Tsar Ivan wants a cathedral unlike any other. Grab your Roubles and your resources as we race to build in Euro-y excellent The Red Cathedral by DEVIR!
*Rondel * Dice Rolling * End Game Bonuses * Resource Management * Area Majority * Solo Mode * Engine Building * Contracts * Victory Points as a Resource * Euro Game * Strategy *
The Red Cathedral. So, a game about the Blue Lagoon then…..haha I’m kidding!
It’s 16th Century Russia and Ivan the Terrible is in the market for an impressive looking Cathedral. The Tsar is not for turning so the challenge is on! Are you ready to flex your mind muscles to become the greatest engineer there ever was?
Before even cracking the shrink wrap, The Red Cathedral proudly shows its Euro game colours. I don’t know what it is about Euro games, but they have a definite look about them. A unique atmosphere. A familiar style. And, as I play more games of all different sorts, I am enjoying them and savouring their calm, clinical approach.
Popping the lid without doubt confirms The Red Cathedral’s Euro-game credentials. The understated but pretty colour palette and detailed, period artwork across the boards, cards, and tokens are big clues. But the biggest indication of all is the quiet, strategic, elimination-free gameplay it has in store.
Let’s Get Building!
So we know we are looking to be the hottest engineer in town, but how do we go about creating the cathedral to top all other cathedrals?
Well, it’s actually quite simple – no mean feat for a Euro-game. On your turn, you will have one of three actions:-
- Rolling dice and taking resources (aka going to “Market” (including activating workshops and using the Guild bonus actions);
- Reserving cathedral section cards (aka “Scaffolding”); and
- Allocating your resources to match those required on your reserved cathedral cards (aka “Building” and “Decorating”)
I’ll cover each one in a little bit of detail now. But, honestly, one of the draws and joys of this game is how easy it is to pick up and play. Light rules belie the interesting strategies and crunchy decisions in The Red Cathedral!
Round and Round the Market!
I love a rondel. I think lots of gamers do. And a big draw of The Red Cathedral is the way they have incorporated the structure into the game play.
Each section of the rondel offers a resource type (randomly selected at the start of the game). And you choose your resource by moving one of the coloured dice the number of spaces around the rondel shown on its face. With 3 slots available at each section, you will get however many of the resource you land on multiplied by the total number of dice present. Although you do have to have sufficient slots on your player board. So if you’re trying to be a Greedy Guss, you can only keep what you can store!
The rondel is also split into 4 “seasons” with each quarter offering Guild “influence” to those who are picking from the Market. The Guilds are the Merchants, Clergy, Craftsmen and Teamsters, and each enable you to do one additional action ranging from swapping resources to immediately moving resources to gaining bonus recognition points (which ultimately push you along the prestige point track).
If you have a workshop tile active on the slot in your board matching the die you are moving this turn (see below), you’ll also get one of the resources shown on that workshop tile (even if there are more dice in the slot you move it to). If your workshop tile shows another colour dice, well, the fun really begins as you then get the bonus wherever that colour dice is situated around the rondel! Combos are a coming, my friend!
Now, it’s all well and good getting lots of building materials. But what are you going to do with them? And are you even collecting the right ones? Tsar Ivan has very particular tastes when it comes to his religious des res! Luckily, one of the actions you can take is to reserve bottoms, middles and tops! At the start of the game, you’ll have randomly selected a cathedral card that has a specific series of towers shown and then duplicated on the table. And it is those cards which you can now begin claiming.
You can only claim the lowest available card in each tower, and you do that by placing one of your six banners upon it. But when you do claim one, you get the workshop tile on it which you can pay to activate immediately and enjoy for the remainder of the game – well, hello there resource engine! You don’t have to (and late in the game it might not be worth the cost), but early stage game play definitely benefits from these ongoing bonuses!
So, you’ve got some scaffolding in place, and resources are packing out your player board. It’s probably time to get building and for good reasons. This is where the majority of your precious prestige points will be earned, as well as your money. It also gives you chances to earn more immediate points for adorning towers with pretty decorations, as well as claim area majority bonuses (or at least disrupt your opponents from hogging them all for themselves) for even more end game points. It will also trigger the finish when a player builds their 6th cathedral section.
But how do you do it? Well, each cathedral card shows the resources needed to complete it – both type and amount. The tricky thing is that you can only move 3 resources on one turn (although using the Guild influence around the Market can boost your logistical powers out of sequence – nice!). But when you do have enough of the goods, you then flip the card over, record the points, grab the money, and remember to replace the banner back on the card.
As an alternative to Building (or even in addition if you are whip-smart and have planned ahead), you can Decorate any built section. But, as the resources needed to Decorate also come from the 3 available moves, it’s not a free-for all Changing Rooms style froo-frooing. You’ll need to pay the resource shown on the board for the type of adornment you want to add. You’ll also need to be placing it on the appropriate section (no doors in the domes, silly!). But, if you’ve got space in your sack and you’re packing some pretty jewels, you can combo up to earn some prestige points at the same time! Lovely!
Finally, as an extra perk, you can do a couple of things which might just help you out. You can move your marker back to the previous prestige point crest along the track and earn yourself 2 roubles or re-roll all dice in a specific section. Alternatively you can pay mo’ money to change the result on your own colour dice so as to make the Market work better for you!
And that’s it. Plenty of choices, plenty of ways to score points, plenty of thinky strategic fun!
The Red Revelation!
The Red Cathedral is not a heavy Euro-game. And I say that with absolute joy. For me it is on par with my affection for Castles of Burgundy, and again, that’s a good thing in my book. Even its look and easy rules v action trade-offs and subtle combos remind me of CoB.
The hardest part of this game for me is knowing what to do on my first turn. If I feel like I have set off on the right foot by not letting an obvious opportunity slip through my soon-to-be rubble (or Rouble!) covered fingers, then it is going to be smiles all around the rondel straight off the bat. If I instantly regret my initial play, there will be a massive forehead slap coming my way. But the game is forgiving enough that strategic clawback is possible.
And strategy comes in many forms. Obvious moves are one thing. You need resources. You need cards. You need points from those cards. But the paths less trodden are the most interesting. Forgoing a build yourself to place a window on another player’s tower which stops them romping home alone with all the points is subtle sneakiness! Similarly, holding back from building because you know another player is desperate to adorn and combo up on some jewel encrusted prestige is cunning crunch!
Turns never feel overwhelming and, although specific actions are limited and repeated, their consequences are not. Personally, choose-react-repeat is a comforting routine for me when the outcomes themselves are guaranteed to differ.
Scaling the Highest Tower!
We have played the Red Cathedral at 2 and at 4 player count. And, with specific cathedral designs and workshop tiles in play, this game scales really well. Down time is a little higher the more players around the table, but not markedly so. Of course, with more people manipulating the market, forward planning becomes a little more wait-and-see. With lots of options at your disposal, however, we never feel like we are left with nothing good on offer on our turns. And this game is fundamentally a race. So nobody is in it to be the slowest builder in town!
The game also includes a solo mode which I have yet to try. I did get the box off the shelf a few days ago to have a go, but my husband has become a fan and wanted to play too. As I definitely couldn’t say no, the solo will have to wait for another day.
Wooden resources, chunky tokens, thick rondel board and individual player boards, and nice cards are all packed into the diminutive box. With a reverse side for advanced play and almost infinitely variable set up thanks to random resource allocations, lots of Guild cards and Cathedral designs, and the nature of dice rolling itself, there is a cubic tonne of game play here. Set up does take a little time, granted. And I am definitely a time-starved gamer that wants to be playing, not prepping. But we have now set up a 2 player grab bag which markedly speeds things up. And when we do have more players around our table, it won’t take long to shuffle in the extra cards and workshop tokens.
When I want to play a light but thinky Euro-game that can fit comfortably in the golden hour between finishing work and starting dinner, The Red Cathedral is going to provide the strategic sustenance I need.
If The Red Cathedral sounds like a game for you, you might be as excited as I am to know there is also an expansion due later this year! Stay tuned for more details! Plus you can visit the lovely folks at Out of Town Games if you fancy adding it to your collection!
Please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publishers for review. I am not paid for my comments, however, and all opinions are my own]. I am also not affiliated to or sponsored by any retail store.