Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Quick Review - Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks - Kickstarter Preview

Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks
Designed by: Shannon Kelly
Published by: Fox Tale Games
2-4p | 60-90m | 14+
Quick Review - Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks - Kickstarter Preview
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About two years ago I reviewed a game that ended up being one of my favorites of 2017.  It was chock full of gorgeous, translucent, custom dice and fantastic, horrifying artwork.  Lucidity: Six-Sided Nightmares from Fox Tale Games was a fantastic press-your-luck game that ended up getting picked up by Renegade Games before the initial Kickstarter campaign was fulfilled (Fox Tale Games and Renegade Games ended up doing the manufacturing at the same time).  So when Shannon Kelly asked me if I'd like to take a look at his next game, which uses a bunch of awesome dice, just like Lucidity, I jumped at the chance.

Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks also uses a pool of gorgeous 12mm, translucent dice, but this is no press-your-luck game.  Runika is a dice drafting puzzle game that, while it can be played with the same dice as Lucidity, is a very different game.  Does Runika's departure from press-your-luck work in its favor?  Read on to find out!

Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks is available on Kickstarter starting Tuesday, April 30 through Thursday, May 23.  The game will be about $49 ($69 AUD), plays 2-4 players age 14+ in 60-90 minutes.  Unlike Lucidity, which is also listed as 14+, but can be played by much younger gamers, I think the minimum age of 14 is pretty accurate.  It's a very puzzly game and kids will need both a good grasp of more complex mechanics (like dice drafting and pattern building) as well as good spatial reasoning skills.

Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks is a major departure from designer Shannon Kelly's previous hit, Lucidity.  In Runika each player takes on the role of a student at a school to learn magical arts, particularly rune casting.  Through dice drafting, you'll work to build patterns on a Spell Grid on your player mat that match patterns on Rune Cards.  These Rune Cards give you prestige points as well as special abilities that you can use throughout the game.  Whoever has the most prestige at the end of the game is the winner.  I've seen similar mechanics in quite a few games however the really unique aspect to Runika is how dice are added to your grid.
Runika is a captivating puzzle game with a unique grid mechanism.
Each player's Spell Grid has a ring (Elemental Disk) around it, divided into quarters, with each quarter representing a different element (colored dice).  When you add dice to your grid you slide them in from the side of the square that corresponds to that die on the ring.  You'll also be able to rotate the ring so that over the course of the game you'll be sliding different colored dice in from different sides in order to create your patterns.  Let's get into the game a little deeper so you can see how this works.
This Spell Grid and the surrounding Elemental Disk are core to the puzzle.  You can only add dice to the grid from the
side that matches the element you want to add.  The Elemental Disk can only rotate when you use certain dice or abilities.
To setup the game each player gets a player mat, Elemental Disk, and four Influence tokens for their character.  Place the four Spell Masters, the Prestige tokens, and the deck of Merit Cards near the play area.  Place the four Mastery Rune Cards out and near them create a 'market' of the standard Rune Cards consisting of one more rune than the number of players.  There can be no duplicates, so if you draw a duplicate rune, place it on top of the previously drawn rune of that type so you have a stack.  For example, in a three-player game you'll have four runes available, even though some of the runes may have more than one card in the stack.  Make sure all the dice are in the draw bag, choose a starting player to receive the Initiative Token, and you're ready to go.  Setup is relatively simple.
Setup is straight forward and the game looks great on the table.
Runika is played in a series of rounds.  Each round has three phases: Drafting, Activation, and Cleanup.  The Drafting and Cleanup phases are pretty quick, but the Activation phase is the meat of the game.

In the Drafting phase the first player for the round (whoever has the initiative token) will draw four dice per player from the bag, so 12 dice in a three-player game.  Then, starting with the first player, each player takes turns choosing one die until everyone has four dice.  Each player can then roll their dice once and place them on the Stored Elements section of their board.  If you don't like your results you can discard one die to re-roll as many as you like.  You can keep doing this, however you must have at least one die to activate during the Activation phase (if you've already acquired Rune Cards you may be able to re-roll one or more dice with your spell abilities).
These are the Lucidity dice that I used for testing.  Runika will have its own unique dice.
Now you can start the Activation phase.  Starting with the first player you take turns Activating all of your dice in any order.  There are three different possible symbols.  There are Prestige, Energy, and Moon dice (I think they'll be called Rotation dice in the final game).  Each symbol can be activated differently.  Activating a Moon lets you rotate the Elemental Disk around your Spell Grid 90 degrees clockwise.  Prestige gets added to your Spell Grid by sliding the die into the grid from the side indicated by the Elemental Disk.  As a die slides it pushes all the other dice in that row/column to fill in any gaps.  If a die is ever pushed off the grid it is discarded back to the bag.
Sometimes Runika makes your head hurt, but it's a burn from mental exercise, so that's good!
Moon dice are a bit different.  They can either be pushed into the grid like Prestige dice, or they can be used to ask a Spell Master for help.  Each of the four Spell Masters have a unique ability that let's you manipulate your board, like rotating your Elemental Disk, gaining additional dice, or moving dice on your Spell Grid.  Each Spell Master can each only be used once per round, so getting to them before the other players is important.  When you use a Spell Master you'll get to add your character's Influence Token to that Spell Master, as long as you don't already have an Influence Token on that Spell Master.  Once you've influenced all four Spell Masters you'll get to gain a random Merit Card.  Merit Cards are randomly worth 2-4 prestige points.
Each Spell Master gives you an ability and you then get to add an Influence token to them. 
Influencing all the Spell Masters earns you a Merit Card and some Prestige.
Once all players have activated all of their dice there is a quick Cleanup phase.  Discard any dice that are on the Spell Masters (so that they're available for the next round), pass the Initiative Token, and then check for the game end.  The game ends at the end of the round when one player has 20 or more prestige points, counting all prestige earned on Rune Cards, collected in Prestige Tokens, and on any earned Merit Cards.

So, how do you earn prestige points?  This is why Runika is a challenging puzzle game.  Each Rune Card shows a pattern of dice that you must match in your Spell Grid in order to acquire that Rune Card (i.e. master that spell).  Some Rune Cards can only be acquired with a specific type of element (colored die) and some can use any element to make the pattern, but all dice used in the pattern have to be the same element.  After activating all of your dice, if you have a pattern on your Spell Grid that matches the pattern on a Rune Card (including any rotation or position, but not flipped) you can gain that card.  You'll score any prestige indicated on the card, plus you'll then discard all the dice that were used to gain that Rune, gaining 1 Prestige Token for each die with a Prestige symbol showing.
Here I have four dice to activate.  I'm trying to complete the Shimmerfield rune above. 

First I'll push an Air die in from the Air side of the grid, pushing the previously placed Air die to the right.

Now I just need to figure out how to get another Air die up at the top of the Spell Grid.

First I'll add a Fire die to the top left corner, then I'll use an Earth Moon die to rotate
the Elemental Disk 90 degrees clockwise.

Now I can slide in the last Air die from the top of the grid.

I've now completed the pattern to earn the Shimmerfield rune card!

The dice are removed from the grid (they'll be added back to the bag).  I earn 1 Prestige for the Shimmerfield Rune Card,
plus 3 more Prestige for the dice used to create the Rune.  Now, once per round, I'll be able to
return a die from my grid or rolled dice.
There are also four Mastery Rune Cards.  These are a bit more complicated to craft since they require an exact pattern match, with no extra dice.  For the standard Rune Cards you can have extra dice in the element used to create the pattern (these don't get removed after completing the rune), but for the Mastery Rune Cards you can't have any extra dice.  Plus the Mastery Runes are larger than the standard Runes, creating a pattern that fills the entire 4x4 grid.  Spaces between the required dice can either be empty or have a different type of element die in them.  Mastery Runes can score you quite a few prestige points themselves, but they also use more dice, so you can get even more bonus points from those dice.
These are challenging to get, but offer more Prestige and a pretty powerful ability.
All runes include special abilities that you can use.  There are three general types of abilities: Continuous, Once per Round, and Discard.  Continuous abilities are always available once you've acquired these Runes.  They're generally passive abilities, like allowing you to add a Moon die to your grid.  Once per Round abilities are generally more powerful, but can only be used once each round, like removing dice from your grid, or changing dice to a different side.  Discard abilities are pretty powerful, but can only be used once.  You don't actually discard the Rune, you'll just flip it face down so you can still score the prestige points it is worth, but you can't use its ability again for the rest of the game.  The Discard abilities also increase player interaction by allowing you to affect opponents' boards, however that is likely changing from the version I played (take-that interactions are probably going to be moved to a mini-expansion and stay out of the base game, which is good in a game that is this puzzly).
Deep in thought.  This is how most turns go.
That's pretty much it.  Mechanically the game is pretty simple and straight forward.  However it's a real brain burner when working through the puzzles that are presented to you each round.  Games were pretty much spot on with the 60-90 minute time frame.
Just starting out on a new game.
At first it feels like there's a lot going on, but one of the really nice things about the game is how it is taught.  In addition to the traditional rulebook, Runika includes a short graphic novel style introduction to your first game.  This introduces the characters, setting, and overall theme of the game while also walking you through all of the major mechanics, adding complexity one step at a time.  It's possible to learn the game completely from this guide book, aside from the initial setup.  Runika isn't a super difficult game to learn, but having the option to jump right into a tutorial game is a nice option for people who learn by doing.  It also helps people teach the game to new players, either by setting up a basic game, or by giving them an outline to teach from.
The tutorial comic walks you through a short story that teaches you how to play.
Final Thoughts:
My game group really liked Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks.  We quite enjoyed Lucidity, but I think Runika was an even bigger hit.  This definitely isn't a game for everyone though.  The game can be very AP (analysis paralysis) prone, and sometimes feels like multi-player solitaire.  There is some light player interaction (which was still being worked on when I played - see below), but for the most part each player is trying to solve their own puzzle with the dice available to them.  If you like games like Roll Player or Sagrada, Runika should be a big hit with you.  Weight wise I'd rank it as heavier than Sagrada, closer to Roll Player.  It's more of a puzzle than Roll Player though, and a more challenging puzzle than Sagrada.
Still deep in thought.  It paid off though, he ended up winning!
The few runes that added player interaction in my early copy of the game were more take-that style interactions than I think the game needs.  It really didn't feel good to have your personal puzzle solved then have someone else rotate your Elemental Disk on you and mess with your whole plan.  The good news is that these take-that cards are likely going to be removed and replaced with more positive player interactions (like gaining an advantage when another player does something).  These should help improve player interaction a bit without feeling destructive.  The take-that abilities may be removed and added to a mini-expansion, so if you like the idea of take-that you'll still have that option.

One other aspect of the game that didn't feel quite satisfying to my group was how the Spell Masters worked.  We didn't like that they were first-come, first-served each round.  We felt that their cost (having to spend a die and having to roll just the right symbol on the right colored die) combined with a pretty powerful effect should make them available to anyone at any time, but with an extra benefit for the first player each round to use them (e.g. placing your Influence Token or gaining a Prestige Token).  One of the complaints from my group was that you couldn't really start planning your turn ahead of time (sometimes, but not all the time).  This was partly because the instructors may or may not be available by the time it got to your turn.  Having the instructors always available would help you plan ahead, which would in turn speed up the game.
The Spell Masters have pretty powerful abilities, but they can only be used once per round.
I've mentioned these minor things to Shannon, the designer, and I know he's considering all ways to improve the game.  Neither of these were a dealbreaker for us though and we really, really enjoyed the game.  There was a lot of head scratching going on, and plenty of thoughtful grunting.  Don't let the cute art fool you, Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks is a brain burner, but in a great way!  If you like puzzles, dice drafting, spatial patterns, and a lighthearted, mystical theme, be sure to check out Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks on Kickstarter now!

Preliminary Rating: 8.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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NOTE: These are for the Lucidity dice.  Runika will have updated reference cards for it's own custom dice.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.


  1. So is each player limited to using each teacher one time? Or do they get their tokens back after they have used each teacher once and earn their merit card?

    1. No, you can use teachers multiple times. You can use a Spell Master any time you have a corresponding Energy die and that Spell Master has not been used already for that round. If you haven't placed an Influence token on that Spell Master yet you get to place your Influence token, however if you've already influenced that Spell Master in a previous round you can still use him/her again, you just don't get another Influence token. Once you've placed all four of your Influence tokens you get them all back and can start working toward a second Merit Card, however in my experience it's pretty rare to get two Merit Cards in one game.