RED RISING

Reviewed by Herb Levy

RED RISING (Stonemaier Games, 1 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, 45-60 minutes; $40, collector’s edition $60)

 

The dystopian future world postulated in the novels by Pierce Brown is a world of 14 castes vying for power. Designers Jamey Stegmaier and Alexander Schmidt have used this world as the background for their new game where castes are represented by cards and suits of different colors and players represent a house attempting to rise to power. The dynamics of the game centers on building a hand based on combos created as certain castes (suits/colors) interact and power waxes and wanes in Red Rising.

All players begin with 10 influence cubes and a Fleet token (starting at 0 on the Fleet track) in their chosen color, a Reference card and a randomly dealt House tile which gives you a special bonus whenever your take the “Sovereign” token. The board shows 4 locations: Jupitar, Mars, Luna and the Institute. These locations will, in their own ways, help trigger the end of the game. (More on that later.) The deck of 112 Character cards is shuffled and 2 placed, face up, on each of the four locations while all players are dealt a starting hand of 5 cards. Helium tokens and the Sovereign token are placed close by. 

All cards have a Character name, a color (which is even printed on the card so there is no question as to whether a card is black or gray, yellow or gold), a Victory Point value on its top left and a “power” which activates when deployed as well as an end game scoring ability. Some cards even have a blocking ability to prevent an opponent from doing something to you!

On a turn, you can LEAD. If Leading, a card from your hand is placed onto one of the game’s four locations. This triggers the deployment action on the card which can do lots of things including allowing you to pick up extra cards or rid your hand of a card you do not want, advance on the Fleet Track, pick up Helium and more. Then you take one of the top cards at a different location and add that card to your hand. You also get the bonus bestowed at that location.

At Jupiter, your Fleet token will advance one space on the Fleet track. The further you go on that track, the more Victory Points you earn. Choosing a card from Mars gains you 1 Helium. Luna awards you (or allows you to keep) the Sovereign token while choosing a card from the Institute allows you to place one of your Influence tokens there. If no card at any available location fits your plans, you can draw the top card from the deck, roll the game’s die and get the bonus rolled. (In addition to determining where that card gets placed, the die may also allow you to get rid of a card on the board or reveal and place a new card. Cards placed this way do not trigger the card’s effects.) Alternatively, you can SCOUT.

Scout means simply taking a card from the top of the deck and then rolling the die to see where to place it. You do NOT get any bonus abilities that a card may have but you DO get the bonus from the area where this new card is placed.

Play continues until either all three of the end game conditions have been met OR one player has met two of the three. These are having 7 or more Helium tokens, 7 or more Influence at the Institute and/or reaching 7 on the Fleet track. When this happens, the round is completed (so all have the same number of turns although the player with the Apollo House tile gets the final turn). Now Victory Points are calculated.

To the base value of cards held, players add (or subtract in some cases), the End Game conditions found on their cards. Points for Fleet Track position are added (ranging from 0 to 43) as well as points for Helium (3 points each) and holding the Sovereign token (10 points). Influence at the Institute counts as well with the player having the most Influence receiving 4 points per cube there, second place receiving 2 points per cube and all other players receiving only 1 point per cube. Finally, players may have a maximum hand size of 7 cards. For each card over 7, 10 points is LOST! The player with the most total points has guided his House to victory! (Tied? Then holding the Sovereign token breaks the tie! If no tied player has the Sovereign token, the win is shared.)

Red Rising comes in two editions: the standard and a Collector’s edition ($60). The games are identical in play; it is the “looks” that differ. In both editions, the board is pretty much superfluous. A lazy Susan so that cards can be easily read by players situated on all sides of the board would have been a decided improvement. The Collector’s edition comes with a plastic insert (nice), embossed gold cards (also nice), card racks (nice but not necessary) and metal pieces (which feel nice but, unfortunately, are too close in color for playing ease. This problem, fortunately, has been noticed by the company and new sets of metal pieces matching the color of the plastic ones found in the standard edition will soon be available.)

In the Designer Notes for this game, Jamey Stegmaier credits Fantasy Realms as his inspiration. (For more on Fantasy Realms, check out the Flashback in this issue!) And you can definitely see its influence with the multiplicity of suits, interactions of cards, the scoring set up, both as a “core value” as well as end of games scoring bonuses/deductions. But Red Rising adds a level of decision-making as card placement determines bonuses which will generate points (via Fleet track position, influence at the Institute and Helium tokens) while simultaneously creating a constant movement towards triggering the end game. Cards are key as the essence of the game revolves around what they can do. Because there are so many suits and so many potential interactions, becoming familiar with which cards work best with others becomes a challenge unto itself but it must be addressed to get the most out of play. 

In essence, Red Rising is a card game in a big box. It is the relationships between the cards, aided by the very attractive artwork, that makes the game what it is. The game may not be for everyone but if your sweet spot is devising a winning strategy by building card combinations to power you  to victory, you will find Red Rising rising to the occasion. – – – – – Herb Levy


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

 

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