It’s December which means Winter is officially knocking at the door. But cold outside just means more gameplaying inside, and today’s games will make sure you get your fill of winter chill without actual risk of frostbite.
Runar – Kickstarter (Live until Dec. 9)
Runar is a highly tactical area-control brawler every bit as burly as its Viking warrior characters. Designed by Diego Fonseca (Black Rose Wars: Rebirth), Runar pits warring clans against each other in a battle for glory and mystical crystal Shards.
Each game, 1 – 4 players will create warbands consisting of 3 unique Viking heroes, each with their own set of 10 action cards. Once your warband is assembled, your only job is to own more Victory Points than your opponent by defeating enemies, gathering Shards, constructing Statues, or completing missions.
As one might expect from its Viking theme, this game is all about action! Usually violent. Each turn, players will choose 1 of 3 action cards to play which determines their active hero, special abilities, and gaining various action cubes. Different types of action cubes serve different purposes, so be sure to choose a hero best suited to achieve your current objectives. For example, Agility cubes allow a character to move or clear the path for allies, Strength cubes are best for combat and grabbing blue Shards, and Instinct cubes provide defense and the ability to snatch yellow Shards. Then there are the Wild cubes that can let a player put up an extra active character, creating a chain of actions.
Combat can be as simple as spending a Strength cube to damage an enemy, but this game allows for some delightfully dirty tactics. For example, Agility cubes can push opponents into damaging obstacles, and Strength cubes can shove traps into opponents so they trigger on them instead. It’s also possible to snatch a Shard you can’t claim and chuck it away from your opponent. If you’re feeling especially vindictive, throwing a Shard into an obstacle will cause it to shatter before your opponent’s eyes. It’s so rude, and I love it!
Of course, it’s not just players you have to watch out for. The game is played over a series of scenarios, each with their own set of enemies to face who are just as keen to win as the players. Spend too much time fighting each other and the enemies can win as well. In addition to enemies, each scenario also comes with a unique setup of terrain, traps, and items for characters to discover and equip. So rally the Clan, gather your gear, and fight for glory!
Stonesaga – Kickstarter (February 2023)
You might not know this, but being a caveman was hard, and not just for the obvious reasons. Sure, there were no modern conveniences like wi-fi and home delivery. There weren’t even modern necessities like medicine and coffee shops. The hardest thing about neolithic existence, though? It wasn’t a lack of something. It was the fact that what you were missing hadn’t even been conceived of yet. It’s one thing to not have a spear. After all, you can make one or just take one from someone smaller and weaker. But what if you need a spear and don’t even know what it is?
OOMM Games and veteran designers Luke Eddy (Star Wars: Legion) and Max Brooke (Adventures in Rokugan) have made that need to solve complex puzzles for survival the focus of this sprawling, semi-legacy, cooperative hexcrawler for 1 – 4 players. Each player controls 1 or more neolithic heroes exploring a newly-discovered Valley which the tribe has chosen as their new home.
The game has some light RPG elements, with players having to roll up 4 basic stats for your characters and choosing your Mantle or class. From there, players will select a Challenge facing your tribe which you, as the tribe’s champions, must overcome. This requires you to explore the Valley and brave its many dangers, causing the Valley to grow over the course of the campaign.
As you explore during the Day Phase, the Challenge will force you to interact with the environment in order to overcome it. Just like an actual prehistoric human, the world is largely a mystery which you must puzzle through. This is where things get very, very cool. First of all, your actions are actually determined by the physical world around you. Literally, the physical traits of the game’s art determine what action you can take. Also, this idea of the “world as a puzzle” means that every one of your actions is a unique kind of puzzle challenge which you must solve.
For example, if you want to take the “Fish” action, you would have to be standing on a hex with a water feature. Then, you would engage in a mini card-and-dice game in which you roll dice, assigning the values to any of 3 possible outcomes without knowing the target dice values for each of those outcomes yet. However, the various outcomes are represented on the card art as 3 different paths that overlap in places, allowing you to assign more dice and hedge your bets. At that point, the result card is drawn and completes a small tableau revealing your results. Then there’s “Foraging”, where players earn resources by constructing a 3-card tableau. It sounds simple, but the designers employ a clever mechanic in which success depends on building paths of resources in the cards’ fore, middle, and background. Conversely, the cards also hold dangerous predators which will try and create a path from the background to the foreground, at which point they pounce! These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg, too, with players also able to Mine, Delve, Craft, and more.
In addition to puzzling, the Valley around you (meaning every piece of art on every component) is full of Omens, literal glyphs hidden on the cards. If characters spot an Omen symbol and it matches with an Omen from the previous Night Phase, players must consult the Codex to find the matching symbol/art/component combination and find out what event this triggers. There are also strange, colossal beasts roaming the Valley known as Behemoths. When these are discovered, they become another obstacle to overcome. In case you were wondering, yes they are a puzzle as well with each one having a weakness that players can discover.
This game is easily one of the most innovative games I’ve seen all year, and I honestly can’t wait to pit my modern sensibilities against its primitive puzzles.
Einherjar – Kickstarter (January 2023)
For those of you who want your frigid survival experience to be a bit more immersive, there’s the Einherjar 5e RPG setting source book from Morrigan Games.
Einherjar is set on the planet of Midgard, a world similar in size and shape but with some frosty differences. The planet’s severe tilt means the northern hemisphere is naturally colder to begin with. To make matters worse, though, the equatorial belt is basically a giant lava river that is constantly spewing steam and subsequently creating excess cloud cover. These two unfortunate geographic features mean that everything to the north of Jörmungar, the lava river, looks a lot like Scandanavia.
Remember when I said it was immersive? That was no joke. There are 40 different regions of Midgard to be explored and a complete atlas of the northern regions to be used in future adventure. There are new races and classes for players to choose from, and the campaign also allows players to receive powers from the gods themselves. Speaking of, the book also includes descriptions for 18 reinvented versions of the Norse pantheon.
That’s all great, but I know why you’re really here. This book contains a massive 3 volume adventure called “The Stones of Aegir“, plus a prologue introducing the characters to each other and the world. The main adventure consists of 15 distinct scenarios, will take the players from level 1 to 14, and has 3 possible endings.
All told, there are over 1,000 pages of content, over 600 of which are adventure alone. That clocks in at approximately 30 game sessions, meaning this one book will set you up for most, if not all, of 2023. If you want to get a taste before you buy, you can download a PDF of their free “Discovery Kit” which, in true Norse fashion, starts in the middle of a snow storm. That freebie alone is over 40 pages, so definitely worth a click.
by Zane Messina