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There is a simple truth I have known for a long time now, Rack & Ruin is not for everyone. Those who like my little game really seem to like it.  But, that is a niche.

So, the question that stands before you is the title of this article.

After reading a great essay on game design I began to look deeper into Rack & Ruin to discover one simple question that every game designer should be able to answer about their game; what is fun about it?

After a few hours of the sort of naval gazing I like to pass off as work I came up with an answer; building.  I then asked my core play testers the same question, and while I kind of got the same answer I came up with, I got another major response as well; storytelling.

The answer then, is apparently, storytelling and building.

If that’s all you need to hear, and it sounds like it’s up your alley, perfect, stop reading and go join a campaign.

But, for those that want a little more detail, I’ll continue.

Storytelling

When you are making a party for Rack & Ruin the very first things you do after picking the miniatures you want to use is choose a goal.  A goal sets a tone for the way your party gains bonus Legacy, in some ways laying out a play style.

And, of course, it begins your party’s story.

The two choices you have already made are forming a narrative.

They are a group of vengeful Orcs and Goblins seeking to crush any remnants of the Fallen Empire.

My circle of acolytes will seek to bring scattered refugees to heel under their shadow.

(Skip 3 Steps)

Finally, after taking care of all the mechanical stuff that’s involved in making a party, it’s time to fill in the details.  In the rulebook this step is called the spark of life, and that’s exactly what it is.  Name your characters (and followers if you wish), and make sure to name your party.  Of course, mechanically, you can skip this step, but doing so diminishes part of the game.  In Rack & Ruin you win a campaign by creating a story, not by being the most powerful.

As a campaign progresses more storylines begin to form.

In a campaign I held a while ago there was a caster named Morgan, and she misshaped at least two spell casting rolls a game, but always made her save, and always cast the really big spells she needed to.  As this totally random trend continued the player created greater and greater narratives about her inability to cast weak magic. 

In a campaign earlier this year a player found great fun creating a story around the only non-caster in his party having purchased magic beans (from the Bizarre Bazaar mini-expansion).  As more and more out game actions passed with the non-caster trying to raise a magic bean stalk and it not working, the player imagined his fellow’s mockery growing each week.

In another campaign, after the second time another player sent the same miniature after my skeletal-pirate treasure hunter I began using the peasant voice from Warcraft, for him.  Politely asking his sword maiden not to take him down. Roland, the skeleton, was a hit and often gets brought up as an example of a fun rivalry.

A friend of mine has a Blackhide Wrassler by Privateer Press that was quickly named Crock Lesner after a famous wrestler.  Now, every time that miniature hits the table we all call out “Beware the Crockelsnar!”

These are just a few of many memories I have from the years I have been playing this game.  Maybe storytelling won’t be everyone’s brand of vodka, but when your opponents begin referring to your miniatures by the name you gave them, it is highly satisfying.

Building

I don’t know about you, but I love it when a plan comes together.  And in a Rack & Ruin there is a lot to plan for.

I really suggest giving the traits chapter a good a hard look over before ever trying to make a party.  There are several combinations or “builds” within the traits chapter and a big part of the learning curve in Rack & Ruin is discovering them.

Of course the first thing to consider is how will my party build a Legacy.

The most obvious way to gain Legacy is to win games. Of course, winning games opens up even more questions, but we’ll cover that in another article.

Another way to gain Legacy is to collect and stack massive amounts of treasure. Another is questing, with a player attempting to maximize the chances of getting the quest that gives bonus Legacy for her goal.

Now, of course the reward (and fun) part comes when your brilliantly built party executes perfectly and accomplishes everything you wanted it to. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back, you deserve it.

The expected winner in a campaign we are currently running built an all Dwarf party with the goal of Profit.  He has all five of them ride on two massive oriental dragons, running from hill to hill, finding valuable ore.  Actually winning games is totally secondary, his aim is to stack the loot.

Why does his party work so well? In my opinion the success is three fold.  First, the speed of the dragons overcomes the weakness of the Dwarves slow speed.  Second, the dragons seem far more intimidating than they really are, keeping people from wanting to fight him.  Lastly, he places only weak terrain, placing it mostly on one side of the table. Other players grabbing the side of the table he stacked before him will usually be unable to take advantage of the hills, the way he can, therefore they injure their own treasure or victory chances by trying to stop him.

A great build and great strategy to accompany it make for a tough combination to beat over the long haul.

So…There You Have It

If what I wrote here sounds interesting to you, please read more articles, or join our forum and ask all the questions you might have.  Or, even better, go buy a book at Wargame Vault, I love that, I make money that way.

Thanks for Reading,
Gene Capar

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