News for December 2009
Designing Combat Worthy of Mennara 23
Corey Konieczka discusses the combat system for Runewars
Runewars | Published 17 December 2009

Today we’re pleased to offer a second designer diary by Corey Konieczka, who was willing to take the time to share his insights into the combat system for Runewars, the upcoming board game of combat, adventure, and fantasy empires!

. . .

Last week I talked a little about the evolution of the Runewars game design and its inspirations. But even with the most interesting characters, setting, and victory conditions, a game of armies and empires would surely fall flat if it did not have exciting and engaging battles.

When I first set out to design the combat system, I thought about what I wanted it to accomplish. First, the system needed to be immersive and thematic: it had to make necromancers feel like necromancers (and I don’t mean cold and clammy). Second, it had to be quick, and never become cumbersome. With these goals in mind, I set off on my quest... but unlike many of the quests in Runewars, this one required neither strength nor agility.

I wanted a system that would make each unit unique. Many games use a simple “hit number” system. In this type of system, a die is rolled for each unit and if the roll is high enough it “hits” (deals a measly point of damage to its opponent). This is a great basis for a system, but simply did not provide enough options for to satisfy my vision for Runewars.

The freedom to do more than just succeed or fail was another design goal; Mennara, like our world, is not just black and white, but full of many shades of grey. In Runewars, units can deal degrees of damage, rout varying numbers of units, and have different chances of triggering their super special thematic abilities (and yes, the dragons in Runewars can breath fire).

It is for that reason that I decided that only cards could provide the flexibility and wide range of options that my vision required. Furthermore, by dividing each card into multiple areas, a single card type could replace the need for various types of dice. Lastly, and most importantly, cards went hand in hand with my aspiration to make combat quick while removing the need for any cumbersome reference tables.

When designing Runewars, one of my goals was to create an epic empire building game that did not grind to a halt when two players entered combat. No matter the system, players not involved in combat often find themselves sitting back and waiting. My plan, however, involved minimizing the twiddling of thumbs. This was done in a number of ways, and once implemented made the game play in less than half the time of similar games.

One way this was done was by avoiding forcing players to make constant use of references tables. By giving each unit type a different shaped base, we were able to remove the need for such tables and allow players to easily asses their opponent’s forces.

Two other things helped create a fast combat system. First off, by limiting each combat to five rounds, we prevent the never ending battle dilemma. Second, by making the most important decisions happen before combat (such as deciding which units to bring to the battle), we remove analysis paralysis.

From a purely mathematical standpoint, the final combat system for Runewars is similar to that of Twilight Imperium, but with more of an emphasis on variety in the outcome of the battles. Simply turn the dice into cards, add a cup of options, a bucket of thematic flavor and a pinch of Battlemist’s initiative system and you’ve got the recipe for a fantastic strategy experience!

. . .

Thanks Corey! Keep checking back in the coming weeks as we continue to explore the many facets of Runewars.

Runewars is an epic board game of conquest, adventure, and fantasy empires. Two to four players raise armies, gather resources, and race to collect the elusive and powerful dragon runes in the high-fantasy universe of Runebound.

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Comments (23)

Sarim Rune
Published: 12/18/2009 6:31:03 AM

I really was disappointed with the Starcraft card resolution system.  This doesn't sound the same, so hopefully it will work.

Mind you, he did mention TI3...that the math is the same but with cards instead of dice. 

FFG: Think about that.  Rolling dice is one of the slower things in TI3 combat and it's not terribly exciting.  If possible you could think about converting the system to card based, selling a supplement for those of us who would greedily buy anything TI3. 

Published: 12/18/2009 5:56:04 AM

Darkkami, if you quote the results of a poll, you have to provide a link where people can study those results. A lot depends on the sort of questions that you ask. Pretty much any result can be obtained by formulating your questions right. Also, I don't understand why you would poll non-gamers. I think we can safely assume this game is not for casual gamers, let alone non-gamers. Moreover, how did you manage to poll non-gamers in a gaming store?

As for my comments, I  was worried about the play time for this game, but now I'm definitly considering buying this game.

Published: 12/18/2009 3:42:37 AM

Me loves BSG. So me loves sir Konieckza. So me might most probably love Runewars.

To sum up : YEEPEE !  :D

Published: 12/17/2009 11:32:07 PM

Sounds great!!

Card combat system's have been around for a Dog's age... Dune, Cosmic... so have Dice systems... .both have yielded awesome and not so awesome results... it sounds to me like Cory's got it, he's earned my trust over the last few years.

Thanks again for another great, albeit short, sneak peak.

Bring on the rules, video... and uh... the game!!

Published: 12/17/2009 11:08:34 PM

 Darkkami, 100 percent of the people I polled felt you needed to unclench your colon. Also, they thought maybe going outside once every three weeks would help.

Seriously, bro: these are PREVIEWS. No one's even seen a rulebook yet, let alone the actual game. Take some deep breaths and try to find your happy place.

Published: 12/17/2009 10:46:37 PM

While I like dice over cards, I think Corey has the right idea here. I like the different shaped bases to quickly asses what sort of attack you're looking at; I like the way the cards sound like they'll be used to quickly resolve battles; I like a fast moving game and not worrying about keeping people entertained when it's not their turn. This is sounding more and more like a cool concept executed in a way that's going to be a lot of fun to play. I cannot wait for this game; I'm definitely buying it the day it comes out! ^_^

Published: 12/17/2009 9:56:59 PM

I'll assume by the art that runewars is fantasy game in a medieval-esque time period, which throws darkkami's rout theory completely off, medieval armies are made mostly out of peasants who would much rather do a large qauntity of things then fight, and if you want to lead armies of supermen who are about as stupid as you could ever say brave then play... well... just about any other boardgame.

BTW darkkami I'm not attacking you, I agree with mostly everything else you said, I prefer dice to cards (specifically d10 and d12, just do too number of options) but look at battlelore, they have custom dice which can make troops deal damage, use abilities and cause retreats.

I personally think that morale is a great idea, but one question: Will the undead be immune to forced routing.

Mr Skeletor
Published: 12/17/2009 9:48:08 PM

You polled 186 people about dice in a game? Really?
Time to get some priorities' dude.

Darkkami a lot of your post doesn't make sense and comes across like a nerd-rant - we haven't see the full combat rules yet so settle down a bit.
Also a battle isn't 'a war', and a 5 round limit to a battle is far more realistic then one that can go on indefinitely; or do you really think people fought for days on-end without rest? That certainly is not how medieval warfare worked. I won’t even go into your claim that soldiers “never retreaded in battle” except to say you best open up some history books.


Published: 12/17/2009 8:28:15 PM

Um. Okay. I guess. Corey, if you read this you need to talk to Eric Lang. He has the right idea. Keep it simple.

Most games use the 6 sided dice, because people are familiar with them from Risk and Axis and Allies. Starcraft was a HUGE name so it was able to get away with trying out a new card combat system. 

Why do the stats remain low and do only "one measly damage"? It keeps combat fast. A good example is a comparison of Magic and Yugioh. Magic uses simple low number values and keeps the game somewhat simple. Yugioh has each card with rediculous number values and each card has it's own unique effect. 
There are better ways to show mass damage and keeping your goal of fast combat. Such as saying each figure represents a force and not one guy.

I think being forced to end war when realistically wars are not just 5 rounds, though I am sure some of our service men and women would like that, is just unrealistic for a vision that is supposed to simulate the "shades of grey" in real wars. Forced routing is bogus to me also. The only time units retreat in battle is if they are not trained soldiers or if the leader sounds the retreat. When I think of Runewars, I hope my army is a band of Spartans and not puny Argonauts. Spartans fight until I tell them to make a tactical retreat.

Finally I hope the next preview of combat shows that a necromancer can summon undead  based on a  "cooldown" that represents mana supply and not a random card draw, since you want "necromancers to feel like necromancers". 

On a side note, when I observe my opponents' conflicts I don't "twiddle my thumbs". I am looking for weak points for my next move that will put me on top. 

I loved Warrior Knights, but I am getting a little worried that you are trying too hard with this game instead of relaxing and letting the ideas flow into it. Being original is great when you keep it simple.

I am sure others will disagree with me and buy the game anyways. So just consider this future advice for anyone reading this. If you don't believe me then run a poll like I did at your local game store. Make sure to poll everyone and not just gamers. I did this and found that out of 186 people polled that week, about 73% of people polled prefer dice over cards. 87% will take traditional six sides instead of other many faced dice. 67% of the people who prefer dice said that they are familiar with the six sided dice system so it made the game less alien to them.

Maybe FFG can ignore those numbers, but if you are planning on creating a new game and want it to be successful as a freelancer then I suggest keeping those numbers in mind.

Published: 12/17/2009 7:58:08 PM

"...and once implemented made the game play in less than half the time of similar games."



David Spangler
Published: 12/17/2009 7:34:40 PM

Thanks, Corey. This satisfied my comment last time about wishing you'd write about why you chose a card-based combat system rather than using dice (or innovative forms of dice). 

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