Before I begin, I was provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would like to see a video of this review you can check it out below. Get your own copy here.
Stonemaier is an interesting publisher to me. Moreso than just about any other one out there I never know if I will enjoy their games or not. They have games that I appreciate, but don’t love, Scythe – games that I adore but no one else seems to – Euphoria; games that I keep meaning to play but can’t get excited about – Wingspan; and games that just did not do it for me – Pendulum, and Tapestry. But here is the thing. I am always intrigued by what they are putting out, and Red Rising was is no exception.
The core gameplay is dead simple. You play a card, possibly activate its power, and then you pick up a card, which allows you to gain a resource of some sort. That’s it. There are three things that you track during the game: helium, fleet strength, and institute influence. When a single player gets 2 of the three to 7 or more the end game will trigger.
At the end of the game each player will total up their points, most of them coming from their individual cards. Each card will give points on the card itself, a number in the top left, and a condition that will either make the card worth more, or fewer points in the end game. For example having to characters in your hand might earn you more points, or having a hand of all the same color might earn you more points. In addition to the points on your cards you will earn points for your relative strength on the fleet track, how much helium you have, and your strength in the institute. High score wins.
So what do I think?
The game looks and feels fantastic. The art is just spectacular. The core gameplay is based on the game Fantasy Realms, and it really works exceedingly well. There is something quite satisfying about finding the right card combos to score mega points, and there are so many different cards out there, there is delightful discovery as a player puts a card down that you realize would be better than something you already have claimed.
The game is very simply to learn, and plays quickly. Additionally, the solo mode works quite well, and plays exceedingly quickly. I also quite enjoy the way the two tracks work, it really helps define your play style, and, in my opinion, increases the player interaction from virtually nothing, to significant.
There are so many unique cards that it can absolutely feel daunting to learn. Each of the cards has a different effect when played and different scoring conditions, and this means that there are time when you can simply never have a chance to gain one of the cards you need for your combo, or it is possible to simply start the game with an über hand, and spend the whole game simply top-decking. The game plays quickly, but these can be things that might effect your experience.
Everything I have learned about Red Rising implies that there is an incredible world behind this game. This game does not share that world with you as a player. I understand that if you know the world already there are tons of delightful easter eggs throughout the game. However, as someone who has not read the books, I know nothing more about the world than I did before, nor am I particularly interested in learning. There is also a lot of math when it comes to scoring…none of it is particularly hard, or hard at all, but you just might not be interested in constantly calculating your hand and your score, which sometimes you just have to do to make decisions about which cards to put down and which to pick up.
While most of the production is outstanding, there are a few misses in the collectors edition. The metal cubes are close in color and at certain angles can be hard to differentiate, and the insert for the collectors edition does not contain the cubes very well, and they wind up flopping about the box.
Bringing it all together
If you already know the world of Red Rising, and you like the core mechanics offered in Fantasy Realms, then look no further than Red Rising for your next game. The gameplay is quick and easy to learn, and the combos are wonderfully satisfying when you get that perfect hand. There are times where the amount of calculations you are doing can get frustrating, and there are times where you may never see the cards you need, or you may start the game with the hand you end the game with. While there are clearly some cool easter eggs for those who know the series, those who do not will not learn anything more than they knew going in. The art is wonderful, and the components good, though there are a few misses in the collectors edition.
Quiet you filthy reds!
* Quick and simple to learn and play
* Makes a few additions to the core mechanics of Fantasy Realms, which I think are beneficial
* Great art, good feeling components
* A couple issues with the production of the collectors edition
* Lots of math to calculate your score, which can feel irritating in the mid game when making decisions
* Possible to start the game with the hand you will end the game with, or never see cards that you need for your combos