top of page

Red Rising Board Game Review

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

Red Rising

WBG Score: 8/10

Player Count: 1–6

You’ll like this if you like: Fantasy Realms Gùgōng Lost Cities

Published by: Stonemaier Games

Designed by: Alexander Schmidt (II), Jamey Stegmaier

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.

If you would like to have a look at the the video interview with Jamey and Alex, or the preview then head here. Otherwise, read on!

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.