16 July 2021
Such a dazzling game of many colours — it is red and yellow and green and brown and…
Novelist Pierce Brown’s Red Rising saga is a dystopian space opera whose colour-coded vision of a horrifically stratified society – and the revolution which rocks it – has drawn understandable comparisons with The Hunger Games. Not least due to all its Roman Empire-ish trimmings. Unsurprisingly, there’s been talk of a movie adaptation for years (alongside TV-show rumours). The tale of lowly Red miner Darrow and his struggle to bring down the fascistic, solar-system-spanning regime of the Golds feels ripe for the big screen. But Red Rising fan Jamey Stegmaier has beaten the studios to it, with a neat tabletop version that takes a rather surprising form.
Given Stegmaier’s the brain behind 4X masterpiece Scythe, you might expect Red Rising’s board-game incarnation to be similar, packing a ton of cool character miniatures into a big box and playing out on a vast, table-hogging, time-sucking scale. However, what he and co-designer Alexander Schmidt have done is compress Brown’s series down into a tight, relatively light hand-management card game. It sets up in minutes, the rules take hardly any time to learn or explain, and games will rarely last longer than an hour before you’re totting up the VPs.
Of course, this means the source material has been hugely abstracted, which is a double-edged slingBlade. On the downside, fans of the books may miss a sense of narrative thrust. “Will you break the chains of the Society or embrace the dominance of the Golds?” the rulebook intro asks – a question the gameplay never really notices. There’s no journey here; you’re simply trying to score the most points. On the upside, it means the game works for anyone, even players who’ve never heard of Brown and have no idea what we meant by “slingBlade” three sentences ago. Naturally, the precise significance of many of its 112 characters, which comprise a single deck of unique cards, will be lost on those who haven’t read the books. But that doesn’t prevent you from swiftly clicking into their numerous and varied synergies, which are articulately and accessibly explained on each card.
The aim, essentially, is to finish the game with the strongest hand. What makes this tricky is the fact that each card’s main power is activated only by losing it from your hand to the central board (possibly only temporarily), not to mention the specificity of its scoring conditions, which often depend on other cards you may not even see during the entire game, given the depth of the deck. But this is less frustrating than it is challenging, and it does make for a wealth of tactical variety across different games.
Stegmaier adds some spice with a trio of Scythe-like, endgame-triggering (and bonus point-scoring) achievements, meaning victory is often dependent on how well you time your completion of those achievements. And, as you’d expect from Stonemaier Games, it is a truly handsome production. Although there’s a caveat: think hard before forking out for the Collector’s Edition. While its metal-rather-than-wood player components are shiny-pretty, it’s really hard distinguishing between some of the colours. Which, when you think about it, is cosmically ironic.
PLAY IT? YES
You don’t need to be into the sci-fi books on which it’s based to enjoy this smart hand-management card game, although you’ll struggle to get a deep sense of its dystopia-busting theme.
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier & Alexander Schmidt
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Time: 45-60 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 1 Game board
- 6 House tiles
- 112 Character cards
- 6 Reference cards
- 1 Rising die
- 60 Helium tokens
- 60 Influence cubes
- 6 Fleet tokens
- 1 First-player token
- 1 Sovereign token
- 1 Scorepad
This feature originally appeared in Issue 57 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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