Game: Red Rising
Published: Stonemaier Games
Designers: Jamey Stegmaier and Alexander Schmidt
Playtime: 45- 60 Minutes
Play Type: Hand Management, Combo Building
Red Rising from Stonemaier Games is based off the first trilogy in the Red Rising Series from Pierce Brown. The setting is a dystopian society that has been broken into a caste system divided by colors. The colors range from the Reds being the lowest tier of society, working hard labor jobs all the way up to the Golds who are the leaders in society. Players represent a house within society trying to gain power. Leaving players with a choice of embracing the powerful draw of the Golds or collecting and forcing the lower castes into a position of power, thus changing the very basis of society.
Red Rising is a hand management game where players seek to build combinations within their hand of cards to lead to the strongest scoring hand when the game ends. The game is played over a series of turns in which players are given the choice of two actions to complete. These two actions are Lead and Scout.
Players will most likely choose to Lead when they are not happy with their cards in hand and are attempting to create a cohesive hand. This action is made up of two steps. First players will deploy a card from their hand onto one of the locations on the board. They will then take the deploy action listed on the card if they are able to. Some deploy actions may have a player end their turn here. If not, players will then either select a card from the top of one of the locations and take that location’s action, or select the top card from the deck and roll the Rising die and take the appropriate action. The card selected will be added to the player’s hand.
The Scout action is similar, but is designed for when a player is already happy with the cards in their hand, and they want to advance towards the end of the game. In this action, players reveal and place the top card of the deck onto one of the locations. They then gain that location’s benefit.
There are four locations that players will be interacting with throughout the game. Each location gives players a different benefit that will move the game toward the end game criteria and score points for the player. The first location is Jupiter, and its ability allows players to move up on the Fleet Track. During end game scoring, the Fleet Track gives players a set number of points based on where their marker is. The second location is Mars, and its ability allows players to gain one Helium Token. Each Helium Token is worth three points. The third location is Luna, and its ability allows players to take the Sovereign Token. This token does two things. First, whenever the player gains the token (even if it is already in their possession) the player completes the unique action listed on their house card. Second, the Sovereign Token is worth ten points and also acts as a tie breaker during the end of the game. The final location is The Institute, and its ability allows players to place an Influence at the institute. These Influence Tokens are worth a variable number of points during the end of the game based on how many tokens each player has in relation to each other. The player with the most Influence will gain four points per Influence, the person with the second most will gain two points per Influence. All other players will gain one point per Influence.
The Rising Die features a symbol for all of these locations, but two additional symbols as well. A X represents the banish action in which players banish the top card from any location. An eye represents the reveal action. Players reveal and place (not taking the deploy action) the top card of the deck onto any of the locations. When players roll the Rising Die, they take whatever action is rolled.
These actions will help trigger the end of the game. There are two different end game triggers. The first is when one player meets any two of the following conditions. The player has 7+ Helium Tokens, 7+ Influence or has reached/ passed space 7 on the Fleet Track. The other way for the end game to trigger is if all three conditions are met by different players. Players then finish the round, making sure all players have had the same number of turns.
Once the end game is triggered, players will complete any At End of Game Abilities in turn order. Players may choose which order the complete the abilities within their hand. Then scoring begins. Then players will tally the score of the cards within their hand.
Card scoring takes a look at a few different parts of the card. The first is the Core Value. This is a set amount in the top corner of the card. The second thing to consider is the End of Game Points. These points often depend on certain criteria met by the players hand. A player may gain or lose points depending on the combination of cards within their hand and how they interact with one another.
Once cards are scored, players calculate their points gained from the Fleet Track, Helium Tokens and Influence. Then the player with the Sovereign Token adds an their ten points. Finally, players subtract ten points for each card in their hand that surpasses seven cards within their hand. Players combine these categories to get their final score.
I have the Collector’s Edition of Red Rising. There will be a Retail Version available on May 28th. For the purpose of this review, I will be commenting on the components that appear in the Collector’s Edition.
Overall I was very pleased with the Red Rising components. I felt that they were quality made, and I really enjoyed the overall aesthetic of the game. My favorite component was the gold foiled cards. I felt like it was a small touch that really elevated the theme of the game in a subtle way.
There are a few areas where I ran into issues with the components though. Namely the card holders and the metal pieces specific to the Collector’s Edition. While both added to the feel of the Collector’s Edition, I felt that both lacked in functionality for the game. The card holders are almost too small to hold even seven cards where they can be comfortably read. If players gain any more than seven cards, the card holders simply are not functional in the capacity that players need to be able to read card powers. The metal pieces look and feel great. The colors are very similar though, especially the red and the purple. They are nearly identical in certain lights. It can make it difficult to read the board at a glance.
Similar colors can also pose a problem for the cards. Some cards will call for either gold or yellow, and beginning players may become confused between the two as they do appear very similar. Luckily to help alleviate this problem, the colors are labeled on the top of the card, directly under the card name.
Despite the challenges that the different colors may pose, I am really happy that Stonemaier Games provided cards and characters from all of the different castes from the novel series, with each card having a thematic tie to that caste’s abilities in the book. The game draws in small thematic elements in many of the components to engage those who have read the novels, but not to the extent that it excludes players who are not familiar with the IP. Another example of this is the wolf head shaped Helium Token holder. The holder is a slight nod The Howlers, one of the support systems for the protagonist in the book, Darrow. Not knowing that information would not ruin the game for casual players, but does add an element of theme to those who are familiar with the information. There are subtle nods through out the game that highlight theme in an accessible way.
If you are wondering which edition to pick up, I wanted to discuss some of the differences based on my opinion. Here are the main differences between the two copies of the game. The Collector’s Edition has metal player pieces instead of plastic, it includes a custom plastic organizer, 21 gold foil cards, 6 card holders, and the box has gold foil, spot UV, and individual numbering. For those who really value the table presence of a game, the Collector’s Edition does hold value. However, I would not say that it is necessary to enjoy the game, and when considering the metal player pieces, it can actually hinder game play.
- Great Artwork
- Simple to Teach
- Quick Turns
- Replayability due to Variety in Cards
- Variety of Strategies
- Subtle Thematic Ties
- Accessible to Those Unfamiliar with Novels
- Small Table Footprint
- Concise Symbols
- Solo Mode
- Slight Advantage in Early Games to Those Familiar with Novels
- Similar Colors for Components
- Relies Heavily on Luck of the Draw
- Players May Struggle with Analysis Paralysis
- Plays Better at a Higher Player Count
Red Rising is a relatively simple game to play with a lot of replayability. Due to Red Rising’s connection with the book trilogy of the same title, I felt that the game being accessible was very important. Those who are unfamiliar with the board gaming hobby, but are interested in the game due to being a fan of the books should be able to understand the rules and learn the game without too much trouble. The card layout and symbols on those cards are very straight forward and consistent throughout. Players also receive a reference card to help remind them of the actions they are able to take, and what each of the symbols means.
Fans of the books may be disappointed by the lack of overt theme or plot throughout the game, but I honestly was really happy with how Stonemaier Games balanced making the elements of the novel identifiable, without making knowledge of the novels a requirement. Players who have read the books will be able to identify why certain cards will interact the way they do, and will understand some of the decisions that went into the creation of the mechanics. However, a player who has never read the books will still be able to engage with the game, without needing to know the plot or any other elements of the story. This is also prevents spoilers for players who discover the book series by playing the game.
That being said, for players who do have a knowledge of the books, they may have a slight advantage over those who haven’t read any of the books, at least for the first few games. I say this because those who have read the books are more likely to know which cards interact positively and negatively throughout the series, and thus what cards they should be looking for to complete their hand. This information is common knowledge on the cards listed, but the number of cards can be overwhelming for a new player, so knowing these relationships inherently lessens the learning curve for players who know the books well. As players learn the game and the cards, this advantage diminishes.
The variability in the cards can be both a positive and negative for this game. The obvious positive to having a large number of cards is that it keeps the game fresh. Players will easily be experiencing a new hand each time they play, and will have to adapt their strategy to that hand. The negative though is that players may be needing a specific card to complete a hand or strategy. Often times, that card will not be drawn throughout the game. This is especially true during lower player count games where the cards are cycled through less often. For this reason, I believe that Red Rising plays better at the higher player counts.
It is hard to say at this point how balanced the game is. Over time, it may also become apparent that one strategy or color over shines the other cards. While this is not apparent at first play through, I would need several more plays to say confidently that it is balanced.
I love that this game has a relatively small table presence. I think it was important for this to be the case so that all players could easily read and access the cards on the center board. This has an additional benefit that it can be played on relatively small tables with a high number of players. I could easily see this being a game that could be condensed to be brought with to conventions or on other travels.
Overall, I really enjoyed Red Rising. It is the perfect balance of accessibility, subtle theme and engaging mechanics that will draw in both lovers of board games and the novel series. Going into the game, I knew I was likely to enjoy it. One of the inspirations for the game, Fantasty Realms by Wizkids, is my favorite filler game. When I realized how similar the mechanics would be for Red Rising, I knew that there was a high likelihood that I would enjoy this. I like how Stonemaier Games choose to expand this mechanic with the different locations. I can see how this would not be for everyone though. Players who do not enjoy a high element of luck of the draw will likely not like this game and may be frustrated by the randomness of the luck based elements. In most games, I find that how well you do really depends on how strong your starting hand is, and how quickly the deck cycles.
Another thing that I do not run into often, but may be a frustration at some tables is analysis paralysis. The sheer number of cards and strategies available to players may lead to long wait times as players try to read each card and understand their impact with that player’s hand. This has not been a problem at my table, as most of the people I play with are quick decision makers but this could make the game take significantly longer and feel more drawn out. It is important for players to pay attention to new cards that come out and be comfortable with the cards in their hand to help reduce this.
Being a fan of the book as well, I enjoyed the visualization of the characters in the art, and seeing the slight connections between how the cards interact. I felt that the level of theme was perfect for the intent of the game. On the table, the game is very aesthetically pleasing. If I were to buy the game again though, I probably would have opted out of the Collector’s Edition and instead got the Retail Edition, especially if I was not already a Champion. I did not feel like the Collector’s Edition added significant enough value for the elevated price.
If you are interested in learning more about Red Rising from Stonemaier Games, I would suggest heading over to their website. There you can find a variety of other reviews, view the rulebook and find other media platforms to ask questions. You can buy the Collector’s Edition now on their website, or purchase the Retail Edition on May 28th, 2021.