Cult of the New: Nuns on the Run

(image by manz1982 @ BGG)
I love being surprised by new games. Often there are new releases I’ve been anticipating for months – even years – in advance. Sometimes they’ve been in development for a long time with lots of press building up to the releases, others were major hits at Essen and take time to find a publisher in the United States. Then from time to time there’s one game that seemingly comes from nowhere and really impresses you.

Nuns on the Run is a hidden movement game turned on its head. Typical hidden movement games (Scotland Yard, Fury of Dracula) have one player running around hidden while the rest move around the board trying to find them. Many consider the hidden role to be the most enjoyable as you are sneaking around trying to avoid detection. Nuns on the Run reverses the roles; most of the players are novice nuns sneaking around the convent at night trying to get whatever it is they want and make it back to their rooms undetected while one (or two) players control the elder (guard) nuns on patrol. If the guards capture the novices enough times or if fifteen rounds pass the guards win, otherwise the first novice to retrieve their item and make it make to their room wins.

There are a few things that really make Nuns on the Run work:

(image by Tobold @ BGG)

Patrol paths – The guards are not allowed to just wander anywhere; they must follow specific patrol paths on the board. Once they complete a path they pick a new one and the old path may never be patrolled again unless they use one of their two “u-turn” cards. This means the novices know exactly where the guards are going although they don’t necessarily know exactly how far they will move each turn. The paths are perfectly designed to mess with the novices and make them sweat bullets. It also forces the guard controller to think through their routes and ensure they keep their options open later in the game.

The Hunt – Novices secretly plan their movement, recording their trail on a sheet of paper. Their movement determines how much noise they make (modified by a six-sided die roll) and if they are heard or seen the guards are allowed to deviate from their path and take chase. So long as a guard sees or hears a novice they may continue to move freely and hunt them down; only if they see or hear nothing are the guards required to resume their patrol. The fifteen turn limit means the novices cannot simply sneak everywhere so eventually they will need to make some risky movements and try to bluff and outsmart the guards. I really like the noise checks as it adds a fun push-your-luck element for the novices and things really heat up once the guards are on someone’s trail. The novices also have no idea where each other are at and can often find themselves getting accidentally flushed out!

(image by GeoMan @ BGG)
The Catch – Getting caught does not immediately send the novice back to their room. Instead, they are forced to start walking back towards their room and as soon as they are out of sight they may resume sneaking around. I love this mechanic as I easily envision the novices slowly walking back, constantly looking over their shoulder to see when the guards are no longer looking. It’s thematic but also slows the novices a bit without completely ruining their game.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Nuns on the Run, I do have a couple of complaints:

Rulebook – The rulebook is somewhat of a disaster. It is too verbose and repetitive, making it very confusing to parse and almost impossible to use for reference. There’s plenty of room for confusion which is too bad for such a relatively simple game. Things start to click once you get into the game but getting there might be challenging.

Game Board – While I really like the art style the board itself is tough to read. There are lots of colored paths showing the different patrol routes but it isn’t exactly clear which routes go where. Colors are reused; there are actually three or four green paths with different destinations and the novices need to keep referencing the guards’ guards to see where they are going. Even worse are the doorways and obstacles. Line of sight is incredibly crucial and it is very difficult to tell where the doors are, especially with all the colored paths covering things up. They really should have had the doors cross over the paths to make the breaks easy to see. As much as I hate to modify my games I may try to find a way to better mark these in my copy. It’s a shame, too, because one misunderstood doorway can have major ramifications on the game. Accidentally revealing yourself on the map when you were actually hidden takes away a lot of fun.

(image by itchyrichy @ BGG)

Even with these issues I still think Nuns on the Run is fantastic. The rules are simple (although difficult to parse), the theme is lighthearted and the game is filled with lots of great tension. Once the hunt is on all heck breaks loose and the novices will sweat bullets as the guards move around the board. Nuns on the Run delivers a level of fun and excitement that few board games manage. It also supports two to eight players; while I think there’s probably a sweet spot with five or six it’s nice having that level of flexibility.

After a few plays, Nuns on the Run is easy to recommend! I think it works well with gamers of all experience levels and offers up a lot of fun. It’s one of those games you want to play again as soon as you are done.