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.
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. 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, layout 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.
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 win. 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 on the market, which on the surface, looks like a more complex game. But it is 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? Which cards to keep? What to deploy? Which ones to try and pair with something else? What cards are your 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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
Quickly, I realised I was playing the game wrong. I was trying to make my starting handwork 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.
Red Rising Round-Up
I love Red Rising. It sits currently fourth in my all-time Stonemaier favourites.
It is very different from any of their other games. Quicker and lighter. 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.