Monday, June 17, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 44 (10-9)

#10 Red Rising

In Red Rising players are drafting cards from a central board in order to build the best hand of cards, while simultaneously racing up three influence tracks. The cards all represent characters from a popular book series called, Red Rising.


A central board displays all the cards on offer, as well as marking each player's progress on the various tracks where they are vying to gain the most influence. Only one of these is actually a track. That's the Fleet track. There's also the Institute where players place cubes to gain influence, and a central supply of "helium" represented by red crystals that players are trying to collect. It's three different methods of measuring progress. Functionally, it's three tracks.

Each track is directly linked to an area on the main board. These areas are: Jupiter, Mars, and The Institute. The Institute area is obviously tied to the Institute track. Jupiter is tied to the Fleet track, and Mars is tied to the Helium track. There is a fourth area on the board that isn't linked to one of these tracks, and that's Luna.

The four areas of the board (Jupiter, Mars, Luna, and The Institute) are columns and in each column there are cards. On a player's turn, they play a card from their hand into one of the four columns. This is called deploying the card. When you deploy a card you gain the deploy ability printed on the card. All of these cards have different powers that are going to affect the game in different ways.


After you deploy a card you replenish your hand by drawing a new card from one of the other three columns. You can't pick the card back up that you just deployed, you have to draw a card from the top of one of the other three columns. These cards are all face up. So, you aren't so much drawing a replacement card as drafting one.

When you draft a card into your hand, you add influence on the track connected to the column from which you drafted the card. Remember: play a card from your hand to activate its power (play:power); take a card from the board to move on a track (take:track). The exception here is Luna. Luna isn't tied to one of the three tracks.

At the start of the game, players choose to be a member of a specific faction from the world of the Red Rising novels. Each faction grants their player a unique player power. On your turn, when you take a card from Luna you gain a thing called: the Sovereign Token. This also activates your faction's unique player power.

Aside from activating your player power every time it is taken (even if you already have it), some cards will grant you bonuses if you have the Sovereign Token, and it's worth 10 points at the end of the game. As the game end is approaching it's not uncommon to fight for possession of the Sovereign Token, as that 10 point boost can sometimes feel substantial.

The tracks are important for scoring points and for tracking the progress of the game. As soon as any one player reaches 7 on two of the tracks or any combination of players has reached 7 on all three tracks, the game ends and scores are tallied. These scores come from the tracks, but also and foremost from the cards in each player's hand.

The cards in your hand in Red Rising all combo off other cards and score based on what other cards you hold in your hand. While you play, and as you are drafting cards, you are constantly measuring the strength of the powers of the cards that you deploy, against the value that they have if you keep them in you hand in order to combo them with other cards.

This push and pull of playing a card for its power now or holding it for points at the end of the game is a big part of what makes playing Red Rising fun and challenging. It's a great puzzle and a great game. That's why Red Rising has landed at #10 in my top 100 games of all time.


#9 Cavemen: The Quest for Fire

Cavemen is a light engine building card game. In this game players start out with two cave person villagers, a cave, some dinosaur teeth and some food. Cave persons have some icons on their cards to show what they can do. There are arrowhead symbols that contribute to your tribe's fighting strength, a light bulb symbol that contributes to your tribe's ability to invent new things, and an apple symbol that contributes to your tribe's ability to forage for food.


Every turn there is a little auction for the first player token. I normally do not like bidding games, but here, players generally only have a few teeth (teeth is the currency in the game) that they can bid with. So, auctions are tight and quick, also stakes are very high. The first player gets to act twice during the turn, both first and last. So, winning this auction is no small thing.

It might seem like you would want to take the first player token every turn, but it comes with its own burden. After the first player is determined, it is time to feed your people. For everyone except the first player, your entire tribe can be fed with one unit of food. However, for the first player, they must have one unit of food for every cave person card in their village.

Next you take turns buying cards from an offer to add those cards to your village. There are lots of other cave person cards, as well as inventions, and caves, and prehistoric beasts. Killing beasts can give you food and teeth, but can cause you to lose one of your cave persons in the battle. Recruiting more cave people costs food and you have to have enough caves to hold all the people of your tribe.


Each turn you are gathering cards to build your little cave person village. Inventions provide little ongoing benefits that can help your village, and these don't require you to spend any resources. You just have to have high enough inventive power among the people in your village to claim the card. This is in fact the goal, because the first person with enough inventive power to invent fire is going to win the game.

Cavemen is a pretty light game and I think that it plays best at 2. This one sits so high for me precisely because it is so light and easy to get to the table, and I love these kinds of village building games. I also love the art in this game. In fact, if I were to rank the top 10 board games in my collection strictly for their artwork, Cavemen might land at number one.

The artwork in Cavemen is made up of photographs taken of posed figures constructed from clay. Think of those classic claymation Christmas specials on TV like Rudolph: the Red Nosed Reindeer, and you'll get the idea. All of the art on the cards of Cavemen is that, and each model is unique for every card. No two cards have the same art. I love this. 

Every piece of art comes to life, claymation style, in my mind's eye as I look at it. Also, Cavemen is set in a fictional version of prehistory where cave people and dinosaurs coexisted. So, in addition to great claymation cave people, we get awesome claymation dinosaurs. This isn't a game of historical fact, but of childlike wonder and imagination.


I tend to approach games from one of two mindsets. I either sit down at the table thinking about the game play and how I can use it to win the game, or I sit down at the table thinking about the game play and the kind of experience that game will give me. I think that I tend to enjoy those games more that I enter into thinking about the experience rather than the win. Not that I don't enjoy winning, or that I don't care about it. It's just that I care about the experience of the game more. 

Cavemen: The Quest for Fire is one of those games that I approach from an immersive experience standpoint first. Yes, a lot of this is just about the art on the cards and my nostalgic connection to those claymation classics of my youth. From a gameplay standpoint, I like those games that let me build something. Building my little village tickles another aspect of that immersive experience for me. 

Cavemen is not without its problems. Heavy strategy gamers will find it too random. Aside from the bidding for first player, there is no player interaction. If a lucky player manages to get just the right cards to create a good engine, they will generally run away with the victory. I don't care. I love pretending with my little clay cave people in their little clay caves. That's why for me, Cavemen: The Quest for Fire is my #9 favorite board game of all time.


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