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Red Rising - Easy to Teach, Difficult to Master

Today we are back with one of this year's inventions - Red Rising by Stonemaier Games. Suppose you have been following the board game world. In that case, it won't be a surprise to you that Stonemaier Games are waited, pre-ordered, and are usually making people very excited. This same studio once gave us ScytheWingspan, and Viticulture to name a few of their successes. In addition to that, Jamey Stegmaier, running the company, is very active on Facebook and Youtube. He shares his opinions on game design, the board game industry and trends, and many more.

With Red Rising, Stonemaier Games did a very cool campaign where they gave 1 USD to charity for each launch notification request. They raised over 10 000 USD to the ACLU. We were inspired by the campaign and gave 1 EUR for each product wish to the Finnish League for Human Rights. We donated 50€ to a good cause as well. 

Now you see why I was thrilled to try this game even before opening the box. So, where does it take us? The answer is space. And politics. But mostly, classes and casts.

Red Rising Board Game Box Front

As I discovered more, the Red Rising board game is based on the book series by Pierce Brown. Red Rising book is a dystopian sci-fi novel that follows the lives of people on Mars many years in the future. The people living there are divided into classes that are assigned specific professions. As it often goes in a class society, they have different rights depending on which class they belong to. 

Although the book has been praised by critics, it has not become an international bestseller (yet?); thus, I was unfamiliar with it when I got the game. Did it influence how much I enjoyed the game? Yes and no. Let me explain.

In the game of Red Rising, you're a leader of a faction fighting for power. You start with a hand of 5 cards, agents, people of different classes, and your goal is to get the most victory points. Victory points can be gained in many ways: strength of your fleet, influence on the Institute, helium storage, and the combination of cards in your hand. Here comes my long-waited Tapestry reference, another Stonemaier game, and it features many paths to victory. You have to operate within the cards you have in your hand and on the table and figure out the best way to play this round. Quite an interesting thinking exercise. 

Red Rising Board Game contents

The game goes as you deploy agents into different locations, recruit other agents and work on all the spheres of influence. Each turn, you either deploy an agent to the location and get another agent back from the location to your hand (gaining the bonus) or place a totally new card from the massive deck of agents into the location and gain its bonus. The mentioned bonuses directly influence the areas I mentioned: fleet, Institute, and helium. The fourth possible bonus depends on your chosen or picked up a faction, and usually is also another up to fleet, Institute, and helium, as well as possible card management.

That's the game in a nutshell, but if you want to know all the rules, here's a 17-min video by Watch it Played, my favorite channel that explains board game rules: (that's how I learned this game too).

If you're here for my own impression of the game, that varied hugely.

After the first game, I was pretty lost. The game itself is straightforward, but that doesn't make it easy. In fact, it's actually quite tricky. Nearly each of 112 cards has unique abilities and conditions. Sure, the same classes have similar ideas, but noticing and remembering each of the unique 15-30 cards on the table and calculating the best possible outcome is not so easy, especially if cards change constantly.

Red Rising Board Game cards


However, the learning curve was not impossible to progress, and already after a few more games, we knew what was going on. It happens with many board games, doesn't it?


What I liked

  • The theme, or rather Invitation to the World. As I mentioned, I didn't know anything about these worlds before getting the game, and now as I explored what it actually is, I just want to read the books. And when you do, you start to see why the game plays the way it does.
  • Real Card Management. You have a limited number of cards and gaining new cards is extremely difficult. You better make those five cards that you have from the beginning count and use all their bonuses and combos to your advantage.
  • Doesn't get repetitive. There's an enormous amount of cards and combinations to try in each game, so you always get a fresh table and lots of things to try.
  • Solo mode. Although I don't usually play solo, Stonemaier Games are famous for the quality of its Automa mode for 1 person. The solo mode even has a special deck of cards and a special rulebook (or a leaflet, cause the rulebook of this game is incredibly thin).

What I didn't like

  • The Theme. Yes, you read it correctly. I liked the theme, but I see it as a disadvantage to the game. Not many people are familiar with the world of Red Rising. Although you can still play it, a lot of references and ideas are missed. You just don't understand why all those people and combinations work (For example, often Red class, the lowest class gets point-boost if you don't have the Gold class of elites). Suppose I wanted a more relatable lighter and chiller game for a game night. In that case, I'd probably pick Dominion7 Wonders, or even Exploding Kittens over this one.
  • An overwhelming amount of cards is just.. Well.. overwhelming! In many card games, you have to work with cards with unique texts, however as I don't see Red Rising hitting my table every day, I need to remember many cards. Or just play as it goes, and then read a lot of cards as they come. Either way, exhausting.

The verdict

Red Rising has given me a few hours of engaging and challenging gameplay already. Also, it has introduced me to the sci-fi world (i love that!) that I've never heard about before. Even if this game isn't going to be my choice for the game night with friends or family, we will share many more game sessions with my partner, hopefully, while reading the book and learning all the world's secrets/



Anna Pogrebniak

I’ve been playing for as long as I remember myself. When I was a kid I dreamt of building my own games, and now I’m trying to make it a reality. Board games carry me away into a different world where I can be a knight, a researcher, a kingdom builder, or a zombie fighter. Love semi-coop and engine-building games. Favorite game of all times: Dead of Winter.