Nunneries. Old stone labyrinths filled with dust, silence, and women. The old ones forever tread well-known paths, the young ones forever long for things they can’t have.
Let’s play a game about that.
Nuns on the Run (Dun dun dun!) is a game that can be summed up as capture the flag in a nunnery at midnight, as played in a board game. Published by Mayfair Games, it allows one to six players to play as the Naughty Novices, who have sneaked out of their cells – or rooms – in the dead of night, seeking various items. Each Novice has their own Secret Wish they are trying to collect to win the game. They are required to obtain a specific key from one part of the Nunnery, and then fetch their item from another. If they can return to their cell with the item before anyone else does the same, they win the game.
Alright, you think, this sounds pretty simple, where’s the fun? Well, the trick is that one player, or two in the case of an eight player game, is controlling the Nunnery’s two guards, the Abbess and Prioress. These two characters patrol the halls on set routes, at whatever pace the player controlling them desires, with the sole intent of sending wayward girls back to bed. As they walk, they can listen for any out of the ordinary noises, which they can then go and investigate. They also have pretty decent night vision, which allows them to spot any girl breaking curfew from up to six spaces away. If they manage to physically catch enough girls, or drag out the game to round 15, they win.They’re also the only characters whose tokens are always on the board.
You read that right. Aside from the guards, everyone else’s moves are kept secret. Novices keep track of their locations by making notes on their own sheet of paper. As far as the Nuns, and the player playing them knows, everyone’s tucked into their beds and dozing soundly. The game starts with this being true enough, and then the Novices get the chance to blitz out of their cells and run as far as they can go before the old ladies get started on their rounds.
Both guards start from the same location and then take separate paths through the Nunnery. They’re on their chosen paths until they reach the end, at which point they start a new route, as denoted by a card played from the Nun deck. (Pro tip: Spread out, retrace steps when you can.) These correspond to the colored paths crisscrossing the board, so both the Novices and the Nuns know where they’re headed. If a Nun happens to turn a corner and see a Novice, that Novice has to place their token on the spot they’re located on. If the Nun manages to catch the girl before she disappears around a corner, she’ll get sent back to her room, but not walked back. This means that as soon as that lass is out of the guard’s line of sight, she’s free to do as she pleases. (Pro tip: Closets and the confessional booths in the chapel are your friends, for either role you’re playing.)
The other way a Nun can detect a hidden Novice is through noise checks. At the end of each Novice’s turn, they roll a die to see how many spots away a Nun could hear them from. As long as they weren’t running, they get a bonus to their noise check, which they subtract from the die roll. A Novice has to play their movement card for everyone to see, which can give hints as to where a Novice may be. If she’s standing (-3 bonus) or sneaking (-2), it’s likely that she’s near a guard. If she’s walking (-1) or just full out running, there’s a safe bet she’s no where around a woman in black.
There’s definitely an element of trust with this game, as whenever a noise or visibility check is done, it’s up to the players to say if a Nun can see or hear them. Each player is only keeping track of their own moves, unless you decide to play otherwise, so it’s all down to the honor system. Sure, you’re playing Novices breaking curfew to retrieve things like Bourbon or The Book of Dark Magic, but that doesn’t mean you can cheat. (Pro tip: Don’t cheat.)
That’s another thing, there are only eight possible goals in the game, and they’re not very fairly distributed. Granted, each key is usually across the board from the item it unlocks, but sometimes that item is stored right next to the dormitory. There’s also the issue of replayability, which I’m not sure there’s a lot of with such limited item cards. That could be okay, though, because this is such a potential party game, that I doubt you’ll be playing it with the same people over and over again. The route selection of the Nuns and the out-of-the-way paths the Novices choose each time you play is what really makes each game unique. Imagine, if you will, the last time you played Laser Tag all day, on the same map, with the same teams (if you haven’t done this, pretend for me). Your later games weren’t boring, even after you learned the best routes and spots to snipe from, because in all of your previous rounds, your competitors were getting just as much experience as you, on the same map.
When it all boils down, this is really just a board game version of individual capture the flag for two to eight players that is probably better played with four to eight. The more Novices you get running around the map, the better chance the Nuns have of actually catching one. There is or was an expansion that introduces a blind monk, who can help spot wild Novices, but I think if there are enough players running around the board, he’s unnecessary. The rulebook can be a little confusing, and referring back to it is often difficult, as they put important information in weird places. But, they did include a handy chart on the back of the book that tells you whether or not every spot on the board can be see from every other spot on the board, which is very convenient for Novices to double check their positioning without revealing anything.
All in all, I wouldn’t say that this is a game that you must get. It’s cute, and fun, if you think you can get enough players together for it. You also need to be able to trust those players. This is probably something you could play with kids, regardless of the religious theme. There’s a little bit of tongue in cheek with the wishes, and the special abilities granted via Blessing cards, but aside from that, I’ve read children’s books that are more controversial than this game. It’s a great title to add to your collection, and introduces a mechanic that isn’t very common in board games, and even then, isn’t always done this well.
If you like the idea of tag in a board game, check out Bonaparte’s Scotland Yard. It’s basically the reverse of this game, where only one player has hidden moves (and a cool hat — Pete), while the other players try to hunt him down. It’s a great alternative to Nuns on the Run if you want a game that is more co-op and less individual. The theme is also a bit less touchy for some players, which may be what you’re looking for.
Board Stiff is GrE’s regular foray into the deep, dark, cardboard-smelling realms of analog gaming. Boards, cards or dice, it doesn’t matter, our writer Tiffany will play them all. Follow her on Twitter here.