Ra is one of those games that breaks the mold of its own mechanics. In its simplest form, you might say it's a game of auction and set collection. You would be right, but you would also be doing the game a disservice. Why? Because Ra doesn't exactly feel like either of these things.
When a game is described as an auction game, it brings to mind fierce bidding wars like in Princes of Florence, Power Grid, Santiago, Traders of Genoa, and Modern Art. Ra's auctions and short and sweet, and although the decisions can sometimes be difficult, I would not describe the auctions as fierce.
Likewise, when a game is described as a set collection game, it brings to mind much more plodding games like Ticket To Ride, Monopoly, and Coloretto. Ra's set collection mechanism is deep, rich, and exciting.
Ra's setup is very simple. Mix all the tiles in the bag. Place the 1 Sun tile on the board. Give each player 10 VP, and a set of Sun tiles based on the number of players. For example, in a 3-player game, the Sun tiles are distributed as follows:
Player 1: 2-5-8-13
Player 2: 3-6-9-12
Player 3: 4-7-10-11
On your turn, you usually have one of two choices: draw a tile, or invoke Ra (start an auction). If you happen to have one or more God tiles, then you may instead "steal" one or more tiles from the board.
Draw a Tile: Draw a random tile from the bag. If it is a Ra tile, add it to the Ra track on the board, and begin an auction. Otherwise, add it to the Tile track.
Invoke Ra: Call out "Ra", take the wooden Ra piece, and start an auction.
God Tile(s): Discard a God tile and take any tile from the Tile track on the board. This can be done multiple times on the same turn if you have more than one God tile.
Auctions happen when a player draws a Ra tile or when a player invokes Ra on purpose. They are indentical except that in the latter case, the player who invoked Ra must bid if everyone else passes.
Starting with the player to the left of the player who initiated the auction, players either offer one of their face up Sun tiles or pass. You must always offer more than the current best offer. The auction goes once around only. The highest bidder gets all the tiles on the Tile track, as well as the Sun on the board (face down). The Sun which won the auction is placed on the board.
There are 4 types of bad tiles: Funeral, Unrest, Drought, and Earthquake. They remove 2 of your Pharoah, Civilization, Flood/Nile (Floods first), and Monument tiles respectively when won in an auction.
If everyone passes (possible only when a Ra tile caused the auction), then nothing is won, and the current player's turn ends.
Once a player has used all of their face up Suns, they are done for the current epoch. hey can no longer draw tiles, invoke Ra, bid, or use God tiles. An epoch ends when all players run out of Suns, or when the Ra track is full.
At the end of each epoch--of which there are 3--there is a round of scoring. All scoring rounds are the same, except that there are 2 extra things that score at the end of the game. At the end of each of the first 2 scoring rounds, all players discard their Civilizations, Floods, Gold, and Gods. face down Suns from the previous round a flipped face up to be used again, along with any previously unused Suns.
Scoring is probably what scares new players away from Ra. It can seem confusing and fiddly. This is a big issue since every decision you make during play depends on your understanding of how each tile in play will score. But after 2-3 games, even a casual gamer should have no trouble remembering.
The things that score every scoring round:
Pharoahs: Whoever has the most gets 5 VP. Whoever has the least gets -2 VP.
Civilizations: If you have none, you get -5 VP. If you have 3/4/5 different types, you get 5/10/15 VP.
Niles/Floods: You get 1 VP for each Nile and Flood tile *as long as you have at least one Flood.
Gold: 3 VP.
Gods: 2 VP.
The things that score at the end of the game:
Monuments: For each set of 3/4/5 of the same type, you get 5/10/15 VP. For each unique type 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8, you get 1/2/3/4/5/6/10/15 VP.
Suns: Whoever has the highest total Sun value gets 5 VP. Whoever has the lowest total Sun value gets -5 VP.
Players can eat into the 10 VP they started with, but cannot below 0.
Comments On Tile Collection
It is a bad idea to choose a strategy at the beginning of the game. Ra is all about being flexible based on what tiles come up. You have to take advantage of opportunities, and prevent your opponents from doing the same. If you go all out, for example, collecting Monuments, you will usually give up more points than you make.
Pharoahs: If you are way ahead in Pharoahs, collecting more doesn't give you any more points. Likewise, if you are way behind, losing some doesn't cost you. Don't get caught up thinking more is always better, but also be aware of your count relative to other players. Pharoahs are long-term points.
Civilizations: Always try to get at least 1, unless it ends up costing you more than 5 VP to do so. Sets of like-colored Civilization tiles are not worth anything. If possible, prevent others from getting any Civs, or from collecting 3 or more different types. Civilizations are short-term points.
Niles/Floods: Niles are long-term points, but require you to have the short-term Flood tiles. Niles are worth more early in the game, since they have the chance to score 3 times. Trying to collect them solely in the final epoch can be a painful opporunity cost.
Gold: Normally, don't go after Gold by itself. Gold helps to sweeten the pot.
Gods: If you acquire a God tile early in a round, there is always something worth more than 2 VP that you can use it on. For example, grabbing a Civilzation tile when you and an opponent both have none (5 VP for you, -5 VP for him), or grabbing a critical Flood late in a round.
Monuments: Remember that Monuments score in 2 dimensions: sets of the same, and number of uniques. Always look for a chance to get the 3rd, 4th or 5th of the same type. If you have 6 uniques, getting the 7th gives you 4 additional VP, and getting the 8th gives you 5. If you get stuck with an Earthquake (lose 2 Monuments), look at which Monuments your opponents have to decide how best to discard.
Suns: Buying a mediocre lot of Tiles including the 1 Sun with your 13 Sun can be a bad move. Remember that the Suns you win in an epoch are what you will have during the next one. Starting an epoch with Suns 1-2-3-4 hurts. Don't get burned (pun intended) in the final scoring by unexpectedly having the lowest Sun total.
Bidding, Suns, and The Ra Effect
In a sense, having the 1-2-3-4 Suns is a bad position since everyone can outbid you whenever they want, but that is not the whole picture. I'm not going to say it is good to have low Suns, but you can take advantage of the game mechanics to profit well enough.
Ideally, high-valued Suns should be able to take large lots of Tiles. The player with the current largest Sun can just wait until the Tile track fills up with good stuff and grab it all at his whim. But not really...
Say the track is half full, and there are no Ra tiles yet. The player with the 1-2-3-4 Suns invokes Ra. What is the player with the high Sun going to do? If he wins it, he loses his power, and all for much less than he wanted to gain. If he passes, he allows someone else to win it "for cheaper", and then the Tile track is empty. So the player with the low Sun values either gets something for his effort, or he forces others to use up their Suns early.
As the Ra track starts to fill up, a certain amount of "inflation" occurs. This is when players begin to realize that the number on the Sun tile should not be considered as pure value. Early in a round, you might catch yourself thinking, "I'm not paying 13 for that!" But late in a round, you will change your tune. "If I don't buy something now I might not get anything!"
When only 1 player is left with unused Suns, they can continue to draw/bid all by themselves. At this point, all the other players start chanting "Ra Ra Ra!" hoping the Ra tiles come quicky to end the round. This is often a game of chicken between the greedy player and the vengeful god.
I would recommend Ra for any gamers, include new gamers. Although the scoring is a little complex, the game itself is simple and quick. I would even recommend Ra to people who do not like auction games or set collection games. I would also recommend it to people who do not like other Knizia games.
Components: 8. I have the Uberplay edition. The board, tiles, and Suns are all top notch. My only two issues are with box insert and the bag. The board is smaller than the openings of the box, so a corner of it can fall in which could make the board warp over time. The bag is too small to mix/draw the tiles well. We use the box cover instead of the bag.
Rules: 9. The rules are clear with lots of pictures and examples.
Overall: 9. Ra is a fantasic game that I would categorize as a heavy filler, and recommend to anyone.
- Last edited Fri Jun 23, 2006 6:47 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Jun 23, 2006 5:26 pm
Great review and Great title!
Great review, Jim... But then again, I expected nothing less. In fact, I expect equally insightful and engaging treatment of Pretty Pretty Princess.
I'm getting Ra really soon and this review helped me tremendously understand the mechanics! Thanks Jim!