#1 ALBS, English language edition
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Set in ancient Egypt, Ra spans 1500 years of Egyptian history. The players seek to expand their power and fame by influencing the Pharaohs, building monuments, farming on the Nile, paying homage to the Gods, and advancing the technology and culture of the people. And all this for the glory of the Sun God Ra!
The players strive for power by collecting tiles that represent various aspects of economic, spiritual, and technological growth. The players acquire the tiles by bidding for them in auctions. The currency for these auctions is tokens given to players by Ra, the sun God. Using these limited tokens, players must decide when to bid and how much to get the tiles they want.
The game spans three epochs, which reflect the history of ancient Egypt:
- the Old Kingdom (2665 - 2155 BC)
- the Middle Kingdom (2130 - 1650 BC)
- the New Kingdom (1555 - 1080 BC)
During these epochs, the players acquire tiles representing various aspects of Egyptian life. They acquire the tiles in auctions, bidding with suns, tokens they receive from Ra. The selection of tiles in the auctions is ever changing, but tokens from Ra are limited. Wise players choose carefully when and what to bid to get the tiles they want. When an epoch ends, players receive tablets marked with the fame they have earned.
The player with the most fame after three epochs is the winner.
Players: 3 - 5
Time: 45 - 60 minutes
Ages: 12 and up
Weight: 955 grams
Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English.
- 1 Game board
- 180 Tiles:
- 30 Ra
- 8 Gods
- 25 Pharaohs + 2 funerals
- 25 Nile
- 12 floods + 2 droughts
- 5 x 5 civilization + 4 unrest
- 5 gold
- 5 x 8 monuments + 2 earthquakes
- 48 Tablets
- 16 Suns
- 1 Ra figure
Average Rating: 4.4 in 31 reviews
Too many things to do - too little time to do them - sounds familiar?
A feature of many games by Knizia is that it is hard to decide on a long-term strategy and follow that throughout the game - you constantly have to re-evaluate your options every round - how the possible courses of action would effect you and the other players.
Games of this type are not for everyone - which is why I normally would only have given this game 4 out of 5. Hoever - I love the Egyptian theme - I have always been interested in ancient Egypt, and that earns the game its 5th star as far as I am concerned.
The first few times I played Ra I came away with an 'Eh' sorta feeling. There's so many ways to score, the strategy wasn't clear, and the theme seemed pasted on.
But I remained intrigued, both by the game and by the praise it's received. So I played it a few more times and I must say I'm incredibly glad I did. It's grown into one of my all time favorite games.
In my opinion this is a true classic, easy to teach (if not incredibly easy to grasp at first), lots of tension ('No Whammy!'), and a good mix of luck and skill. It plays well with 3-5 (one of the few games that really shines with 3) and it can be played almost as a filler (we call it 'Speed Ra') as well as a full meal of a game.
Although I've always struggled fitting the theme to the game the production quality and especially the artwork is excellent.
Of Knizia's bidding games (and I love them all) this ranks near the top, mostly because of the versatility I mentioned earlier.
Ever felt that Reiner Knizia and Euro-games can be a little on the dry side?
Ra is a welcome change. The bidding, drawing of tiles and random appearance of the Ra tile (which results in a bidding round) make for a tense and exciting game. There are always laughs, cheers and curses when the dreaded Ra tile is drawn to finish an epoch (resulting in one of three scoring rounds).
I find Ra rich in strategy and tactics. Do you go for the monument or the Pharaoh strategy? Do you risk taking a low numbered bidding token to ensure your Nile tiles score? Do you bid early or risk it and wait? The random draw of tiles means you must be willing to switch strategies every epoch, while the scoring system is intricate yet not overly complex.
It also has a long shelf life. I have found a strong strategy which I have employed with great success - but I've owned the game a couple of years. It is still regularly played at our game club.
The only criticism I have is Aleas production values. No player aid score sheets (I couldn't imagine playing without one) and, incredulously for a game where tiles must be drawn in secret every turn, no bag.
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Nerves of steel, canny evaluation of what's for sale, and precise timing are demanded by this exquisitely tense bidding game. Players in turn randomly pick Tiles which gain winning Victory Points or neutralize severe penalties. Less wealthy players can impose frightful dilemmas on richer ones by calling auctions at the opportune moment, hoping to buy a collection cheaply and get a valuable coin in exchange to spend next round. Will they dare to use their best coins just to stop you? Rounds are of uncertain duration and, in their closing moments, fraught with anxiety; they can end abruptly to stop your current spending. Better luck--no, precision!--next time. Whatever you offer me for this superb game is simply not enough.
There's a breathless hush as the tiles are turned. A Civilization. A Pharaoh. A God. "RA!" cries the poorest player, starting an auction. If the others pass, he will win the tiles cheaply.
Player A thinks: "Curses! My highest coin can win, but just to stop him from getting a bargain? Hmm..."
Player B: "If I bid my last coin and win, no more spending for me this round. Is it wise to quit?"
This subtle bidding game, the goal of which is to collect scoring sets of auctioned tiles, is full of seemingly unresolvable dilemmas. RA, represented by special tiles, crosses the firmament inexorably...
There's his last tile: Discard everything on the Auction track.
Player C. "Stupid! I should've bid!" A tightrope of bidding suspense that's far above the ordinary.
After several years when they just concentrated on children's games, Ravensburger are back with us and this time they are targeting not just the "10-Adult" market but the "gamers' game" market as well, something they haven't really done since the days of Metropolis fifteen years ago. What is more, it is clear that they have put a lot of thought and effort into the enterprise: a new brand name to act as a designer label; the teaming of a top games designer with a top graphic artist; a theme which lends itself to strong visual images; and an intelligent marketing strategy that would earn the respect of the film producers, Miramax. Never, to my knowledge, has a game been given as carefully orchestrated an entrance as this one, with a high profile preview at Essen ensuring that both it and the label were going to be grabbing the Nuremberg headlines well in advance of the event itself and while the opposition had nothing to fight back with apart from lists of titles. It is a clever way for a big firm to use its muscle and resources, clever provided the product being marketed is worth the fanfares you are giving it. Get it wrong and you have nowhere to hide. Fortunately, they haven't got it wrong, because Ra is a very good game. It was clear from the playtesting insights that Reiner gave us in the last issue that this was a game he sweated blood over before finally getting the mechanisms that would make it all fit together in the way that he hoped, but he has succeeded and the result is a game with parts that mesh beautifully, that is both simple to learn and quick to play and which gives you lots to think about.
The game to which Ra is closest in spirit is the same designer's Medici. Both are games where you collect objects in various categories, where you acquire the objects by bidding and where you are constantly having to balance what a set of objects is worth to you against what they are worth to an opponent. However, closeness of spirit is as far as the kinship goes. The mechanics are very different, with the later game being much more intricately wrought and having a more finely differentiated scoring system whose balances present the players with a steady steam of hard decisions. I speak with some ruefulness here, since I have yet to come close to getting this game right.
The board is a very simple one, showing nothing more than two shortish tracks on which tiles will be placed, a central space for a wooden token and some information at the edge about the scoring system and the tile distribution. The tiles are the things that you collect and they come in seven sets of different sizes, six of the seven being collectibles and the seventh a set of "Ra tiles", which help drive the game clock and give the players a sense of urgency.
There are 180 tiles, 30 of them Ra tiles, and on your turn you have two main options: you can either declare an auction for the tiles currently sitting on the collection track or you can draw a tile and add it to the board. If it is not a Ra tile, it goes on the collection track; if it is, it goes on the Ra track and an auction is held anyway. The epoch ends when either all players have bought a certain number of sets of tiles -- the number being dependent on the number of players -- or the Ra track is full. There are three epochs and the players score points at the end of each of them -- much as you do in Medici.
Not at all as in Medici is the way you pay for the sets of tiles. There it is done by dipping into your store of victory points; here it is done using a special set of wooden tokens known as "suns". There are sixteen of these, numbered 1 to 16, though the last three are only used in the 5-player game. At the start, the token numbered 1 is placed in the centre of the board and the others are distributed in balanced sets to the players. Auctions, when they are called, are "once round the table" affairs, ending with the person who either called the auction or drew the Ra tile. Any player who wishes to bid for the set of tiles on offer places one of their face-up sun tokens on to the board and the highest numbered token wins. The successful player then collects the tiles they have bought and places the token they have used as payment into the centre of the board, taking in its stead the one that was already there. This newly acquired token is placed face down in front of them, where it stays until the end of the epoch, when it is again inverted ready for re-use. The result of this is that each player always has the same number of tokens, but the numbers on them are constantly changing. This is one of the things you have to bear in mind when you are making your bid: it is not just the tiles you are getting; it is also the sun token that is currently in the centre and that will affect your ability to compete in the auctions of the next epoch.
The tiles that players collect fall into six groups -- pharaohs, bits of Nile, civilization advances, monuments, money and divine favours -- and each is scored differently. The first four are the important ones; the other two just being there for spice. It is always difficult to rationalise what is basically an abstract game, but the best approach here is to imagine that you are a noble family playing the prestige game and doing so over a very long stretch of time. Pharaoh tiles represent influence with a particular ruler. The prestige that comes with this is cumulative and the tiles that you get from this group stay with you until the end of the game (barring disaster tiles, of which there are a couple in each of the four main groups). At the end of each epoch, the player(s) with the most pharaoh tiles gain prestige points and those with the least lose some. Nile tiles represent land and this is something that, again barring disasters, also stays in the family. However, land in Egypt is no use unless it has irrigation and so you only score points for this group if your collection of Nile tiles includes at least one of the special flood tiles. Nile tiles also score at the end of each epoch, but this time it is not a matter of best/worst, but simply one of how many and although the basic land tiles stay with you into the next epoch, the precious flood tiles are lost. Civilization tiles represent family members who made special contributions in these areas. Such fame is more transitory and so these are tiles that you score at the end of the epoch and then lose. For a positive score from them you need to have at least three of the five different types, but just to make sure that this is not a category you can ignore, there is a fairly hefty penalty if you have none. Finally, there are the monuments. These only score at the end of the game, where it is a combination of number of different types and sub-collections of three or more of a kind.
The sun tokens also come into the scoring at the end via a clever extra idea that stops players having a "no tomorrow" approach to bidding in the last epoch. What happens here is that each player adds up the numbers on the sun tokens they finish the game with and there are then bonus points for the highest total and a penalty for the lowest.
The first review of Ra that I saw appeared on the Net before the game had even been released -- the writer having played it at a convention to which Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande had taken a copy. He was a bit disappointed with the game, feeling that it was repetitive and that players were not given enough options on each turn. "All you do is turn over tiles and bid" was the gist of his argument. He put his case well, but I feel that he was missing the point. After all, you could also say of Poker that all you do is turn over cards and bet, but that doesn't stop it being one of the greatest and most skillful card games ever invented, because those two little words "and bet" cover some subtle thinking in which the players have lots of factors to take into account. The same is true here of "and bid". It is not just a matter, as it usually is in collecting games, of deciding what to concentrate on and not worrying too much about the rest. The penalty points in this game are pitched at a level that, though not decisive, is still enough to hurt and so you can't ignore categories. You might not have a chance of first place in Pharaohs, but it is still worth trying to avoid being last. Then there are the points that come for spread in some of the groups. These can make a set of tiles very valuable for an opponent and mean that you don't want him to have them. Is stopping him important enough to justify the expenditure of one of your precious sun tokens? If so, how high are you prepared to go? Is it likely that someone else will also have spotted the danger and be willing to do the job for you? You also have to consider the probable influence on people's thinking of the number on the sun token currently in the centre of the board. How valuable is that to various people, given the tokens they have face-up in front of them? Even what seems like the straightforward matter of deciding how to use your high-numbered tokens turns out to be more complicated in practice. If you have the highest face-up token, you feel that it ought to be possible to wait until a large set of useful tiles has built up on the board and then take it by force. Unfortunately, the opposition soon learn how to stop the collection getting too large and how to take the shine off your purchase by manoeuvring a low-numbered sun into the centre. Meanwhile the number of tiles on the Ra track is building up and the looming "end of epoch" threatens to leave you empty-handed. With a less finely-tuned and subtly differentiated scoring system, without the constantly shifting balance of the numbers on the sun tokens and without the "time is pressing" mechanism of the Ra track, the game could have been repetitive in the way that that first reviewer claimed, but as things are it is not. The bidding rounds, like the betting rounds in a game of Poker, each present you with a new set of circumstances and the fact that you know exactly what each opponent's options would be were a bidding round to be called means that you can create situations that will present the opposition with decisions they won't like.
As you will have gathered, I like this game.