Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Quick Review - Radiant - Kickstarter Preview

Designer: Randal Marsh
Publisher: Tin Shoe Games
Quick Review - Radiant - Kickstarter Preview

I've played a lot of trick taking games in my day.  From classics like Hearts and Spades, to themed games like Dragon master, to modern twists like 12 Days and Cabaret.  Two things that all trick taking games have in common are that I really enjoy playing them and that I really stink at them, which is weird because my dad is great at them, but unfortunately I didn't inherit that skill.  I've also played quite a few area control games, like Risk, Kemet, Small World, etc.  I typically fare better in those and enjoy them a great deal, too.  Then there's drafting games.  These are a bit newer to me, but I really love drafting mechanics of all kinds in games like 7 Wonders, Sushi Go, Elysium, etc. So what do all these types of games have in common?  Radiant.

Radiant is a game that combines drafting, trick taking, and area control in a very unique game.  Radiant is for two to four players, ages 10+, and plays in about 45 minutes. 

UPDATE: Radiant is available again on Kickstarter!  Through July 7, 2017 you can get a copy for $29 ($35 deluxe)!  Be sure to check it out now, it's a great game!

Radiant is an absolutely gorgeous game that can be enjoyed by two, three, or four players, however it seems best suited for two.  At its heart. Radiant is an area control game where two or three players are battling over control of four regions, each divided into smaller territories.  In a four player game players team up and share two factions.  I'd love to see a variant for four individual players, but that will require some adjustments to how battles work to keep the game balanced at four.  I think it's very doable though, so hopefully we'll see a four player individual variant when the campaign launches.
Area control, trick taking, and drafting all combined in a beautiful game!
Radiant is played over the course of three rounds, or Ages.  Each Age consists of four phases: Drafting, Melds, Battle, and Scoring.  At the end of the game the player with the higher score wins.  At the end of this review I have a series of pictures that go through a entire round, step by step, so you can see some of the decisions and strategy that can take place.

Although Radiant uses a game board where players battle over territories, the method of completing battles is a pure trick taking game.  Instead of standard playing cards with four suits, however, Radiant has four races: Mariners, Avis, Stone dwellers, and Treefolk.  Within each race there are six levels of units or classes, the equivalent of the numbers on standard cards, however there are two of each class.  Each race is native to one quadrant of the gameboard and consists of, in order of rank, Assassins, Elders, Scouts, Mounts, Knights, and Phalanxes.  Phalanxes are the highest ranked card, however they can be outranked by a successful assassination or a Mounted Knight (a play of both a Knight and Mount).  I'll get into how the Assassin works a little later.
There are two of each card, ranked from Assassin up to Phalanx in each of the four races.
It is important to know how combat works before anything else, because the battles are the heart of the game.  The battles are what blend the area control and trick taking mechanics so elegantly.  Combat is super simple, but in this simplicity comes a depth that elevates Radiant well above a casual trick taking game.  Each battle will be taught in one of the four quadrants of the board.  The contested territory will determine what cards can be played during that battle.  Battles must be fought by the race that is native to the area.  So if we are fighting in the water, Mariners must be used to battle.  Starting with the active player, each will play one card from their hand and the highest ranked card wins the battle, allowing that player to put a control cube on that territory and become the active player for the next trick/battle.  That player will then move a battle marker from the territory that was just conquered to an adjacent territory and start a new battle.
The Mariners enjoy the solitude of the water region.
However, there's a twist.  During each age, one of the four races will be Radiant (and now you know where the game gets its name).  In addition to a native race, a card from the Radiant race can also be played during combat.  The Radiant race isn't quite a trump suit since its units are the same ranks as the native race's, but it does give players some additional strategic choices.
Will the Treefolk be Radiant this Age?
But wait, there's more!  Each quadrant of the game board has two special territories.  One is a temple.  Temples will have three point coins added to them so they award bonus points as soon as they are conquered.  The other special type of territory is the portal.  Smack dab in the middle of each quadrant is a portal that connects that quadrant to the quadrant across the board diagonally.  The portal spaces in these two quadrants are considered adjacent, so when the winner of a battle over the portal moves the battle token, it can be moved across the board to the connecting portal.  What's more, these portals each have two native races, which means that cards from both those races can be used for combat (three races if neither of the native races is Radiant).
My family thought that was a Stargate, and it is, kind of.  It's a portal from the Stonedweller region to the Mariner region.
So, I mentioned that players have the option to play two cards in a battle, both a Knight and Mount from the same race, to creator the highest rank in the game.  The downside to creating a Mounted Knight is that it means your opponent will have more cards than you at the end of the phase.  If that happens, the player with more cards at the end of the round will automatically win a final battle (but just one, even if they have several cards left).
Watch out for an Avis Mounted Knight.  Four wings are much better than two!
But there is a counter to the Mounted Knight, sort of.  This is where the assassin comes in.  Normally the Assassin is the lowest ranked card; anything will defeat it.  However, when played, the Assassin can try to kill another player's unit.  There are a few restrictions though.  An Assassin can only activate if it is native to the area or Radiant and the Assassin can only target a native unit, and the Assassin can only target a player that hasn't played a card yet.  If all those conditions can be met the player names an opponent and a unit in the native race.  If the opponent has the named unit it must be revealed and the Assassin is elevated in rank equal to the assassinated unit.  So if the Assassin kills a Knight the Assassin now outranks all units except a Phalanx or Mounted Knight (or a previously played Knight).  If the opponent does not have the named unit the Assassin remains the lowest unit.  Regardless, the opponent then has the option to still play another card when his turn comes around, or pass.  Maybe that assassinated Knight is the one the opponent needed to unleash a Mounted Knight and now they're relegated to just playing a Mount (or nothing)!

This makes the Assassin a very powerful unit, despite its seemingly lowly rank.  An Assassin can be used effectively to boost a player's strength in a battle, take out an opponent's stronger units, and thin the opponent's forces.  But it requires an astute measure of observation and deduction.  It makes paying attention to what your opponents draft critical.  It also makes the decision of what to reveal during the Melds phase of each Age critical.  Reveal too much and you tip your hand, but if you hold back you could be giving up easy points.  The role of the Assassin is what really elevates this game from being just a casual blend of trick taking and area control to a potentially deeply strategic battle.
Assassins look like your average citizens, but they hide a deadly secret!
So now that you know how combat works during the Battle phase, how about those other three phases?  The other three phases are much simpler, but no less critical to the game.  Each age starts out with a quick draft.  Players will be dealt 8-10 cards depending on the number of players.  Then the remaining cards are used to create a 3x3 grid.  In turn order each player takes one card from the tableau and replaces it with one more from the deck before the draft moves on to the next player.  Each player will draft four cards this way.  In a four player game this will use up all the cards, but in a two or three player game there will be some cards that are never revealed.  Because of the assassins it is important to watch what your opponents draft in this phase.  If you have assassins you'll want to watch to see what cards your opponents draft in the same race as your assassins.  And if an opponent drafts an assassin you'll want to be careful about drafting cards from that race, knowing they might be an assassination target.
Ready to draft!  Each player will take turns drafting four additional cards into their hands.
After the draft players look at the hands they've built and optionally reveal any Melds they can create.  A Meld is a set of cards that will earn you some points immediately.  Possible Melds, in increasing value, include Mounted Knights, Assassin's Guild (one of each race's Assassin), an Army (one of each unit, except Assassins, from a single race), and the Council of Elders (one Elder from each race).  These guilds increase in value during each age, but revealing them is a difficult decision.  Revealing a meld will earn you points right away, but you'll also tip your hand to your opponents so they know what you have, making their Assassins that much more powerful.
Melds can get you some fast initial points, but at the expense of revealing some cards.
* Note: the reference card in the back has old Assassin information.
After Melds the player with the most Scouts begins the battle.  Battles are conducted until all players run out of cards.  If a player runs out earlier than other players they can't participate in the remaining battles and if only one player has cards left they automatically win one final battle (but just one, even if they have more cards).

Then comes the scoring phase.  Players score points for the coins they acquired during the round, plus four points for each quadrant they control.  To control a quadrant they must have control of more territories than any other player.  If there is a tie that quadrant doesn't score at all.  After the third age players look at the units they've captured as well.  Some have a coin on the card and these are each worth an additional point.
During the Third Age you'll also want to pay attention to which cards are captured.  Each unit has two types, one with a
coin and one without.  In the Third Age, cards with a coin that are captured earn an extra point.
After the first age the control cubes are cleared off the board, each temple space gets another three point coin (meaning any temples not controlled will now be worth six points) and every other space that is not a portal gets a one point coin.  Then the battle marker is moved back to the center of the board, all the captured units are shuffled back into the deck, the Radiant race is moved clockwise, new units are dealt out, and a new age begins with another drafting round.

After three ages, the winner is the player with the most points!

Final Thoughts:
I really, really liked Radiant.  In my initial plays I found the Assassin to be quite a bit overpowered (it was originally promoted to a rank above a Phalanx regardless of what unit it assassinated, and the victim wasn't able to play another card).  But I spoke with the designer, we bounced some ideas off each other, and finally settled on the rules for the Assassin described above.  This tempered the strength of the Assassin without diminishing its role in the game, in fact it made it a much more interesting and strategic unit and also doesn't necessarily waste another player's turn.  It was a simple change, but one that elevated Radiant from being a good game to what I now feel is a really great game.

The familiarity of the trick taking and area control will make Radiant appeal to new and casual gamers - you'll be able to pull this out with Grandpa and he'll say it reminds him of Pinochle and Risk.  But the drafting, memory, strategy, and deduction will appeal to the hard core gamers.
This is a game that should appeal to just about anyone!
On top of that, the artwork is excellent.  The game designer is also the artist and it's obvious that the entire game, from start to finish, is a labor of love.  And he's hit it out of the park with Radiant!

Radiant is a unique combination of time honored game mechanics with some new twists.  It is accessible to new gamers and deep enough for experienced gamers.  It is easily explained in a few minutes, quick to play, and looks stunning.

Radiant is definitely a game that you'll be happy to have in your collection.  So be sure to check it out on Kickstarter on August 30, 2016!  The campaign will run through September and you can grab a copy for $29, including US shipping.

UPDATE: Radiant is available again on Kickstarter!  Through July 7, 2017 you can get a copy for $29 ($35 deluxe)!  Be sure to check it out now, it's a great game!

And remember, check the next pictures for an entire runthrough of the First Age explained!  I'm not quite Rahdo, but hopefully it'll give you an idea of some of the decisions that come up in the game.

Preliminary Rating: 8.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

Want another opinion?  Radiant was also reviewed by Dane on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Radiant: Age 1 Playthrough:
Note: I was playing cards up, so you'll be able to see some cards that normally wouldn't be revealed to opponents.
Age 1 Playthrough - Set up and ready for the first Age.  Stonedwellers are Radiant.
Age 1 Playthrough - Red Player's hand after drafting.  Red drafted the Treefolk Phalanx,
Stonedweller Knight, Mariner Knight, and Avis Phalanx.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow's hand after drafting.  Yellow drafted the Treedweller Phalanx, Mariner Scout, and two
Treedweller Scouts.  Yellow drafted so many Scouts in the hopes that he could go first and control the board in the
Treefolk and Stonedweller regions.
Age 1 Playthrough - The Red player decided not to reveal any Melds, even though he could have revealed two Avis Mounted Knights and a Stonedweller Mounted Knight for 3 points.  Yellow decided to reveal the Treedweller Army for 3 immediate points, and not reveal the Stonedweller Mounted Knight.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow has the most Scouts and chooses the first battle site.
Yellow chooses the Treefolk region because that is his strongest region.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow plays a Treefolk Assassin and takes out Red's Treefolk
Assassin that he remembered Red drafting.
Age 1 Playthrough - Unfortunately Red decided to still play cards and went for a risky win
with a Mounted Knight in the Radiant race.  It's risky because now Red is down two units.
Age 1 Playthrough - Red controls the next battle and remembers that Yellow revealed a Treefolk army,
so he decides to move the battle to the blue Mariner region.
Age 1 Playthrough - Red thinks the battle is easily won with a Mariner Phalanx, but Yellow is desperate to get the battle
back under control and plays a Stonedweller Mounted Knight to take the lead again.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow decides to move back in to the Treefolk region and try his strategy again.  This time it works.
Yellow plays a Treefolk Phalanx and since Red has no Treefolk and playing a
Radiant race is optional, Red dumps a Mariner Scout.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow wants to continue marching through the Treefolk region and head
toward the temple, so the next highest unit to play is the Stonedweller Phalanx for a win.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow wants to guarantee a win of the temple for three points so he uses his
Treefolk Mounted Knight to guarantee the win.  This means both sides now have the same number
of units, despite Red's risky move in the first battle.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow knows that Red doesn't have any more Treefolk, so he decides
to use the Stonedweller Assassin to take out Red's Avis Phalanx that he
remembered Red drafting.  Yellow can do this because Stonedwellers are Radiant and the
Avis is native in the portal territory.
Age 1 Playthrough - Yellow is getting to the end of his run, so decides to take a big chance.  He
moves the battle token through the portal to the Avis side.  There he plays his native  Treedweller
Assassin and hopes that Red might have an Avis Knight.  He is lucky and scores a kill!
Age 1 Playthrough - However, Red decides to play another card and wins the battle with a 
Radiant Stonedweller Phalanx.  However, this leaves Red with one card less than Yellow, 
which could be risky this late in the Age.
Age 1 Playthrough - Red finally has control of the battles back and, suspecting that Yellow likely
doesn't have many Avis, but not sure, decides not to go for the Temple and instead positions in a
location where he can choose to move to either the temple or water if he wins this battle.  And he's
successful with a Knight, letting him know that red definitely doesn't have any more Avis,
and probably no more Stonedwellers, or at least no higher ranking ones.
Age 1 Playthrough - Red takes a chance.  He remembers that Yellow drafted a Mariner Scout,
and even though he can probably keep winning battles in the Avis region, he'd like the opportunity
to take the majority in the Mariner region away from Yellow.  So he uses his Assassin to take out
the Mariner Scout.  Yellow doesn't play an extra card, indicating that Yellow is likely out of both
Mariners and Stonedwellers, or at least any Stonedwellers higher than a Scout.
Age 1 Playthrough - Red moves into the temple for an easy win for three points.
Age 1 Playthrough - And here Red's luck runs out.  He knows that Yellow doesn't have any
more Mariner cards or Stonedwellers, but he's down to his last card, which is a lowly Assassin and
isn't native, so it's easily defeated by a Treefolk Scout.  Since neither card is Native or Radiant,
it's the highest card played that wins.
Age 1 Playthrough - After all the dust settles Yellow still has one card left, which means Yellow gets
to win one final battle.  Since Yellow won the last battle he moves the battle token over to the territory
controlled by Red and takes it over without a fight.  This gives Yellow the lead in the Mariner 

region.  Yellow could also have taken over the Mariner/Stonedweller portal space to gain the lead 
in the Mariner region, or moved into the Avis region to take over the Avis/Treedweller portal.  This 
would have resulted in ties in the Mariner and Avis regions and only the Treedweller region would 
have scored points for Yellow.  Either way Yellow would have earned four points more than Red.
Age 1 Playthrough - At the end of Age 1 Yellow controls two regions and Red controls one.  Both players conquered a temple.
So Yellow earns 11 points and Red earns 7.
Age 1 Playthrough - After Age 1 the score is Yellow = 14, Red = 7.
Age 1 Playthrough - Now the board is set up for Age 2.  Each territory gets a coin (temples get 3 point coins) and the Radiant
race moves clockwise to the Avis region.

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.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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