Today’s review is of a small game I got to play five times in one sitting:
Red is a game that was co-designed by Carl Chudyk (of Glory to Rome and Innovation fame) and Chris Cieslik (owner of Asmadi Games who also publishes the game). The game is for 2-4 players, and takes five minutes to play. If that. The object of the game is to be the last one standing.
The game comes with 49 cards, including 1-7 in each of the colors of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). There are also four reference cards and a red starter card. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a hand of seven cards, as well as another card face up in front of them to begin their palette. The red starter card is put in the discard pile. The top card of this discard pile determines the rules of your current game – to begin with, you are playing Red, meaning that the highest card wins.
On your turn, you play a card. You can either play it in front of you, or into the discard pile. The only thing is – if you aren’t going to be winning by the end of your turn, you are out. And so you have to be winning with the current rule, or you have to change the current rule by playing into the discard pile. If nothing you do will get you the win, you’re out, and play continues until there’s only one person remaining. With that, here are the seven rules:
- RED – Highest card wins.
- ORANGE – Have the most cards of one number.
- YELLOW – Have the most cards of one color.
- GREEN – Have the most even cards.
- BLUE – Have the most cards of different colors.
- INDIGO – Have cards that form the best run (i.e. 3-4-5)
- VIOLET – Have the most cards below 4.
As you play more rounds, you can try out the advanced rules. These include not being able to discard a card lower than the number of cards in your palette, and scoring points for winning a round by removing the cards you used to win and keeping them in a score pile. There’s also icons on the odd numbered cards that give you special actions when you play one to your palette.
- 7 – Discard another card from your palette. It becomes the new rule, so make sure you’re still winning.
- 5 – Play another card from your hand to the palette. You can still discard.
- 3 – Draw a card from the deck.
- 1 – Take a card from another player’s palette and put it on top of the draw deck.
And that’s all there is to it.
COMPONENTS: Red comes with a deck of 49 cards, plus four reference cards, plus the initial red card. The cards are simply their color, with a splatter located behind the number and a darker border on the bottom and top. There’s a smaller number in the upper right and lower left corner, and the rule of the color is printed on the right and left sides of the card. The colors are very nice, but the issue in color-based games is always how do you adapt it for the color blind. The splatters are different shapes (though the same within each color), but the differences are sometimes subtle. The initial prototype printed the color on the card, but I think that was dumped since the rule on the sides can be used as the differentiation. Blue, indigo, and violet are all fairly close, but the rules are how you can tell the difference. The starter card is easy to spot since it’s the only one with the rule printed in the center. The cards seem to be pretty good quality, and it’s a good thing since you’ll probably be playing it several times in a row.
THEME: There’s no theme here. I guess you could say it’s a game about the color spectrum, but that’s really just more of an organizing factor rather than a thematic element.
MECHANICS: All you have to worry about when playing this game is where you play a card. You play it in front of you to strengthen your claim on the current rule, or into the discard pile to make the rule into what you need. This is opposed to the “draw one, play one” mechanism found in games like Fluxx. What this means is that everything you are ever going to have in the game is in your hand from the very beginning.
The advanced rules add another layer to the proceedings. The not discarding a card higher than the number in front of you rule is tough to remember, but I do really like the scoring and icons. The scoring makes the game more than just a fast one-off thing, and the icons add a bit more strategy to how you play. Both are welcome additions that add to the experience, but they certainly aren’t necessary to enjoy the game.
Red is a game that features player elimination. If you can’t be in the lead by the end of your turn, you’re out. Some people will probably see this as a negative, but to me, it fits more in the Love Letter model – the game is so quick that who cares. Play several rounds if it bothers you.
STRATEGY LEVEL: As I have mentioned, you have everything you’ll ever have in the game from the beginning. This limits you, and you are dependent on the luck of the draw. However, the game mostly becomes a puzzle as you try to figure out the optimum way to introduce your cards in order to give yourself the best chance. It’s essential to know which rules you can win, and what cards are needed in order to win those rules. So, despite the luck factor, there’s a good amount of strategy there as well. The advanced rules, of course, add to this as you have to think more about what you’re playing.
ACCESSIBILITY: On the surface, this is a pretty easy game to pick up. You play a card into your palette or the discard pile, and you must be in first place after your turn. It’s the intricacies of the game that will mess people up. You really have to think around corners, and that can be a barrier to entry. But it’s fast enough that you can play a practice round to get the hang of it, then play again. So I’d say it’s pretty accessible.
REPLAYABILITY: Surprisingly enough, this game is one that can be played a lot. You’re going to have a different combination of cards every time, and you’ll always need to try to find new ways to win. Throw in the advanced rules, and you’ve got even more ways to play. But just the basic game has plenty of replayability.
SCALABILITY: Red is for 2-4 players. With more players, you get a little more time in between turns, but you’re ultimately going to have to react on your own turn. The game flies by, so more players doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be long. I think it plays well with all numbers.
FOOTPRINT: This is simply a deck of cards. There are 54 cards, exactly like a standard deck – 49 for play, 1 to start the discards, and 4 references. You need a little space in front of you for the palette, and a spot for the discard pile. It’s a very small and portable experience.
The question becomes: is this a microgame? I say no. It certainly plays like a microgame – like Love Letter, it’s fast and can be played a number of time in a row and fits in a small package. But I feel like having 49 cards makes it a little big to be a microgame (that is, if you use microgame as a measurement of size rather than gameplay). I’d be more comfortable calling it a Pocket Game, which I use to describe any game that fits in your pocket. I think that’s a much better descriptor of size, and you can say that all microgames are pocket games, but not all pocket games are microgames.
LEGACY: I’ve compared this to Love Letter several times, but they really don’t play anything alike. I mentioned Fluxx earlier, and this game is far superior to Fluxx – it’s not nearly as random, and is over much quicker. If you line it up with some other Chudyk games (particularly Glory to Rome and Innovation), you’ll see a slight similarity in that cards can be used as multiple things (palette or rule). But this is really a unique game that is unlike anything else I’ve played.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Absolutely. It’s a very unique game. It’s a good deal faster and lighter than games like Glory to Rome or Innovation, but provides a ton of unique strategy in a very small package. I also want to applaud the designers for coming up with such a great game in a small amount of time – from what I understand, it was hammered out over Skype in about an hour and a half. And it’s a great result, so definitely check it out. Thanks for reading!