Ra by Rio Grande Games: First Impressions

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Gamestorm 15

Ra Box Art

Game Info

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Year Published: 1999 (original German language version), 2009 (3rd Edition, now with 2-5 players option)

Number of Players: 2 to 5

Play Time: 60 minutes

Set-up Time: 5 minutes

Learning Curve: Low to Medium

Ages: Rated 12 and up

Table Size: Medium to Large

Introduction

Ra was the last of three board games I had a chance to play on Saturday of Gamestorm 15. By the time this game came out it was about 9:30 at night and we were all getting pretty tired, so Ra made a nice choice — it’s a fairly simple game that is easy to learn, but apparently difficult to master. The core auction mechanic is a cinch to learn and understand, but the complicated scoring mechanic keeps the game exciting even for people who have been playing for a while (or so I’m told).

Description

From the box:

The game spans 1500 years of Egyptian history in less than an hour!
The players seek to expand their power and fame and there are many ways to accomplish this: Influencing Pharaohs, Building monuments, Farming on the Nile, Paying homage to the Gods, Advancing the technology and culture of the people. Ra is an auction and set collecting game where players may choose to take risks for great rewards or… And all this is for the glory of the Sun God Ra!

Components:

  • 1 Eight-Page Rule Booklet
  • 1 Game Board
  • 1 Cloth Bag with drawstring
  • 1 Ra Figure
  • 16 Sun Tokens (numbered 1 to 16)
  • 48 VP Tablets (10 x 1-point, 8 x 2-point, 20 x 5-point, 10 x 10-point)
  • 180 Tiles:
  • 30 Ra Tiles
  • 8 God Tiles (Anubis, Bastet, Chnum, Horus, Seth, Sobek, Throth, Uto)
  • 25 Pharaohs Tiles
  • 2 Funerals Tiles
  • 25 Nile Tiles
  • 12 Floods Tiles
  • 2 Droughts Tiles
  • 25 Civilizations Tiles (5 agriculture, 5 art, 5 astronomy, 5 religion, 5 writing)
  • 4 Unrest Tiles
  • 5 Gold Tiles
  • 40 Monuments Tiles (5 fortress, 5 obelisk, 5 palace, 5 pyramid, 5 sphinx, 5 statues, 5 step pyramid, 5 temple)>
  • 2 Earthquakes Tiles

Impressions

Ra is a simple auction game with an Egyptian theme. Each turn, players will draw a tile and place it on the game board, where it will become available for auction. Players may either choose to initiate an auction by saying “Ra” or, on occasion, players may be forced into an auction when a Ra Tile is drawn.

During an auction, players will bid their differently-valued wooden Sun Tokens on the items which have been placed on the game board. Each item has a different point value or special feature that can help the player win the game. For example, the God Tiles are worth 2 victory points but may be traded in to pick up one tile of the player’s choice without requiring them to bid on it at auction. Other tiles may simply be worth points, or may be combined with other tiles to increase their value. Finally, there are tiles which subtract victory points from your total — those tiles should be avoided, but sometimes a sacrifice needs to be made if the rest of the items on auction are worth it to you.

Sacrifices may need to be made because you don’t get to choose which tiles you keep when you bid on an auction. Every tile currently placed on the game board is bid on as part of an auction, and if you win you get all of the tiles — for better or for worse. Players must strategically decide which auctions to bid on and which auctions to pass.

To make things more complicated, some tiles aren’t worth anything unless you collect them as part of a set. For example, Nile tiles aren’t worth anything without Flood tiles. Civilization tiles are only worth points if you have three Civilizations of different types. Pharaoh tokens are worth 5 points if you have the most Pharaoh tokens at the end of a round, but are worth -2 points if you have the least. Each player is given a play mat which details how all of the tiles are scored, but the general consensus is that these play mats are not well laid out and difficult to read. Still, it’s important to know which tiles and combinations are worth points, so it’s important to get to know them. If you’ve ever played games like Cleopatra, you’ll understand the type of game mat and scoring combinations that Ra uses.

Scoring occurs at the end of each round, and the game ends after 3 rounds have been played. Naturally, the person with the most points at the end of all 3 rounds is the winner.

Ra is simple to learn and it doesn’t take long to get set up and start playing, even if half the table has never heard of the game before. It has a fast pace but maintains a pretty casual feel, since the amount of thought and strategy that goes into each turn is limited when compared to other purely strategic games. It’s fun and makes a good gateway to auction games, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in that style of play. Its complex and sometimes confusing scoring mechanic keeps this game from being a must-have in every collection though.

Accessibility

Ra is a fun and simple game, but there are a few concerns with regards to accessibility.

In-game Text: There is limited in-game text, which works in the game’s favor to a degree. However, the numbers printed on the small victory point tokens can be difficult to read and there are a lot of them to manage. People with visual impairments may have difficulty with these and either need sighted assistance to help keep track of or devise an alternate way to track their points. It’s easy to keep track of victory points with a piece of paper and a pen, or with larger-print tokens borrowed from other games.

Wooden auction tokens possess large and easy-to-read numbers, big enough even for many low-vision users. Because these tokens are always played face up, it isn’t a problem to Braille them or enhance them with raised numbers and the like.

Picture Dependency: Many of the game’s tokens are depicted with pictures, and the player mats use this technique also. Some people may have difficulty discerning which tiles and tokens correspond to which items. During my initial play I had to receive sighted assistance to keep track of all of my pieces and received frequent reminders about which tiles and tokens I had acquired. Other methods may be devised for low-vision users, but the sheer number of tiles and tokens you will be exchanging and obtaining throughout the game may prove to make that a challenge.

Game board separate from player space: There are two spaces to keep track of: your own personal tokens and play mat area and the game board. Generally the game board is placed in the center of the table for everyone to see. If you have a visual impairment or mobility issues it may be difficult to reach the game board or to see what is on it. Throughout the game I had sighted players describe which items were out and available for auction. When I purchased them, someone else helped me move them to my space.

Fine Manipulation: Many of the tiles and tokens are flat pieces of cardboard that vary in size from tiny to small. Other pieces may be wooden tokens that are larger and easier to manipulate. People who have difficulty manipulating small objects may find this game a challenge. Due to the sheer number of pieces being passed around at any given time, this poses a severe challenge. Even a Scrabble stand would be insufficient for maintaining all of your game pieces.

Series Navigation<< Pirate’s Cove by Days of Wonder: First ImpressionsGamestorm 15: Day Three >>
3 / 5 stars     

About Jacob Wood

Jacob founded Accessible Games because he wants to spread the joy of gaming to everyone, including people with disabilities. He is visually impaired and knows what it's like to need to adapt, and he brings two decades of gaming experience to the table.
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