Monday, October 13, 2014

GJJG Game Reviews - Rise! - by Crash Games

Designer: Michael Coe
Publisher: Crash Games
GJJG Game Reviews - Rise! - by Crash Games

Game Overview:
Rise! is a 2 player strategy game for ages 13+ that takes 20-30 minutes (although my experience is that younger kids can play, too, as long as they understand the basic strategy, and games take significantly longer for experienced strategists).  Rise! is by Crash Games and originated on Kickstarter in 2011.  It was Crash Games's first Kickstarter project (and I believe their first game ever) and they have since had a number of successful projects.  It is now available through online and brick & mortar retailers, although not with the Ballistic expansion that was available on Kickstarter.  I received Rise! as a birthday gift this past spring, so I also don't have the expansion.  But even without it the game is pretty awesome.

In Rise! each player controls a set of workers that are attempting to either eliminate the other player's workers or build three towers.  Generally the game is aimed at building the towers because a player has to plan very poorly to lose all his players.  Each turn players may take two actions in an attempt to out-maneuver each other.  Actions include placing a land tile (a small green hex that serves as a space on a growing playing field), placing a worker (a small round, wooden disc) on a tile adjacent to another of the player's existing workers, moving a worker, jumping an opponent's worker (and removing the jumped worker from the board), sacrificing two workers to remove an opponent's worker from the board, sacrificing two workers to place a worker anywhere on the playing field even if it's not next to another worker, or removing a tier from a partially built tower.  Through these actions players try to expand the board and position their workers to create a ring of workers around a central hex tile.  When they accomplish that their workers will start building a tower (made from small wooden cubes).  If the player is able to maintain a ring for three turns the tower will be built.  The turns don't need to be consecutive, however if the opponent is able to surround the tower (even a completely built tower) the opponent's workers will start dismantling the tower, one tier at a time, then start building their own tower.  The result is a very complex strategic back-and-forth as players try to maneuver their pieces into position and maintain the positions and defend already built towers.

Components & Packaging:
The components and packaging are very high quality.  The tiles are all linen coated chip board and the pieces are very nice painted wood.  The game is a bit smaller than I expected, with each tile only being about 1.25" across, but I'm actually very happy with the size.  It's small profile (5.5" x 5.5" x 2") lets me take the game with me camping without taking up much space.  There's not much in the way of packaging, just a nice, thick box and two small plastic baggies for the wooden pieces, but it's sufficient to hold everything securely and is very sturdy.  I have absolutely no complaints about the components or packaging and wish all my games were this level of quality.

Score: 10/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
The rules that come with the game fit on a nice, glossy 9"x12" paper that's folded to fit into the small box. In addition to what I listed in my paragraph above the rules have a few graphics, explain each possible action in a little more detail, include the setup configuration, and have a few additional examples.  In all the rules are very easy to understand and pretty straight forward.  I've been playing with my 5 and 8 year old boys in the evening and they both understand the rules fine, even if they need a little work on understanding the strategy (my 5yo keeps wanting to sacrifice his workers to kill one of mine because he thinks it's funny, even though that leaves him with only a couple of workers that I can easily eliminate).  Teaching the game to an adult takes about 5 minutes, maybe even less.  And the rules have a nice summary of the possible actions, although I wish the summary was located on the rules in a space that was outward facing when they were folded.  Instead I find that I'm folding the rules against the way they were originally so the short reference is outward for new players as a reminder.  A small reference card would have been even better, but it's really not necessary after the first few minutes of play.

Setup takes about 30 seconds. and consists of laying out 12 land tiles in a barbell formation and placing one worker of each color on the appropriate tiles.  That's it, and it's so simple even my 5 year old can set up the game when he wants to play.

Score: 9/10 x2

At its heart Rise! is a strategy game, like checkers or chess, but with its own twists.  Depending on the type of games you usually play you'll see Rise! as a worker placement/area control Eurogame, or a tactical wargame, or a straight up abstract strategy game.  And it contains elements of all of those.  As I mentioned above, the rules are simple enough that even my 5 year old can play (and surprisingly well when he decides to actually place his workers and not just sacrifice as many as he can to kill my guys).  However when you get two people that are pretty good strategists the game can take a lot longer than the stated 20-30 minutes.  I've played a number of games with different people and the game length can vary greatly.  The very first game I played with my wife was over in about 5 minutes.  The second game we played lasted nearly 45 minutes.  I also played a game with my friend Tony that took almost an hour.  We were at a Cub Scout camping trip and we had to leave the game for a while for some events and then come back to in in the afternoon.  I've played a number of games against my sons that usually last 5-20 minutes depending on how aggressive I play.  But I'm currently in the middle of one game that I've been playing against my friend Tony that is closing on 2 hours.  I actually had to take a picture of the game so that we can set it up again some other time:

Almost 2 hours in and we're still battling it out.  Time to take a picture
so we can set it up again later.  It's my turn next and I'm blue.
If there's one problem with the game its that the game only gets interesting if at least one player goes on the offensive early.  If no players make any mistakes or go on the offensive the red player will win by 1 turn every time.  I guess this is kind of true for most abstract strategy games, but the fact that the players start so far apart in Rise! means that inexperienced players may not realize this until its too late.  That's exactly what happened on the first game between my wife and I.  We knew the objective was to build three towers so we worked to build our towers.  There was no conflict until the very end and it came too late to really matter.  However once both players realize that some conflict is inevitable the game completely changes.  It really becomes difficult to make a ring around your towers and maintain that ring for multiple moves.  It seems that almost every move that puts you up a little can be countered by your opponent and set you right back.  So it really becomes a challenge to misdirect your opponent.

In my 2+ hour game that I'm currently in the middle of it's been a real challenge to get my last tower built.  I managed to surround a space, but Tony was able to sacrifice two of his guys to eliminate one of my workers and then jump another worker into that vacated space, effectively removing two workers from my ring while putting one of his workers into the ring. This means I'd need 3 actions to clear out his worker and populate both empty spaces, but since I only have two actions per turn he effectively blocked my tower construction.  He's done this to me twice now and at the same time I've prevented him from making a ring to complete his last tower.  It's been a real tog-of-war and we've thoroughly enjoyed it.  The 2 hours seemed to just fly by and we're both itching for the chance to finish the battle.

Officially there are two ways to win the game.  You can win either by completing three towers or by eliminating all of your opponent's workers.  Likely the elimination rule won't come into effect unless your opponent plans very poorly.  And usually if that happens it'll happen very early in the game.  Once your player has more than 4 pieces on the board it'll become nearly impossible (though not completely impossible) to eliminate his workers completely.  This means that 98% of games will come down to who can build their three towers first.  It would be nice if there was another way to win (although I can't think of what that would be) so that you'd have an option other than tower building.  When you have a pretty fixed win condition it can make it pretty easy to defend against and pretty difficult to accomplish without your opponent making a pretty big mistake.

Score: 8/10 x3

Every game I've played is different.  As you play more you'll see patterns and figure out strategy, but each situation will be different and each opponent will likely have a different strategy.  Even though there are officially two ways to win the game it'll usually boil down to who can build three towers first.  I wish games could be finished a little quicker since I know pulling this out against anyone challenging is going to eat up at least 45 minutes.  But at least I know that the game is going to be challenging and fun when I do pull it out.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
Rise! isn't the type of game that you'll want to play at parties or as a filler between other gaming sessions.  It's not a laugh-out-loud game or even all that social.  But if you like thinking and strategy games this is for you.  There will be lots of quiet moments where your opponent is contemplating moves and trying to think three or four steps ahead, but that's OK 'cause you'll also be thinking about your next move and hoping your opponent doesn't see the trap you laid.

I've also found that Rise! tends to gather a crowd.  The game looks great and seeing two people hunched over the table staring at these hex tiles and colorful wooden pieces with expressions of great concentration seems to draw people in.  I mentioned that I played a game at a Cub Scout camping trip and while we were playing we eventually had a group of about 10 scouts all watching and discussing the game amongst themselves.  And after the game was finished I was followed around by several of them answering questions and discussing strategy.  One even said he was going to try to make his own version of the game when he got home.

So even if this isn't a high-energy, boisterous game, it's a ton of fun for strategy game lovers.

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
The retail price for Rise! is $20 and it's currently selling for $16 + $5 shipping on Amazon.  For about $20 Rise! is definitely worth adding to your collection if you like strategy games.  The small footprint means it'll tuck away nicely on even the most crowded shelves and it is super portable.  The Kickstarter for the game had a backer tier that included a cloth carrying bag which would be a nice addition to the game if you want to carry it around more, but I find the small box very easy to pack for camping trips.  It's a staple of my camping games now.  There aren't many unique games that give you the strategic depth of Rise! with such a modest price.  Yes, you can get chess or backgammon sets for less, but they won't attract attention the way Rise! will.  And even chess or other typical strategy games will cost you more than $20 if you want components as high quality as those in Rise!.  So if you have the opportunity I definitely recommend adding Rise! to your collection.  If you can find it on sale, even better!

Score: 9/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Rise! came into my collection just as I was seriously getting back into board gaming and it instantly went to the top of my favorites list.  The only gripe I have with the game is that it usually seems to take much longer than the stated time, which means it's only good for longer periods of time, but usually when I have those longer periods of time I have more than one other person looking to play games.  But the depth of strategy in such a small package is incredible.  Plus the game looks great, is pretty unique, and has aspects that will appeal to a number of different types of gamers.  If you ever want to play, let me know.  I'm always up for a game of Rise!

Overall Score: 84/100

Oh, no!  Tony has two towers built!  I'll need to catch up!

Nearly finished with my second tower.

Now I've got two towers built and a second started, but
Tony has me stuck being unable to complete it any further.

Here's a game I played against my 5 year old son.  He was blue and because
I wasn't paying attention he actually did pretty good.  I had to play catch-up when
I realized he was starting his second tower and I hadn't even started my first!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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