Review: Rising 5: Runes of Asteros

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Length

Release Date

Designer: Gary Kim, Evan Song
Artist: Vincent Dutrait
Publisher: Grey Fox Games
Category: Deduction, Co-operative Play
Players: 1-5
Price: $43.49 Amazon.com

Rising 5: Runes of Asteros is a co-operative deduction game from Grey Fox Games. In this space-themed adventure, one to five players take on the roles of a team of heroes desperately working to save their planet from total destruction. This is a great game for gamers and non-gamers alike. It challenges players’ logical and deductive reasoning in a clever and interesting way.

Review

Rising 5: Runes of Asteros feels like a fresh look at an old game. In the tradition of the classic Mastermind, this new game challenges a team of players to figure out a secret code before time runs out. Obstacles stand in their way, however, and players must work together to battle alien monstrosities, collect powerful relics, and ultimately solve the puzzle before an unspeakable evil is unleashed.

The game board represents the endangered planet of Asteros. It features six spaces, each adjacent to a face-up card, and an area in the middle for four “silk cubes” to be placed. At the top of the board, four of the seven colored “rune” tokens are randomly placed in the code area. As the game goes on, players will need to switch and rearrange these tokens until they crack the code. The five character standees begin at the bottom of the board on their respective spaces, and each player receives a starting hand of cards. When everything is set up, the game will look like this:

In order to solve the puzzle, players must figure out which rune tokens are required, and where they go in the code display.

Following the current trend of app-assisted games, Rising 5 uses a smartphone app to generate the hidden code. To do this, it secretly pairs each rune token up with an abstract symbol (for example, the yellow rune might correspond to the spider symbol, and the red rune might correspond to the snake symbol). During setup, players take a photo of the four starting rune tokens, and the app provides some basic information about them. It’s a bit difficult to explain how this works, so I’ll use screenshots to illustrate:

Suppose the starting runes were green, blue, purple, and orange. Using the secret, matching symbols, the app gives the following clues:

It is up to the players to determine which icons refer to which rune tokens. For each of the starting runes, the app gives one of the following three pieces of information:

  1. The rune doesn’t belong in the code (as indicated by a symbol in shadow)
  2. The rune does belong in the code, but is not in the right place (as indicated by a “constellation” symbol)
  3. The rune belongs, and is in the correct position (as indicated by a symbol in light)

In the example above, two of the tokens belong, but need to be moved, and the other two do not belong at all. (Hopefully that was a halfway-decent explanation.)

On a player’s turn, she may activate one character. To do this, she plays some number of that character’s cards, and then resolves that many actions with him/her. In the illustration below, the player spent three cards showing the “Ekho” character, so she may perform three actions with him. The possible actions are:

  1. Move to any space
  2. Encounter the card in the character’s current space
  3. Attempt to solve the puzzle

All cards offer a reward, but a number require players to defeat a monster to get it. Combat is resolved through a simple dice system, and players can help boost each other’s chances of success.

Many cards grant players silk cubes, which allow them an opportunity to solve the puzzle. When all four silk cubes have been earned, a player may spend them (and an action) to enter their current arrangement of runes into the app. The app will then give clues, which provide new information and help with the overall deduction. For example, if two runes were recently switched, and the app now shows one of the tokens is in the correct position, players know they did something right.

At the end of her turn, the active player draws one or more cards to her hand. Seeded in the deck are a number of “Red Moon” cards, which move the game timer (the “Eclipse track”) along, based on the monster cards present on the board. (If you’ve played Pandemic, you can think of the Red Moons as Epidemics.) If the Eclipse track reaches the end, players lose.

Each character has a unique special ability, all of which are incredibly useful and significantly add to the strategy. One character, for example, can move someone else for free, another can switch or rearrange rune tokens, and another can move the Eclipse track backwards.

Players win if they can correctly arrange the runes before the Eclipse track reaches the end or the deck runs out.


Rising 5 is an amazing deduction experience. If I had played it last year, when it first came out, it would have certainly made my “Best of 2017” list.

From a production standpoint, the game looks nice; Vincent Dutrait’s illustrations really give it some personality. The components are fairly standard, but they work just fine. The rulebook is clearly written and includes helpful examples and illustrations.

Smartphone use is handled well in Rising 5. The app supplements the game without detracting from it. Folks who can’t or don’t wish to use it can still play “analog,” with one person acting as the Game Master.

The groupthink in this game is strong; players constantly need to communicate to stay one step ahead of the Eclipse track. Mechanically, Rising 5 feels very balanced, and it presents participants with subtle, yet interesting decisions. For example, if a player draws a bunch of cards at the end of her turn, she will be well-equipped for her following turn, but this will also make the next Red Moon card come up that much sooner. Is it worth it? Maybe, maybe not. Similarly, if an item card is available on the board, it’s very tempting to take it, but doing so might reveal a new monster that players will have to battle. Is it better to forego the item, or take it and risk drawing a monster? These decisions aren’t terribly stressful or brain-burning, but they offer some cool considerations.

I think Rising 5 is excellent. It has all the trappings of a hit: it’s a unique co-op puzzle with streamlined gameplay and a simple rules set, all wrapped up in a digestible half-hour play time. The way this game uses deduction feels familiar, yet fresh. As a huge fan of the deduction genre, this one is a home run for me.

Rising 5 is one of my favorite games in recent memory, and I give it my utmost recommendation.

A review copy was provided by Grey Fox Games.

The Bottom Line

 

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.