Review of Rising 5: Runes of Asteros

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Rising 5: Runes of Asteros, the Kickstarter “Collector’s Edition”

About a week or so ago, my copy of Rising 5: Runes of Asteros arrived.  Rising 5: Runes of Asteros is a cooperative deduction game for 1-5 players.  I had backed the Collector’s Edition (see over-sized box above) and have been looking forward to it for some time!  I had seen the Dice Tower folks play/review it months ago and they really liked it.  But, that was months ago!  I have to admit to being mildly annoyed that the Dice Tower reviewers got their copy well-before the people (like me) who kickstarted it.  But, I understand!  The publisher wants to generate interest in the game and sending pre-copies to reviewers is a way to do that.

So what came in the box?

Unboxing!

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The box is chock full!
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After pulling out all the boards and rulebooks, we have the figures and cards!

The game box is surprisingly chock full!  Because I got the Collector’s Edition from Kickstarter, I also got the art book.  I almost never get the art books, but I really wanted all the coolness of the Collector’s Edition.  The book came in the box!  It wasn’t separate!

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Art book from the Collector’s Edition

The game comes with really nice minis.  Surprisingly nice.  The different colors make it very very easier to distinguish the figures across the board.  I think if the figures had all been gray, this would have made it a little harder to distinguish (even though they are all very different).

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Very distinct and very nice Minis.  Unfortunately, the minis only come from the Collector’s Edition

The boards and side boards are gorgeous!

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The main board, with two side boards/expansions (along the left edge and top edge)

The top side board is for an expansion (the game comes with quite a number of expansion/variants) and the side board (mostly) is just to help keep track of the cards.  I don’t think the left side comes with the normal edition, but the top board does.

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Top board (expansion/variant). This expansion is used to keep track of when a character fails a combat
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Side board. Keeps track of one expansion and some cards.

As you can tell, this game is beautiful!  The art of Vincent Dutrait is pretty fantastic.

Rulebook and Directions

The game comes with two rulebooks (1 in English, 1 in French) and 2 double-sided sheets describing a plethora of expansions.  Seriously, there seem to be a lot of variants and ways to change up the main game!

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This expansion adds more powers to the characters
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Another expansion: he gives you little side quests
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Yet another expansion and the Marker for the current sun condition

The rulebook is pretty good.  In my first play, I was able to get up and playing pretty quickly.  So, this is a case where the rulebook was a relief … it wasn’t hard to read! Whew!

Solo Rules

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A Solo Game set-up and ready to go!  Even though I am using all boards, I am just playing the basic game.  The boards are too pretty to put back in the box!

The rulebook has well-described solo rules.  They actually followed Saunders’ Law! And the rules for the solo play were good as well.  I was able to learn the game quickly and directly from the rulebook.   The solo rules change the base game very mildly; you play normally, but have another hand that is used just to “support” the main hand.

I was able to learn the game from the rulebook, play it solo that same night, and teach it to my friends the next night.  I had no trouble getting through this.  In fact, the great art and design made me want to get through this.

Core Mechanic

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The game is a cooperative deduction game.  In it, all players are working together to find the pattern to keep the gate sealed.  At its core, Rising 5 is all about finding the right pattern on hexes in the middle of the board.

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Find the right hexes and the right pattern to win the game!

The players must find the right 4 hexes to put in the middle (there are a total of 7 differently colored hexes) and put them in the right place (each hex must go to an exact place).  That’s made a little easier because there are always 4 hexes in a grid (like above).

And that’s the fundamental puzzle of the game.  (There are symbols on the hexes, but it’s the color that matters).   As you play, you get hints as to the symbols are set-up (see how to get hints below).   To some of you, this might remind some of you of a game called Mastermind from the 1970s.

That’s where the similarity ends.  This game had a lot more going on around this core puzzle.  First of all, there is a level of indirection on the hints.  Rather than tell you which hex colors are proper (and in the right place), the hints are given in the form of some spirit animals.  Yes, that’s what I said.

There are seven spirit animals, and seven hexes.  At the start of the game, hexes and spirit animals are randomly assigned, so exactly one hex maps to exactly one spirit animal.  And all seven are mapped.  At the start of the game, YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW THE HEXES MAP TO THE SPIRIT ANIMALS.   That’s one of the things you have to deduce in the game.

So, when the game gives you a hint, you get something like this:

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The “hint” is in the form of the spirits, but how do those correspond to the hexes you need?

This hint tells you about the current configuration of spirits, not the hexes!

The single BRIGHT spirit tells you that one of your hexes is the right color and in the right place.  The semi-bright spirits (two) tell you two of the hexes are the right color but in the wrong place.  Finally, the dark create (the spider) tells you that one of the hexes is simply the wrong color.

This hint tells you that 3 of the 4 hexes are the correct color, but one of them needs to go.  But unless you know the correspondence between hex colors and spirit creatures, that doesn’t help!

So, as you play, things happen which help you deduce the correspondence between the hex colors and the Spirit Animals.

Getting Hints

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To get hints on the current configuration (no configuration shown here), you need to get 4 cubes on the altars, and then you can ask for a hint!

To get a hint, you have to work for it.   You need to put  4 Silk Cubes on the 4 altars on the middle of the board to get a hint.  You can to get these Silk Cubes (little green cubes) in a number of ways!

  1. Visit a Location and defeat a Monster.  Every monster you kill gives you some number (usually 1 or 2) Silk Cubes.

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    A Monster! When you kill this guy (by rolling 1 or more on a die), you get a single Silk Cube (green cube) to put on the altars.
  2. Visit a location and get help from a “friend”.

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    When you visit a location with this guy, he’ll either give you a Silk Cube OR move the Eclipse Marker back.
  3. Use special artifacts or (sometimes spelled artefact in the rules) Relics which simply give you Silk Cubes when you use them.
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    Some Relics give you Silk Cubes and some Artifacts give you Silk Cubes

    You can usually get an artifact by visiting a location.  Relics are much harder to get: you have to kill a big bad monster!

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    A Big Bad monster! Takes 5 to kill on the die! (But the die only goes to 4 …). If you kill him, you get a clue about Spirit Animals and also a Relic!

     

Once you get 4 Silk Cubes, any character can spend a turn to get a Hint.

Characters

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There are 5 characters and they are all have very different, but essential, assymetric powers.  You might think you are each player assumes the role of a single character throughout the game … and you would be wrong.   On your turn, you activate one of the characters with your cards and have them move, encounter, or get a hint.

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Each character has 11 character cards.  Players are dealt 5-6 random character cards

At the start of the game, each player is randomly dealt 5 or 6 (depending on the number of players) random character cards.  On your turn, you choose which character (if any) to activate to move across the world, explore locations, fight monsters, or  consult at the altar to gain a hint.

This is part of the cooperative nature of this game.  Each player decides which character to activate on their turn to make further progress on the puzzle.

Bad News Everyone!

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What’s that red moon?

Like any cooperative game, there are many ways to lose, but only one way to win.

  1. You win if you solve the puzzle (all 4 correct colored hexes in the proper 4 locations)
  2. You lose if the Eclipse Track goes to the bottom (causing a terrible Eclipse!)
  3. You lose if go through all player cards.

Red Moons come out which will advance the Eclipse track: if it ever gets to the bottom, the planet is melted and players lose!

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The Eclipse track is on the far right. If it ever reaches the bottom red mark, Game Over! Players lose!

Every so often, some Red Moon comes out of the character deck and “helps” to advance the Eclipse Track.  It’s clever because the Eclipse Track will advance downwards by the number of Red Moons out on the board (on the monster cards).  The Red Moon don’t move the Eclipse Track right away: after a Red Moon card is revealed (when a player ends his turn and draws character cards), the effect doesn’t take place until the end of the next player’s turn.  This means the next player has a chance to mitigate the effect of the drawn Red Moon card.

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A Monster! When you kill him (by rolling 1 or more on a die), you get 1 Silk Cube (green cube) to put on the altars.

Notice the Monster card above has a single Red Moon (above the giant 1) on it!  Every monster has at least 1 Red Moon.  At the end of the turn, all Red Moons on Monsters are summed up, and that’s how far the Eclipse Marker moves down.   Let’s hope it doesn’t get to the bottom … or else!

How Do You Win?

Solve the puzzle.  But, important note, the ONLY way to move hexes around is with the ORAKL character.  His special ability is to swap two hexes (either on the map, or from the side).

pic3187471So, the only way to make progress in the puzzle is to activate ORAKL.  Most of the other characters have special powers which help you in the game (better combat, better movement, better Eclipse position).  These special powers give you advantages to keep the game going.  At some point, you have enough Silk Cubes so you can use a hint and see the result of ORAKL’s hex movements.   (One nice feature: HAL can copy ORAKL’s special power if he’s on the same location and also swap hexes).

This game is about swapping hexes with ORAKL’s power, fighting to get 4 Silk Cubes, analyzing the hints, and finally deducing what the final puzzle is.

The Lady or the Tiger

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An App on your phone helps run the game

At this point, I should mention that this game is “usually” app-driven.  Usually, you take a picture of the board with the app (when you have collected enough Silk Cubes) and the app gives you the hint!  It also shows the history of hints to help the players deduce the final puzzle.

A few of things about the app:

  1. I was surprised it was NOT on the iPad app store, but it WAS on the iPhone app store.  Not sure why, no big deal, but it seemed weird.
  2. My first (solo) game went fine using the camera to take pictures.  I think my second game (in a different locale) had weird problems—we couldn’t get it to focus and give us a hint! We were frustrated for a few minutes.
  3. Luckily, there is a way to enter “manually” the configuration of the board to get the hint

All in all, the Rising 5 app worked well enough.  If, however, you don’t have smart phone, there is a way to have one player “pretend” to be the app.  That player has to sit out and just give hints.  So, it’s not the funnest way to play, but if you don’t have the app, you can still play this game.

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One player can set-up the puzzle (behind the box) and give hints when the players want them!

Living In This World

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Quite some time ago, a friend of mine strongly recommended Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  Cryptography and Turing?  Sounds great!  Only … I didn’t like it.  At all.  To me, it was long and wandering and didn’t get to the point.  After discussions with my friend Derek (who looooooves Neal Stephenson and got his Kindle autographed by him), we came to this conclusion: Derek agreed that Stephenson was long-winded, but he liked going along for the ride—he liked the universe.  Being part of the Cryptonomicon universe was fun, even if the story is perhaps overwrought.

What does this have to do with Rising 5: Runes of Asteros?

At the end of the day, this game is just basically Mastermind, an old game where two players played against other.  One player created a pattern, and the other player tried to guess it.  At it’s core, Rising 5 is Mastermind.  

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But, while Mastermind is abstract game with no theme …

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Rising 5: Runes of Asteros has theme in buckets!

If you like the world the game lives in, then you are okay with all the flourishes to Mastermind!  At it’s core, this game is just Mastermind.  But all the stuff around it, I think, was fun!  It added a lot of color, theme, art to the core idea.  But, if you are a reductionist, you may not like this game!  If you can only see the Mastermind game at the core, you may be annoyed by all the flouishes.  Much like I was annoyed by all flourishes of Cryptonomicon.

Conclusion

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What a great World to Play in!

At the end of the day, I loved the flourishes on top of cooperative Mastermind. The idea of having to work for your hints, forming strategy to when activate the characters, fighting monsters, finding relics and artifacts .. it all worked for me.  I liked it as a solo game.

My friends and I played as well (at 4 players) and we all loved it.  Everyone wants to play again!   We all joked that this game is WAAAY overproduced for what it is, but world is so colorful and bright, it’s more like joking that we got too much candy for Halloween.  No one was really complaining about the amazing art and theme …

I think a lot of people will really like Rising 5.  I think some reductionists may be annoyed by all the flavor and claim “It’s just Mastermind all prettied up”.  Yup, and how pretty it is.

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