Stonemaier Games sent us Red Rising based on novels by Pierce Brown to review recently. We love the fact that the game is based on literature. Even without reading the novels (yet!), this is a game where connections between characters and factions is very apparent. It made us curious about how the characters stories must interweave in the books but the game never felt lacking comprehension by not having read them.
Red Rising is a game of building the perfect hand of cards, so that by the end of the game you can collect some nice base points and end game bonuses from the bottoms of the cards. Some cards will let you get bonuses if a character is in your hand with the same color card or characters of certain names/titles. Others let you alter specific conditions that can get you extra points by nudging the rules a bit.
The end of the game triggered by completing at least two of the three goals as a single player or by having multiple players complete all three. You can try to advance to 7+ on the Fleet track, Gain 7+ Helium in your personal supply, and/or put 7+ Influence on The Institute. These goals are very attainable but add more meat to the game so it isn’t just about the hand of cards, although that remains a primary objective. These extra goals will also give you more points at end game.
To build the perfect hand of cards it is important to trade out cards for more complimentary ones. On your turn you can play one card to one of the four sections (stacking your card so that you can see the tops of all cards) and take a card from another section (earning the bonus of the section you took from). You could instead take the top card of the deck into your supply and gain a bonus from the Rising die instead of taking a card from another section if you would like. This is called Leading and is going to take up the majority of turns as one tries and molds a hand into something that is going to give the most end game points. This is fun to maneuver as each turn there is an opportunity to try and get character cards that will create higher bonuses when used together. The variety in how to earn a Lead bonus is also appealing as one has more gamble than the other. Sometimes placing the card also has an immediate effect and most effects were optional and found to be balanced and not too detrimental. Some cards will also be banished to the end of the board but can be brought back by other card conditions and this makes the more powerful cards more balanced. These can be double edged swords as sometimes you have no choice but to place a valuable card to use its ability and hope you can get it back on a later turn.
If you have a perfect hand it doesn’t have to be traded. The current player can choose to instead Scout, and take the top card of the deck and place it on a location and get a bonus on the same location but not earning the card. This is a good way to get your goals completed without sacrificing any good cards. We did find that the character cards seemed to continously offer good bonuses that were appealing to keep upgrading a hand of cards even when it is already a good hand.
At the end of the game, you trigger end game bonuses (the pause/play button on the bottom of some cards), you add up the top left values and any other bonus points on the bottom of the card if conditions are met. After cards are scored you gain a certain amount of points for the Fleet Track, Institute, Helium, amd Sovereign Token. It is straightforward scoring that only takes a few minutes but feels active and exciting to count up.
The rules are short. Once the two concepts above are mastered then the game is very straightforward. We found it surprising that a strategy game with a good amount of detail could be so succinct. The science fiction aspect was very nicely embedded too in a very natural way. The flavor text gives theme without being overwhelming. The location names and character design also add to this affect.
The best strategies we found were to try and use the immediate bonuses so that a goal could potentially reach two steps in one turn. For example, each player has an individual bonus and one of them is to advance on the Fleet track if the Sovereign token is obtained. If the character Leads in such a way that they play a card that allows them to gain the Sovereign token, and they gain a card from the row that allows them to advance on the Fleet track, they actually can advance two on the Fleet track in one turn if executed correctly.
There are a multitude of strategies that can be employed in this game and it is easy to introduce to friends and family. The card abilities are varied but the concept of what to do is very linear.
To purchase this title in standard OR the Collector’s Edition please check out this link from Stonemaier Games website: https://stonemaiergames.com/games/red-rising/
To check out the Pierce Brown novels the game is based off of: https://piercebrown.com/red-rising-saga/
Language Barrier Playability: The game utilizes language necessary for the card abilities. We don’t believe this one could be modified without losing a lot of the strategy options and elements. This is not a good game for a language barrier as it would be very difficult to translate every card without revealing the other players hands.
Replayability: Very replayable! There is a lot of variety within the card abilities and individual player cards that allow for playing many times. It also a quick game and can be played multiple times easily.
Artwork: The artwork is reminiscent of new novel artwork and is nicely done. We liked the look of the character cards and the creativity in tokens, the Wolf Head box holding the Helium tokens, and the Helium tokens themselves especially.
Quality: Stonemaier Games is synonymous with quality. The standard edition has nice, solid pieces and a thick player board that organize well into the box. If you want an extra fancy edition with metal and other nice additions there is a Collector’s Edition available as well!
Strategy: The entire game is about strategy in both the hand of cards and completing at least 2 of 3 goals faster than opponents. The strategy is still very easy to understand and never convoluted.
Instruction Manual: We were surprised with how short the instructions were! Just a few pages that are also picture oriented but still manage to not leave anything out.
Organization: The Helium tokens are well fitted within the wolf head box and the cards all fit within the gamebox so there are no complaints from us!