|Note: This picture is of a prototype copy of Rise! Final copies may look different|
In the great world of Nameless Land, an epic battle raged on between the fearsome Blue Horde and the epic Red Minions (who were disparagingly referred to as "Brown Blockies" (because in my prototype they look brown). In this epic struggle, the two sides sent their round (did they eat too much, or are the a race of round aliens? You'll have to decide for yourself) peasants into the war zone to secure areas where they could build their alien landing pads. (I guess we went with aliens... maybe they should be Pyramids... wait, no! I have it! Blocks of shrinking size! This is the beauty of abstract strategy games.) But while building, these multipurpose round peasants must both fight off opposing round-ites and build their own blocks! They need three Pyramids before the epic destruction of their empire, their world, their universe, and this website! Oh no!!!!!
Ok, so really... Rise! is an abstract strategy game. The goal of the game is to build 3 towers - each tower consisting of 3 levels. Simple enough? The game is played on a growing hexagonal map and to construct a tower, you must have a hex surrounded with your pieces (and the center must be empty). At this point, a stage of the tower is automatically created, and each turn that you still have your pieces in place the next stage of the tower is built. Each turn consists of two actions. Here are your choices: place a new piece adjacent to one of your existing pieces, move a piece, remove a tower piece (rarely), "jump" a piece (capturing an opponent adjacent to you), place a new land tile, sacrifice two pieces to place one anywhere on the board, or sacrifice two pieces to remove any single piece of your opponent. Players alternate turns until either one player lost their last piece (I've not seen this happen) or one player has three towers completed.
What to say about Rise! Well. First of all, I must admit that Rise! has a different feel than any spatial reasoning game that I've ever played - and I've played a ton of them (after all, I even self-deemed this month "abstract strategy month"... though I noticed that no other sites bothered to join me). It's good when a game brings a fresh new feel to a genre. There are familiar elements - jumping, moving, building maps, but I've not seen them all together in a way that feels similar to Rise! Kudos to Crash Games for coming up with something innovative.
Now that I've mentioned a pro, I'm going to mention my biggest con - then I'll just move on to rambling about the game. Let's be honest for a minute. My first game of Rise! was horrible! Afterwards, I thought to myself, "Well. That sucked." (Yes, I can be quite profane like that when I'm thinking to myself.) Here's why: we didn't interact. In Rise! it is critical to be adjacent to your opponent. If you look at how a hexagonal "circle" is built, when a person is able to encircle a single hex (and then places a piece in the center), he has an impenetrable fortress - it cannot be thwarted by jumping, because each piece has a defensive piece behind it. This leaves the option to sacrifice two units to remove one of his to break the circle. Well, if you are not in a position to fill in that newly formed gap, then you have three options: first, sacrifice two more pieces to fill it in; second, take it and allow your opponent to take it right back (costing yourself two pieces for the cost of one of your opponent's actions); third, give up and cede the tower to your opponent. This is not something we realized going into the game - so we spent too much of the beginning of the game playing in our own areas. So, when one of us started building a tower, there was absolutely nothing that the other player could do about it. It was horrible, and we didn't see the point to the game. But then we decided to try again (this is also called "giving my free review copy of a game a fair shot") - and this time we rushed at each other to make sure we stayed in position. And then the game got interesting!
Now I'm just going to talk about things that I think are interesting about the game. The first thing that I think is interesting is that, though the game is officially about "building towers", it is actually about controlling the board. The person with the most pieces on the board is probably going to win. He has options. He can sacrifice his pieces to clear out his opponent's most important pieces, and if needed, he can even sacrifice more pieces to take over that position. I've found that the best strategy is to focus on killing your opponent and then build towers. After all, who builds a tower without laying a foundation? The foundation in Rise! is the destruction of your opponent!
The next thing that I think is interesting is that there seems to be a tipping point in the game. There can be a back and forth struggle at the beginning, but at least in the few games that I've played, there is a point in which one player starts to run away with the game. And it's probably the player that has the most pieces. Because they laid a good foundation (see previous paragraph for ongoing joke. Now laugh. You're welcome. I never said it was "funny," so if you chose not to laugh, you should learn to be less picky about your humor).
As I stated before, it is very, very hard to break a circle that your opponent has started. In fact, it will always (unless I horribly missed something) cost you at least two pieces to attempt to break your opponent's in-progress tower. I find this interesting. Basically, I feel like it is the game telling you, "Well, then don't let them do that in the first place!" And, yet, if you are positioned well, you can actually do something about his tower. Or, if he sacrifices the pieces around his tower, you can even start destroying it (if you encircle it with your own pieces). At first I was annoyed that I couldn't break up my opponent's in-progress tower very easily, but as I kept playing, I realized that this adds to the strategy - you really have to work hard to prevent him from initially starting the construction.
Speaking of which, I think that the land placement adds an interesting element to the game. One of the things that the ever-growing grassy ice-flow allows is to easily jump your opponents (you can place a land tile behind him as a "landing place"). Another area where the land placement can affect the game is by one player forcing the other player to be the one placing all of the land. If I am able to get my opponent to place the land tiles (because he is trying to complete a circle, get better position, or whatever other reason) then I can often take advantage by gaining on him in number of pieces. Any action spent growing the board is an action not spent strengthening your position. And yet, at some point one of the players must make the board grow.
The final thing that I will mention about Rise! that I found interesting is that you really have to be careful to make sure that your "offensive" moves do not backfire. For example, if I have two pieces next to one of your pieces, but mine are at the edge of the board, it is a simple matter for you to take one of my pieces. Simply add a new land tile behind my piece and then jump over me. Poof! - my piece is gone. Of course, I'll probably use my next turn to place a piece back where I had one, and then to place a piece where your piece was. After that exchange, I have one more piece than I started with, you have the same number as you had before, and I'm in a better defended position. I'm winning because you went on the offensive! (If only school fights worked like this... "Johnny punched me in the face and then fell down because he broke his hand on my head.")
Overall, I give Rise! an 8.0/10. I debated this back and forth a bit, but I figured that if I had bought Rise! I would have been happy with my purchase. It is not my favorite spatial reasoning game of all time, but I think that it has a nice, deep strategy to it - and that the games will get better as you play it more. Plus, you have the opportunity to support it on Kickstarter until December 31, 2011, and help a fledgling game company try to achieve their dream! (As a note, I've given up on even pretending to care about every game that is on Kickstarter. There's no way for me to support all of them, and some of the ones I've wound up playing didn't necessarily deserve to exist. But you can get the basic game of Rise! for $20, and it's a solid enough game that I would actually recommend that you help out Crash Games.)
Like abstract games? You might also read my reviews of Gipf, Ingenious, Dvonn, Pentago, and Jin Li.
I would like to thank Crash Games for providing me with a review prototype copy of Rise!