Ra is yet another game by Reiner Knizia (he must design in his sleep). Knizia has many excellent games (Tigris & Euphrates, Ingeneous, Lost Cities, Through The Desert, etc.) and some not so excellent games (Relationship Tightrope, Minotaur Lords, Soduko Challenge). Heck, the guy even pumped out a decent word game (My Word!) and contributed to the Carcasonne series. Ra is definitely one of his top efforts.
Ra, basically, is an auction game. But that descriptor does little to describe the balance and interaction within the game.
Ra is a 3 to 5 player game that is played over 3 Epochs. Each Epoch will contain multiple auctions of varying size.
Components: The game is comprised of a central playmat where drawn tiles will be played, Sun Tokens that are used for bidding, score tablets of various denominations and a bag of Egyptian -themed tiles that the players will be bidding for.
Start-Up: Each player starts the game with 3 or 4 Sun Tokens(depending on the number of players). Each Sun Token has a value of 1 to 16. The 1 value token starts the on the board and the players take their set of tokens(predetermined combinations are in the manual) and place them face-up in front of themselves. They also start with 2 5-point score tablets (it is possible to lose points, so the players start with some).
The player with the highest Sun Token goes first.
Playing The Game: On each players turn, they can perform one of three actions:
----- Draw a Tile
----- Use a God Tile
----- Invoke Ra
Drawing A Tile: The tiles represent various Egyptian-ish things. Most tiles get played to the lower (Auction) track while the Ra tiles go to the top. The various tiles and what they do are as follows:
----- Pharoahs - the player with the most Pharaoh tiles at the end of an epoch scores 5 points. The person with the least loses 2 points. If all players are equal, everybody gets squat.
----- Civilizations - there are five different ones. You score 5/10/15 points for 3/4/5 different ones at the end of each epoch. If you have no civilizations, you lose 5 points.
----- Gold - a gold tile scores you 3 points at the end of an epoch.
----- River/Flood - river tiles are worth nothing unless you have a flood tile, then each flood and river tile gives you 1 point at the end of each epoch.
----- God Tile - a God tile gives you 2 points at the end of an epoch, but it's other ability is far more useful. Instead of drawing a tile, you can use a God tile to steal a tile from the auction board. You can not, however, use a God to steal a God.
----- Monuments - monuments only score at the end of the game. The give points for sets of 3/4/5 and for how many different ones you have.
----- Disaster Tiles - there are disaster tiles that represent Pharaohs, Monuments, Rivers and Civilizations. If you have a disaster tile in an Auction that you have successfully one, you must destroy 2 of that type of tile in your possession.
----- Ra tile - if you draw a Ra tile, it is placed on the top track of the board and immediately starts an auction commencing with the player following the one who drew the Ra. If the Ra placed fills the last place on the Ra track, it ends the Epoch and the players score.
Use A God Tile: As described above, if you have a God tile in front of you (from a previously successful auction), you may use it to steal a tile from the Auction track.
Invoke Ra: Invoking Ra triggers an Auction. The Auction starts with the player after the invoker. The invoker must bid on an auction if all other players pass.
If all ten Auction track spots are full, and you do not have a God tile to use, you must invoke Ra, but invoking Ra in this way does not force you to bid.
Auctions: An auction involves all of the tiles in the Auction track. The number of tiles will vary, and - in fact - manipulating these numbers is the key to the game.
In an auction, each player gets to bid once by selecting a Sun Token to bid with or passing. The one who invoked Ra always bids last. The person who plays the highest Sun Token takes all of the tiles from the Auction track and resolves any disasters immediately. The winner also exchanges his/her successful Sun Token with the Sun Token on the board, thereby adding this winning Token to the next auction. The token taken from the board is placed face down in front of the player. In this way, you have a fixed number of Auctions you can win in any given Epoch.
Final Scoring: The end of the third epoch triggers the final scoring round. In this final round, the monuments will be score. Also, the player with the highest total value of Sun Tokens gets 5 points. The person with the least loses 5 points.
Strategic Elements: While the drawing of tiles from the bag presents a random element, what you do on your turn is based on perfect information: you can see the tiles on the board, you know how many Ra tiles are counting down the Epoch, you know the number and value of all Sun Tokens on the table (including the one up for grabs on the board) and you know the sets and combos your opponents are working on.
Each time a new tile is played onto the board, the next Auction's intrinsic value to each player changes. Timing exactly when to invoke Ra is the heart of the game. If you can force a player to use all of their Sun Tokens early in an epoch, they can be eliminated from the later part of the round. Also, a player that isn't carefully watching the value of their face down Tokens can get left out of the big auctions in the following round.
The Final Word: Ra is a deviously interactive auction game that can be taught in minutes, plays fast and is different every time. I find it a very lively game, with players egging each other on or cursing as they're painted into a corner. So the theme is tacked on. Who cares? This game is a brilliant gem that I would recommend to anybody.