What defines a board game classic? If it’s still popularity 5 years later? 10 years? 100 years? Well, Reiner Knizia’s Ra is almost 25 years old, and has seen several editions, but none like this. 25th Century Games went above and beyond modernizing this game, offering both a retail and a deluxe version. Yet, the retail version doesn’t skimp on components, either. Let’s take a look!
There are essentially two things to talk about when it comes to a deluxe reprint: was it a quality reprint, but also, is the game any good? Let’s start with my take on Ra itself. To date, I think this is Knizia’s best auction game, and probably the best pure auction game out there. I think it may have subtly inspired Furnace, which is probably my favorite game with an auction (but it has many other elements). The idea of just having a few numbers to bid with is brilliant, and prevents boring and tedious fights where players go up each other one number at a time (e.g. Power Grid). It also creates a high level of tension, since you have so few bidding tokens, making each one precious. Combine that with the risk of the Ra track and the chance to get a bunch of goods for yourself at the end of a round, and you’ve got a short game with a high level of interaction and tension throughout. The only thing keeping it from being way higher in my own estimation is that it’s just not my normal style of game. I live for big turns and card combos and rule-breaking text, and while this has small moments of that, this is more clawing your way to victory through small margins, although the occasional “big pot” gives the same feeling. But I normally feel exhausted and relieved after a game of Ra, and not in a bad way – like I just accomplished a high pressure task and pulled it off. In other games I’m looking for that amped-up feeling after I’m done, wanting to tell the world about the big move I just pulled. If you like tight, tense interactive board games, though, this is one of the very best.
Now, onto the quality of the reprint. I think this is honestly the best “deluxe reprint” (although this is the retail edition) of any game I’ve ever seen. There are no Kickstarter exclusives, no tack-on expansions made only to push Kickstarter, no miniatures in the middle of my Eurogame. There is one completely over-the-top piece, the Ra statue, but honestly, it serves a great in-game purpose. It is vitally important to know who last called Ra, otherwise the game halts and people get confused about turn order. So it’s overproduced, theoretically, but also extremely useful. The artwork is amazing, and the components add some sorely needed functionality with the player boards. I don’t know how I ever played this game without them, to be honest. The whole thing is gorgeous, it fits the setting and the style of the previous editions, and it’s fairly priced – cheap, in fact, compared to other game prices these days. My only complaints are so minor I debated not mentioning them. The box is a hair too small, and I don’t see why the Ra track is double-sided. The track is too similar-looking on each side and it’s easy to use the wrong one when placing Ra tiles instead of using the boat; they could have done that all on the same side. Nitpicks, like I said.
Does a game from 1999 hold up in 2023? I think so. Honestly, we’ve gotten to the point in board games where all we want is “more, more, more” because apparently that’s what nerds are willing to overpay for. We buy these giant 3-hour games that we play twice if we’re lucky, neither time fully even understanding the rules because they’re too long and confusing. I’m sick of reading rules instead of playing games, and I’m sick of playing against the game instead of against the other players. Ra is a game with clear rules, a proper game length, and constant interaction: you are absolutely playing the players and not the game. Combine that with possibly the best reprint ever done, and you’ve got a winner.
The Bottom Line
This is exactly what a reprints of a classic should be.
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