Goondu review: Runespell Overture

January 17th, 2012 | by Chan Chi-Loong

Imagine mashing up a RPG with a poker game.

This, in theory, shouldn’t work.

But with Runespell Oveture by Mystic Box, it does.

This oddball game melds Yahtzee-style poker (an interesting variant called Mystic Poker) with a good old fantasy RPG story set in the Nordic eras. As the story progresses, you “level-up” by unlocking collectible spells and allies, which help you in battle.

And how do you battle? By playing poker, of course.

Gameplay should be intuitive enough for anyone remotely familiar with poker rules. You create five-card hands — straights, flushes, three-of-a-kind — from a pool of cards. Each turn you typically only have three actions, which means you can only grab a limited number of cards per turn to form your hands before your opponent takes his turn.

Once such a hand is created, you can “attack” the opponent for damage. The more difficult the hand is to assemble, the more damage it does. For example, a royal flush does 50 damage, but a full-house is only worth 15 damage.

There are more nuances to this base poker variant, like to unveil more cards to pick from, you have to pick the topmost single cards from your available columns to form your hands. Or, you can “steal” the topmost cards from your opponents pool, which also has the same amount of cards like you.

What makes it truly “Mythic Poker” is, of course all the abilities you can use during the course of forming hands to attack the opponent. Cast a haste spell and avail yourself of six more actions this turn. Toss a fireball at your opponent, or regenerate your health every turn.

Spells and abilities are powered by mana, which is gained whenever you damage the opponent. And all these spells and abilities are unlocked as you progress through the story.

And speaking of the role-playing aspect of the game, you adventure on a small overland map that is represented by waypoints of interest connected to each other (in geek parlance a graph of nodes).

Whenever there is a battle encounter, it is represented on the map as an icon, and you can choose to fight the battle or go back to camp to choose which abilities to take (you can only have seven with you at any one time).

Don’t expect much open-endedness or choice though; the story is tightly scripted and follows a set path. Your first time playthrough will not take you roughly about ten hours even if you complete most of the side quests.

For me, the fact that the game is short is not a minus factor. In fact, it is just right, as I feel that the poker-style battles will run out of depth if the game drags out for too long. Yes, the main battle mechanic can feel gimmicky and sometimes you will end up cursing the swingy battles, but I found the game pretty fun.

The story is serviceable to the gameplay, and didn’t particularly stand out for me. It’s the usual fare of the amnesiac hero finding out that his purpose is to challenge some higher power. I liked the setting of the game though — our real-life Earth often isn’t the setting for fantasy RPGs.

The game retails for US$9.99 on Steam. It is not the cheapest indie game out there, and it is pretty short, but it won’t break your wallet either.

I picked mine up during a Steam sale for less than five bucks (mainly because the mechanics of this game intrigued me), and it was a good, fun distraction. It’s worth a second look if you enjoy playing indie games with interesting mechanics.

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