Updated: Oct 8, 2021
WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 1–6
Published by: Stonemaier Games
Red Rising Reviews Ratings & Rants.
Before I get into the review, I little background if you will. If you would rather get straight to the review, click here. I wanted to give my thoughts on the way Stonemaier games launch their games.
Red Rising Retrospective.
First, I want to look at the logistics. Always a fun way to start right!? All Stonemaier Games feel like an event to me. I like the way Jamey Stegmaier goes about his business. After a few Kickstarter experiences, Jamey now prefers to use his own site to launch games. And then at a later point, mass retail for general distribution. A few months before launch, Jamey will start his design diaries on Facebook. Releasing pieces of information, day-by-day about the mechanics, art, game conception and rules. Jamey always starts this by saying he won’t give too much away at first. But if you don’t want to be teased in this way, he encourages people to come back at a set date when all will be revealed. He offers the best of both worlds.
Jamey runs a weekly live broadcast on Facebook where he answers all questions from the vewing public. Nothing is off topic and he will engage with criticisms, issues, or concerns anyone may have. Often using this as a forum to explain his process to people who have not heard before. It is all so open and honest.
Like most publishers, Jamey also gives out advanced copies to a select group of reviewers. They have plenty of time to learn and play the game to form an opinion. Jamey embargos the release of these reviews until a set date. This is so the reviewers are not pressured to get things out first. This gives the reviewers time to play the game multiple times, and in different player counts. This embargo date is always before the release date of the pre-order for this game. So, people have plenty of time to watch and read the reviews before they decide to pre-order or not.
The pre-order date will be only a few weeks before you get the game. Jamey will not set this until production is complete, and the games are on their way to international fulfilment centres.Its nice to be able to get a new game wihtin weeks, not months! Although, in these difficult times, I appreciate that U.S. shipping for this game has been slower that expected.
Red Rising Rant.
So why am I talking about this? Well, it’s a great and fair system, that still gets criticised. Why? Well, because its Stonemaier. Despite being still only a small team of local passionate games developers and publishers, Stonemaier are perceived as a huge business. They have only made 11 games in nine years and have as far as I can see, three full time employees. Hardly big. But since the success of Wingspan, all things Stonemaier have been rather polarising.
Wingspan ruffled some feathers with some contentious awards such as the Board Game Geek best card game of the year. It’s a great game, but is it a card game? Tapestry also upset some due to the cost of the game. The pre-painted miniatures included affected this and were seen as superfluous by some. Also, the lack of balance in the asymmetric civilisations, leading to an update on some starting rules irked others. And then Pendulum! People were not happy about plastic components, the fact it was a real-time game and the less said about inconsistent sand timers the better! But moutains and mole hills comes to mind.
It seems Stonemaier games have been built up to be knocked down by a minority of people in the community. As soon as anything is seen as “big” and “popular” it is liable for attack in any walk of life. So this is of course nothing new. But it is a shame.
I understand all these concerns and issues. I agree with most of the above points. But I disagree it means people should then attack Stonemaier for it. They are all minor issues, tiny insignificant things, set aainst a catalogue of brilliant games. But were all dealt with. Jamey took on board the feedback and adapted to it. Seen here with Red Rising. A game that offers a collector’s edition for people who are willing to pay more for nice components. But a cheaper retail version too, for others who are less keen. Taking the feedback from Tapestry and creating a solution.
The retail version is still made to the usual high Stonemaier standards. And you can also buy the upgrade pack which would give you everything you missed out on if you later want that, bar the insert. Taking the feedback from Pendulum. Again, best of both worlds.
What about Wingspan's huge success and contentious awards? Well Jamey doesn’t judge on the awards he wins! There is not much to be done here! But for the record, Wingspan is not a "card-game"! I get the reaction. But it is still a good game, who cares about titles? Well, the other great cards games that didn't win that year I suppose!
And finally. In a world of extremes, the board game community is not averse to this either. It seems things must be either amazing or terrible. We have all seen the scores on BGG of 10 or 1 for some games. People have extreme opinions on things and can, it seems, often forget that it's acceptable for some games to just be "ok". You don’t have to love or hate everything.
With that said, let's talk about the game now!
Red Rising Review.
Red Rising is set in the world created by author Pierce Brown in his series of books. A dystopian future and a world ruled by a class system based on “colour” (not related to race). People are assigned roles in life that seem impossible to break. A “Red,” the lowest class, attempts to change that. I won’t go into the story much more to avoid spoilers. But you will get all this and more from the back of the first book, so I hope that was ok! But suffice to say, it becomes a very big story and the world created is very engaging. I was excited to see how this translated to the game.
The books are good fun. They create a wonderful deep world that captivated Jamey after he read Red Rising back in 2014. During which time, Jamey was busy with Scythe. He spent a few years tinkering with ideas for a Red Rising game but could not make a breakthrough. Even speaking about his failures openly here. But not long after this, Jamey stumbled across a mechanism that worked for his idea for the game. After playing Fantasy Realms, Jamey partnered with co-designer Alex Schmidt and set to work. From this, a card collecting game, very much like Fantasy realms was born. A game where players are looking to find the best combinations of cards in their hand to score the most points.
I am certain the simplicity of this will put some people off. People who are more accustomed to the more mid-weight nature of Jamey’s games may be disappointed. But after playing this game now many times, I can say that is not the case for me.
Before I get into the rules, I wanted to share the thoughts of Gareth from @boardgamemeeple
"Red Rising delivers pretty much what was promised, a fast playing, simple to learn card game with enough depth and decision making delivered through the goal to craft the best hand of cards from those available.
Juggling and adjusting your hand to optimise scoring is a real delight, especially grabbing a much needed card or claiming the Sovereign token at the last moment to both gain victory points for yourself but also making the previous holder lose the opportunity to score bonus points and hopefully claiming victory for yourself is so satisfying.
The variable victory point mechanic on the cards really is something wonderful. Each card has both a VP value for itself but also gives you a chance to score bonus VPs for meeting its requirements; like pairing with other cards or owning a number of resources. This makes you strive to optimise your hand and to squeeze as many points as possible out of each card, absolutely fantastic. The only minor issue for me is that the rich and engaging world of Red Rising just doesn’t come alive through the artwork alone, which while it is a shame it doesn’t take away from the fact that Red Rising is a nicely balanced card game, a whole ton of fun and has already become my most played game this year, well done Jamey and Alex."
@boardgamemeeple score - 7.5/10
As Gareth says, the rules are simple, and I can see why people may think this makes Red Rising a simple game. But it is not. But first, let me take you through the rules.
Red Rising Rules.
The game is simple. To set-up, lay out the board and deal two cards to each of the four areas. Jupiter, Mars, Luna, and the Institute. Then deal five cards to each player and give them their house card, player rules card, rocket and influence tokens. Then each player can place your rocket token on the Flight track. In a two-player game, you would also add three tokens to the Institute. This acts as a dummy third player for this part of the scoring. This is the only change for a two-player game. There are other rules for solo, but I won't go into that here. But you find some great information on this here.
On your turn, you will place a card from your hand onto one of the four areas on the board. You can carry out that cards deploy effect if you choose. You will then take a card from any one of the other three areas and take that areas location effect. From this exchange of cards, players are looking to maximize the points from the cards in their hand.
Each card has a simple score on the top left, but also an end game scoring opportunity on the bottom. This will often need cards working with other cards in combo effects. And through the game you will be looking to find ways to curate a hand that works together as best you can.
The Institute is where you can place your influence tokens at certain points in the game. This can be from a card deploy power or when you take a card from this part of the board and use that location benefit. At the end of the game, the person with the most influence tokens in the institute gets four points per token. The player with the second most gets two points per influence token.
On the Fleet Track, players can move their ship up a space to gain more end game points. As above, this is done when a card deploy action allows it, or if you take a card from the Jupiter section of the board.
Taking cards from Mars will get you one helium. Little red crystal components that score you points at the end of the game. They can also be used to buy extra cards and activate other end game card powers.
The last area is Luna. This is how you get the Sovereign Token. This gets you 10 points at the end of the game if you have it, but also combos with certain card powers for extra points.
Play continues until as a group, all three of the following factors have happened. Someone has got seven helium, at least seven points are on the Fleet Track and at least seven influence tokens are in the Institute. This does not have to be the same person doing all three of these things. Rather, they need to have been reached collectively. Once this happens, each player counts up their points from their cards, and activates any end game powers. They then add their points from their helium crystals, points from the Fleet track and tokens in the Institute to get their final score. Most points wins. Want to play again?
Red Rising Response.
OK, so you have learnt the game in under five minutes of reading, and I get that makes it sound simple. But it is worth noting that one thing Jamey looks for in a game is that it can be explained to others with ease. He does not want to publish games that are intimidating or long and boring to learn and teach. This may seem off brand? With games like Scythe and Euphoria published, which on the surface, look like more complex games. And they are mid to high weight games, but they are also easy to learn and teach. Way easier than some may think. Hard to master for sure, but easy to get started.
But is there any complexity in Red Rising beyond the simple mechanic and gameplay? Yes! Yes there is! And very simply, from the card-combos. At the end of the game, you will have between four and seven cards. Perhaps more, maybe less. But generally, that amount. But you can still score between 100-400 points from these. The combo effects are huge, wild and fun, but also, complex.
Players will be thinking through the game about what cards have come up? What is available? What may not be seen in this game? What card to keep? What to deploy? Which ones to try and pair with something else? What cards are you opponents perhaps keeping based on the cards they are taking? It is very deep. It can lead to a bit of mild analysis paralysis for some players as they learn the deck and opponents tactics. Red Rising is simple in rules and Mechanics, but it is not simple in strategy. Well, if you want to try and score well anyway!
Any analysis paralysis is understandable. But don't worry, it does not worry the game. But there are 112 unique cards in this game all offering new and exciting ways to score points at the end of the game. You will want to have a bit of a think! But this can make the end game scoring sometimes a lengthy process. Which is another complaint I am sure this game will get. So, let’s get into that!
Red Rising Recording.
A typical game for me at two-player took on average 25-35 minutes to play. For three players, around 35-55 minutes. Each time, scoring was around ten minutes to complete. Some people will not like that balance. Thinking too much time is spent counting and not playing. But I loved it.
The scoring was a fun part of the process. I enjoyed seeing what each player had done with their cards. There are some ways to see how people are doing during the game score wise. From the progress they are making on the Fleet Track, how many Helium tokens they have and how many Influence tokens they have in the Institute. But this usually pales to the hundreds of points in each player's hand that you will not know about. So the score at the end can be a bit of an event.
It’s fun to go through card by card, how many points each player has, and for the early games, learn how each player did it. To see which cards work well with others, and which less so. I enjoyed the process, for both the dramatic reveal of the scores, but also learning and analysis of the game. So many games end with a moment of, “and you got 124 and I got 67. Well done! What's next?” Whereas with Red Rising, there is a bit of drama. It unfolds over time and can be exciting!
Jamey is looking to develop an APP to speed this process up for those that will not enjoy this. But it was a simple thing to do, it is just a matter of time. But as I say, it was a fun part of the game. I didn’t see it as the game had ended and it was now dull end game admin. I found the process to be a part of the game itself and an enjoyable one. But this is a key consideration to make if you are on the fence with this game.
Red Rising Recipe.
The fun in this game lives within the card combos. This is where the complexity lies too, but it is also where the joy from the game comes. Finding cards that work together is very satisfying. The way this game asks you to curate your hand is so engrossing. Sometimes, you may need to place a card down you want to keep, to free up another card you also want. This of course puts the first card at risk of being taken by the other players in the game. Anything on the board is free game for any other player and you won’t always know what their plans are. You may also tempt them to change their plans with a juicy piece of bait.
This is also a fascinating part of the game that started to come through for me from game six onwards. Players started to second guess what other people were doing. And on quite a few occasions, laid cards as bait or as a bluff. Hoping to fool their opponents into assuming they were playing a certain way to distract them from their real plan.
I don’t have many games that play as "rule-light" as this, but also offer the level of complexity with the scoring. As such, it meant that I played it a lot. And that I and those I was playing it with, all got quite adept at the game quickly. I am more used to playing a new game five to ten times whilst the new game sheen lasts. And then it falls into a "once every few months" rotation when something else comes through the door. I don’t see this happening with Red Rising.
The game plays in such a short amount of time but offers such complexity and satisfaction with the scoring. As such, this is the perfect medium length game. It plays in under an hour every time, and it is easy to teach and learn. Red Rising has to score well considering how often I would be willing to pay this game.
Red Rising Red Flags.
The components are great. The presentation is great. The rule book is great. But it is not perfect. Theme wise, like Pendulum and Tapestry, I am left a little underwhelmed. I don’t feel I am in the Red Rising world at all. There is zero story in this game. This is to avoid any spoilers for those that have not read the books. I get that. But this is an IP. People expect a bit of that don’t they?
Jamey hopes people will read the books from playing the game and I am sure that will happen a lot. It worked for me and many others I have seen talk about now reading the book having been inspired by this game. But I do think it’s a shame that more of the Red Rising universe isn’t felt in the gameplay itself. The characters are there for sure, but they mean nothing to the game. It can become a little abstract to play.
This is my only criticism. But a big one for me. Scythe created this amazing world that so many of us fell in love with. This is a big part of Stonemaier’s success. We all want to fall in love with another world that Jamey and his team create. This will come from the open-world game Jamey is developing due for a release in a few years. But I hoped I would see more of this in Red Rising too.
This is the rod Jamey has created for his back. It is hard for a card-collecting game to have as expansive and immersive a world as a large-board engine-builder with mechs! I understand that. But I do feel something could have been done in Red Rising to develop this a little more. Some flavour text on each card? Event cards that change the scoring or game proceedings that are linked to events in the books?
A minor point that has also come up is the deck size. In most games, especially at a lower player count, you will not get through the deck. A lot of the cards need other cards to be present to maximise their scoring. If they don’t come up; those powers are redundant. This can be frustrating and did bug me for the first three games.
I then realised I was playing the game wrong. I was trying to make my starting hand work for me too much. I was being stubborn with my “Plan A”. But then I started working with the cards I had available to me, rather than the cards I wanted to have, and this changed. It became a much better experience. I realised each game was going to be very different based on what comes up and I started to enjoy the game even more.
Another small issue is the colours of some of the components being too similar in the Collector Edition. As they are metal, Jamey explained it was hard to get huge differences. This does not affect the game but a point that has been raised by some. There may be the odd second take in low light but that’s it. I agree it can also be momentarily confusing when you are setting up or packing away if they get mixed up. But the inlay does have a separate home for everything.
Red Rising Round-Up.
I like this game. It sits currently sixth in my all-time Stonemaier favourites. Behind, Scythe, Viticulture, Wingspan, Tapestry, and Euphoria. But ahead of Charterstone, Pendulum, Between Two Castles and My Little Scythe, and Between Two Cities.
It is very different to any of these other games. Quicker and lighter, closest to Between Two Castles for weight. But with a lot more satisfaction in the scoring. I felt more in control of my destiny than when playing Between Two Castles. And as silly as it sounds, the huge numbers available in the scoring do make it more fun. I like scoring in the double and triple hundreds for games!
If you are looking for the next Scythe, you will not find that here. If you want a game that oozes the IP, you will not get what you hope for. But if you want a polished, Stonemaier game that is the perfect sub hour game, then look no further. Red Rising is a solid game that I will keep in my collection and enjoy for many years to come.