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Game Preview: Red, or Riding the Rules Rainbow

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Red7
Should I post a game preview before the game is even sent to print? No, wait — how about before the game design is even finished?!

Sure, why not? As I have stated a number of times, I'm a huge fan of designer Carl Chudyk, particularly his civ-based card game Innovation but also Glory to Rome and Impulse. Chudyk does great things with cards, giving you multiple ways to use them in a game with the cards transforming from one object to another as they move from deck to hand to tableau to wherever. Their value changes constantly as a game progresses, challenging you to rethink and re-evaluate what you thought you already knew.

I bring this up because Chudyk and frequent publishing partner Chris Cieslik of Asmadi Games have designed a new card game titled Red that is far more straightforward than the games listed above, but still super clever and head-twisty. The deck, which is available as a print-and-play (PDF), consists of 49 cards numbered 1-7 in seven colors, with 7 being high and the colors ranked in ROY G BIV order, so the Red 7 is highest, then Orange 7, ..., Red 6, Orange 6, etc. all the way down to the lowly Violet 1. To win the game of Red, you need to have the highest card in play at the end of your turn — but you might find yourself playing a different game before too long...

Each round starts with each player having a hand of seven cards and one card being placed on the table before you in your palette. Whoever sits to the left of the player with the highest card takes the first turn. On a turn, you can play one card to your palette OR discard one card to the center of the table to change the game (i.e., the winning condition) OR do both; if you do both, you draw a new card from the deck. If you discard a yellow card, for example, then the player with the most cards of one color in his palette is winning (with high card breaking ties); if you discard an indigo card, then the player with the longest numerical run regardless of colors is winning (with high card again breaking ties). Why do you want to change the winning condition? Because if you're not winning the current game at the end of your turn, you're out of the round and watching from the sidelines as everyone else keeps playing.

Since your hand shrinks by one card each turn, eventually everyone will have played all of their cards or only one person will remain in the game. The last player in wins the round, and whoever wins a predetermined number of rounds wins the game. (Advanced rules will introduce scoring, with players removing cards from the game when they win a round — as in Colovini's Corsari, for those familiar with that game — and everyone playing until someone hits a point threshold. Other twists will also be introduced in the advanced rules for when you're comfortable with everything else going on.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Note that some rules differ on the cards above; playtesting & iteration in action, baby!

The rules of Red fit on a single sheet of paper, but as soon as you start playing, you're taken aback by all the possibilities that your hand presents to you. In the hand above — which was played before recent updates that changed a few of the color rules — I have the Violet 1, the lowest card, but it's the only Violet card that I have, so I can't both play it and change the game from Red to Violet and be winning. I could play the Blue 4 and discard the Orange 1 as I'd then have a pair of 4s and would be winning the game of Orange — or would I?

I forgot to capture my opponent's cards in this shot. What do they have on the table? If no one else has a higher 7 than Blue, I can play the Violet 1, discard the Orange 1, and be winning the Orange game (since high card is the tiebreaker for Orange). That would put a third color in my palette to set me up for discarding the Yellow 6 later and possibly having most colors, plus I'd draw a new card (since I played two cards) and more possibilities might open up. Hmmm. So much to think about!

As I noted above, the design of Red is still underway, which is why the game I played three days ago now differs from the game's current state — but of course that seems to be keeping to the nature of the game itself. Change the rules! Then play and change again. While the individual rule changes are important and make for a different game that what I previously experienced, the core of the game is untouched: Win the game you're currently playing or change the game to something else that you are winning. Cieslik plans to produce a short run of Red in time for Gen Con 2014 in August, with a Kickstarter to follow before the end of 2014. I'm a sucker for quick-playing tactical card games, so feel free to challenge me to a game should you see me in Indy...
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