Rune Stones – The great resource swap

When I break Rune Stones down to its core mechanics, it’s just a deck builder that helps me get resources that are converted to victory points after a few exchanges. But this reduced view doesn’t do justice to the board game, because Rüdiger Dorn has once again created an exciting racing board game with Rune Stones. So the author of Luxor stays true to his style, at least at Queen Games. And just like Luxor, Rune Stones also needs time to develop fully.

I really enjoyed the game already in the first match and so I was glad that we could play another round right after the first match. Because there was simply a lot to discover or to try out.  On the one hand, there were the different cards with their different effects, which harmonize well and fit well with my strategy? Do I rather concentrate on collecting a lot of gems? Or do I simply try my luck with the dice and therefore use a lot of cards that allow me to throw the dice? Of course a strategy also requires a certain amount of luck. As with any deck builder, the first thing you need to do is to buy the cards, and you need to have the right cards on the table, but thanks to the generous display, this is not really a problem. If there weren’t the other players, because they snatch the cards we want from under our noses. But that’s also good for us, because it might make expensive cards cheaper.

Rune Stones Board Game Player Resources

Played off the cuff

The special trick in Rune Stones lies in playing the cards. Instead of buying cards from the display, I can also decide to play cards. I choose two cards and get what is shown on them. Mostly that are gems. But the crux of the matter now is that I can only take one card back into my deck. And which of the two it is, I cannot choose either, but is determined by the game. Therefore all cards are numbered consecutively and the card with the lowest value goes back into my deck. The card, or by certain rune stones cards with the higher value, is put into the discard pile. And are out of the game for now. The problem is that the cards with the higher values also give me better effects. For example, I get two gems, while I usually only get one with the lower-value cards.

In my view, Rüdiger Dorn manages to create something interesting again with a little play mechanic twist from the common deck building. Because I have to think very carefully when I discard a card. Do I take the high card that I have only recently acquired or do I spare it a bit and rather discard a starting card with a very high value that doesn’t really help me in terms of playing technique at this moment? I constantly have to face this dilemma later on in the game. It’s only towards the end that I don’t really care, because it’s all about thinning the deck as quickly as possible to collect the gems and victory points. Because behind all the deck building and resource swapping, Rune Stones is a real race.

Rune Stones Board Game Player Deck

Go for the runes

It’s important to wait for the right moment in Rune Stones when you stop assembling your deck and start taking it apart mercilessly to get ahead in the race. It takes a bit of experience, because the point of the game is not to have the best possible hand, but to be the first to score 65 victory points. And so I get pissed off when I lose by a narrow margin at the end and look at my hand and think: the 8 cards I still have in my hand are too many. I could have started the final spurt earlier. But like I said, it takes experience to do that. Unfortunately, players who sit at the table for the first time are left behind, as is the case in most board games with a race character. Fortunately, the game is so easy to learn that the advantage is very small from the second game on. Sure, it’s still there, but now the difference in points is much smaller.

The big aha-effect lies in the Rune Stones, to which the board game owes its name. Here I have to recognize which runes harmonize well. Here, too, there is already a little race, because the runes are not available in infinite numbers. There is one less of each type of rune than there are other players. So while I can collect my runes in a game of 3 or 4, it’s very annoying in a game of 2, when I only have the runes my opponent leaves me. And especially in a game of 2 some runes can look very unbalanced. So it often happens here that I feel that I just can’t get away from it. Yeah, I’m getting my victory points somehow, but it’s really hard work, while my opponent seems to be able to play loose.

But here the game offers potential for other Rune Stones later on, which in turn change the game mechanics in a different way. In my opinion, this would have been good for the basic game as well, even though I don’t always have all types of runes at my disposal, but every game has a small variance.

Rune Stones board game player runes

Game of rickety throne

The artistic design of Dennis Lohausen is successful and captures the theme of druids and magical creatures very well. However, the design disappears with the time more and more, because I only have eyes for the actions on the cards, respectively for the colour of the cards. But here there is also a deduction in the B-note, because unfortunately the colours are very difficult to distinguish for people with colour vision problems. Here it happened often enough that our player had to ask first which colors the gems on the cards have.

The game element of the throne also raises some questions for me. For one thing, the throne, which is made of cardboard, is very, very rickety and won’t hold by itself. So it has to be glued here and it doesn’t make sense from a game mechanic point of view. You put it on the 65 and finished. And quite honestly, druids don’t sit down on a throne that’s more than splendid! A real druid would be satisfied with a tree trunk.

It is also a pity that the individual druids do not differ in their abilities. Here Queen Games could have equipped the back of the Druid tableaux with an advanced game variant, which would have offered an asymmetrical game experience.

Rune Stones board game player dice

Rune Stones and the first matches

A small problem has Rune Stones nevertheless. This is simply the race mechanism. It takes me a game or two to understand how the runes work together or when I need to start stripping my deck. And here it has happened often enough that Jasmin and I became uncatchable for our competitors, for which it was only a first game. So I have to think a little bit about who I’m playing Rune Stones with and who he or she might be able to tolerate a certain amount of frustration in the first few matches.

For me, Rune Stones remains a Kenner-Spiel, which doesn’t necessarily have any new mechanics, but the combination of those mechanics gives the game that special twist. That makes sure that the game always makes me want to play a new match.

I’m also excited about upcoming expansions, although the first expansion Nocturnal Creatures brings a bit more player interaction to the basic game. But in my opinion it wouldn’t have hurt to add the cards of the expansion to the basic game. No, I’m looking forward to new rune stones, which will bring more variation and make players want to move away from the usual strategy. The problem is that once I’ve found a successful strategy, I’m always going to use the same runes. That’s why we already had the idea as a house rule to lay out the rounds hidden, so that we don’t know exactly which rune we just bought.

Rune Stones board game review


Rune Stones (2019)
2 - 4
60 Min
BGG rating:
Queen Games

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