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Is more better? Or is new mechanisms a new way of life? A Red Rising Review

Red Rising from Stonemaier Games, designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alexander Schmidt. Is a hand management combo building game that uses set collection and end-game bonuses. Red rising feels a bit like two games in one, you've got this end game scoring mechanism from Fantasy Realms and then there's all this other end game stuff where you'll need to manage influence , Helium and your Fleet.

Red rising deck of cards is made up of 14 different colours to represent the different factions across 112 cards. Across which you'll find cards requiring particular cards of another faction to trigger their end game scoring, while others might need you to avoid certain factions. I suspect this is the thematic ties to the literature, but having not read the books, I've no idea!

On your turn, it's pretty simple you've one of two options scout, which is drawn from the deck and placed in a location to gain that location's bonus. Or lead, which is deploying a card from your hand to trigger the deploy ability of that location. You'll then either pick a card from another location to gain that location's bonus or draw a card from the deck and roll the rising die for a mandatory bonus.

There's also house tiles that give you additional bonuses when you would take the sovereign token. These range from banishing cards to advancing on track or gaining a resource, everytime you gain the soverign token you activate your house ability. That's pretty much it for rules. Once the game end is triggered, you score up, and the player with the most points wins!

Red Rising for me feels like Fantasy Realms in Space with some added nuts and bolts on, which are potentially largely unnecessary.

That's it. There's the review!

Only joking...

Thematically, having not read the bookings, this feels like a point maximisation game where every card is vitally important. Which is all mechanical, rather than thematical. And if you've been dealt a fairly solid starting hand, which means you've already got a great combo, you're probably going to spend the game scouting. You may occasionally take the lead action, but otherwise, you're going to be largely passive. But if you're dealt a terrible starting hand, you're going to be leading pretty much every turn to try and replace whatever rubbish you have in your hand. But the sprinkling of take that, which means you may lose cards in your hand, adds the necessity to go out and get extra cards to almost buffer any potential effects.

And that is where I'll just recommend you play Fantasy Realms instead. See Fantasy Realms is a 15-minute hand management combo building game in which you're looking to maximise the points from the 7 cards you have in your hand. Got a perfect hand, great just draw a card from the deck on your turn, briefly reflect on whether its worth adding before putting into the market, got a rubbish hand, you're probably going to pick from the faceup card market rather than the deck to try and keep the game going. Without fear of losing part of your combo, unless you choose to. Fantasy realms condenses Red Rising into that core mechanism, and if you've a great opening hand in Red Rising, you're going to be spending an hour essentially passing although you may want an extra card or two because of the potential to have cards removed from your hand, whilst Fantasy Realms is 10-15 minutes and you're in control of your own destiny. Fundamentally, though Fantasy Realms allows you to draw a card from the deck or pick any faceup card, Red Rising restricts you to the top most card of locations or the deck. And in a game of 112 cards, split across 14 factions, you may find the card you want buried under others, whilst you dig through the deck to never see another!

After 3 plays, I've come to draw comparisons of Red Rising to Capital Lux in the way you play cards to the centre to get stuff, whilst trying to build a tableau. This is of course hand management rather than tableau building, but that's the comparison I see myself making. Again, Capital Lux is another game, I love for its compactness and distilled essence, which is essentially a tableau builder in 10-15 minutes. It's not that I don't enjoy longer games, they need to be longer games that are worth my time investment.

As you know, I rate games on a

- Buy or play

- Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ

- Avoid

For me, Red Rising is not an avoid. it's not a terrible game. It just overstays its welcome, and for me, I'd honestly rather play Fantasy Realms. But the artwork here is sublime and now I've added Red Rising to my book list, as I've an itch to explore that world more.

The longest game of Red Rising was almost two hours, and for me, that was painfully boring, like I literally didn't care what the other players did from about half way through as my hand felg complete, and knew I was just pushing the end game. I recieved the collector's edition for review and judging by comments online the large complaints are around the colour of the cubes, the card holders and insert. I'd echo those, although the colour of the playing pieces wasn't a huge issue for us. It was the rather fragile slippy card holders that felt pretty much redundant and useless. And oh if you're a vertical box stacker, the insert doesnt really work.

However, it still earns a "wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ", although this is a play if you are a fan of the books and if you like Fantasy Realms and want something that has more going on, then you're probably going to really enjoy Red Rising. Fundamentally there's alot of stuff here from extra ways to earn points, area control, managing your Fleet and Helium which feel like nice additions, but that is a double edged sword as it adds to the game time and makes it overstay its welcome. I'm also still not convinced 14 factions across 112 cards is fit from a balancing point of view, or maybe it's part of the drive to make you want to draw cards and try to encourage you to take the lead action to potentially get those missing parts of

But for me, I'm now off to hunt down another copy of Fantasy Realms! I sold my copy last year and having played Red Rising and Fantasy realms in the last week. One has earned a place in my collection, and the other has not.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Red Rising by the publisher to review, I was not paid for this review, and my thoughts are my own.

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Feb 05

I feel the same way about the game but I love the book series. I've read it several times through. I think you definitely have more fun playing it when you have those emotional connections to the characters that you are drawing!


Matthieu Cox
Matthieu Cox
Feb 04

Thanks! Those were most of the reasons that already kept me from buying it on sale.


Matthias Broneder
Matthias Broneder
Feb 04

Thank you for the review! I will try get a copy of fantasy realms now 😅

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