THE RED CATHEDRAL

Reviewed by Herb Levy

THE RED CATHEDRAL (Devir, 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 80 minutes; $34.99)

 

It’s good to be King. Or, in this case, Tsar! For Tsar Ivan the Terrible has ordered the construction of a church (which would later be known as St. Basil’s Cathedral) to celebrate his victories in the mid-16th century. Such an undertaking will take decades but no matter. In this game designed by Sheila Santos and Israel Cendrero, you – and your competing fellow architects – will take on the task, combining talents – but with an eye to to earning the most Prestige Points – while building the spectacular church colloquially known as The Red Cathedral.

The plan for the Cathedral is randomly selected from a deck of cards (based on the number of players). The plan will display several towers to be constructed, all with a base, a dome and some with a middle section. Cards drawn from the base, dome and middle decks mimicking the plan are drawn and placed face down. These cards show specific materials needed to build that segment of the tower and what rewards (rubles or Reputation Points) will be received upon completion. A “Workshop” tile is randomly paced, face up, on each card as well. All players receive a “personal workshop” board, six banners  along with four ornaments (door, 2 arches and a cross) in their chosen color. Four banners are placed in “inventory”; the remainder aside but available too. Players start with 3 or more rubles (based on player order). 

The Market Board is put in the center of the play area and seeded with counters displaying the “materials” of the game: gold, stone, brick, wood, green and purple gems. There is also a counter for rubles and Reputation Points. In each quadrant of the circular board, one card from one of the influential groups in the game (Craftsmen’s Guild, Merchant’s Guild, Teamster’s Guild and the Clergy) is randomly placed. The five dice of the game (one in each of the player colors and one white) are rolled and randomly placed, one in each section starting with the segment featuring the Reputation Point. There is also a shared perimeter scoring track for Reputation Points and Prestige Points.

Each turn offers three possible actions and the active player must do one of the three. First, a Cathedral section unspoken for may be claimed by moving one of your banners to that section.  The workshop tile on that section is transferred to that player’s board, face down (at no cost) or for 2 rubles (and placed face up) so that its benefits may be enjoyed immediately. Or a player may start to build a section by moving up to 3 materials to one or more unfinished sections. (Completed sections grant you rubles and/or Reputation Points and are flipped over. If a completed section has unfinished sections below it, the owners of those incomplete sections will pay a Reputation Point penalty.) Players may also opt for “ornamentation” to a completed section, adding a door, arch or cross. Anyone can place an ornamentation on ANY completed section regardless of who built it and it will earn Prestige Points (immediately 1 or 2 different gems are used and/or at final scoring). Finally, a player may obtain resources from the Market and this is where most of the game’s action takes place.

The market is a rondel with eight sections divided into four quadrants and, as mentioned, five colored dice randomly placed. When taking the Market action, a player announces which colored die is being chosen and then advances it the number of sections equal to the pips on that die. (If the die chosen is your color OR the white one, you may spend rubles to move the die even further.) 

Resources in that section are gathered, the amount being that on the tile there MULTIPLIED by the number of dice there. (So, for example, if that segment tile awards 2 bricks and there are 3 dice there, you come away with 6 bricks!) The powers of the Guild (or Clergy) card found in the quadrant of that section may be used as well. These abilities including buying and selling materials, aid in building cathedral sections. even the chance to buy Reputation or Prestige points and more. (A listing of all of the possibilities is in the table on the last page of the rulebook.) And, if the die used matches a workshop tile placed in the matching colored die area on your play board, you get the benefit (additional resources) of that tile too. All of these actions may be done in ANY order and once done, the dice in that segment are rerolled so new numbers come into play.

The player who has COMPLETED his/her sixth Cathedral card gains 3 Prestige Points and triggers the end game. All other players move their scoring markers BACK on the scoring track to the nearest Prestige Point and additional scoring occurs. Everyone gets 1 Prestige Point for every FIVE Materials AND ruble on hand and Prestige is scored for presence on the Cathedral towers. 

Each tower is worth 2 Prestige Points for each complete section PLUS 1 PP for each ornamentation. The player with the most banners and ornamentations on completed Cathedral cards gets the full value of that tower. Second place is half of that total rounded down and so on. The game is pleasing to the eye as the plans for the cathedral take shape and the Red Cathedral is being built. But more than good looks, this is where your plans will either make or break you! The player who has garnered the most Prestige has earned the respect and favor of the Tsar – and wins the game!

There is definite decision-making here, particularly when doing the Market action and choosing which die, calculating where it ends up to maximize benefits and parlay that with advantages offered by a Guild or Clergy. (Sometimes, you can overthink this. Try to avoid players prone to analysis paralysis.) You can always lose Prestige Points in exchange for rubles (1 PP for 2 rubles) or lose 1 PP to reroll dice in an area, an available options but too expensive (in PPs) to frequently use (if at all). The flip side of the player board is the “Advanced Workshop” which makes tile placement more expensive (3 rubles instead of 2) and moves two banners to the white area, impacting on work tiles placement. You will probably want to use the Advanced side once comfortable with basic play. The dual scoring track is something not often seen. At the start, Reputation Points are easier to get; Prestige Points are spaced much farther apart on the track. But as the game continues, Reputation and Prestige Points close up ranks. Since Prestige Points are the winning criteria, relying on the final rush of PPs when scoring each tower brings an exciting conclusion to the game. 

Although the game box looks good, you might pass on the game due to its relatively small price point and its relatively small box. That would be a mistake. The small box of The Red Cathedral belies the big game play within. – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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