Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Matthew Dunstan


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Drawing on the Franco-Belgian tradition of illustrated comic books (bande dessinée), the colourful and attractive graphical design of all game components has become a distinctive trademark of the publishing house DAYS OF WONDER. Their rise began with the publishing of Ticket to Ride back in the year 2004, and at that time the most esteemed illustrator for German boardgames had been Doris Matthäus who had been asked to create the artwork for many a game. As indicated, DAYS OF WONDER had chosen a different approach with comic-like designs, and even today the artwork of their new game Relic Runners is of the same high quality as all the earlier games. However, from my perspective it is noteworthy that other publishers followed in the wake of DAYS OF WONDER winning the Spiel des Jahres awards with Ticket to Ride, and so the games market has been effectively enriched with new styles of artwork stemming mainly from Franco-Belgian publishers.

The game Relic Runners takes the players into the depths of the South American jungle, and each player takes the role of an explorer who moves out from the common basecamp in search of the most valuable relics. Ruins and temples can be found in the jungle, and it is the temples where the players will gain victory points in different forms. In the ruins, no victory points can be gained, but instead the exploration of a ruins space allows a player to place a marker of his colour on one of the pathways leading to this space, thus marking it as "explored" and allowing the player a speedy use of this path in the following turns.

Talking about pathways, the movement of the playing pieces is indeed the most peculiar fact which can be found in the rules of this game. The colourful graphics on top of the gamebox may give the impression that the game features a light hunt for hidden treasures, but in fact the movement of the treasure hunters is more tricky than expected. Thus, a player may move his pawn each turn for one SINGLE unexplored pathway, but before OR after this single movement the player is allowed to move his pawn for an unlimited number of linked pathways on which exploration markers of his colour had been placed. Thus, it is sensible to explore ruins and place exploration markers in a way which facilitates quick movement during later turns.

As indicated, the players' movement also may lead to temples, and during setup temples of three different colours had been evenly distributed on the gameboard. Each temple is made up of three levels (tiles stacked on top of each other), and whenever a player visits a temple he is allowed to collect the topmost tile still available. The function and value of the temple tiles depends on the colour of the temples:

  • Most straightforward are the blue temples, since their tiles feature different values of victory points. Whenever a player explores a blue temple, he takes the topmost tile and may secretly look of the tile's value. Then the tile will be stored face-down with the player's other possessions and wait for the final evaluation.
  • Purple temples on the other hand provide mostly in-game benefits. A player may receive some additional rations, or he may be allowed to place or move a toolbox marker on a progression table printed on his explorer's playing chart, and depending on the positioning of the toolboxes on the progression table the player later may gain some other benefits.
  • Most variety can be found in ivory temples, since here the different levels of the temples feature rather different kinds of benefits. So, some permanent-effect tiles can be found on the temples' top level, allowing the players who have taken these tiles to score some victory points for certain actions during the game or some other in-game benefits. The second level of the ivory temples contains tiles with rather strong single-use abilities (special movements, selecting a tile when exploring a temple etc.), and the basement level finally features tiles which give bonuses at the end of the game (for unused rations, explored pathways, collected temple tiles etc.).

As the movement rules require the players to move their pawns on every turn, staying at a temple in order to simply collect one temple-tile per turn is out of the question. Thus, the players will move around on the board, and their movement actually becomes a run whenever the last tile on a ruins or temple space has been explored. If this happens, a shrine will be revealed, and a relic-figure matching the shrine's colour will be placed on that space. These relics open up one of the most efficient ways to collect victory points during the course of the game, since a player who is able to start and end his turn's movement on different spaces featuring a relic of the same colour will be rewarded for such a successful "relic expedition". This player will instantly receive some victory points depending on the number of pathways he has used to make his movement, and in addition he will receive the relic-figure from the space where he ended his movement. When the game is over, each differently coloured relic figure will be worth a bonus of five victory points.

There are some more additional elements in the rules like rations and the progression tables which have just been mentioned above, but it should have become clear that the main mechanisms of the game focus not on adventures á la Indiana Jones but on strategic, planned movements of the players' explorers. Indeed, the game should not be mistaken for a light pastime activity, since the different types of special actions and scoring possibilities take some time to get used to. First time players will feel a bit overwhelmed with the different contents of the temples plus the abilities provided on their progression tables, and it's not too easy to predict sensible placements of exploration tokens in order to help on future relic expeditions. For these reasons the game plays best with a crew of players who share the same experience level, since otherwise the newcomers will have to fight an uneven contest against the more experienced players.

At this point the question remains whether the actual game found in the box of Relic Runners will meet the expectation of the people who have purchased it. There is certainly a lot of "running" on the gameboard, but the game is not as fleet-footed as might be hoped for. Especially when playing with new players there are some periods of downtime when the implications and possibilities of discovered temple tiles will be weighted and when the players try to judge the most sensible route for their next movement. This stands in contrast to the fact that the usefulness of the benefits provided by the temple tiles mostly depends on a player's drawing luck when obtaining such a tile, and so this element luck in turn is partly balanced by the diverse scoring possibilities which can be found in the game.

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer


Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany