I was lucky enough to attend my friend Alex Gibson’s 40th birthday last weekend at the always excellent Common Ground Games in Stirling. He had gone in, pretty deep by the looks of it, to the Rising Sun Kickstarter and had brought it along with him to play. I jumped into a 6 player game and thought I should give you an idea of this latest magnum opus from Eric Lang and Cool Mini or Not (CMON) Games.
A New Dawn
The first thing to say about Rising Sun is that it is absolutely stunning to look at. Alex had the large neoprene map that came as a stretch goal and from that to the thick plastic order tiles, the game drips with its influences, even if their is some question as to the origin of some of those.
As is traditional for CMON game there are a large number of minis of quite astounding size and some decent quality sculpts. Alongside that you have some beautiful plastic order tiles, various trackers, little boards to remind you of mechanics and screens to hide your war bidding behind.
The core of the game is that you are trying to amass points by conquering land, buying powers, making alliances and occasionally tearing them apart and although there are a fair few systems nothing is terribly complex on its own, it’s the whole that leaves you scratching your head.
Choose your path
At the start of a round you form alliances with fellow players. Not only does this mean that you won’t fight each other in a region, but also that the choices you are about to make will affect you both. What happens next is that each player in turn picks up 4 order tiles, or whatever they are called, which will let you do 1 of 5 things: recruit, marshal, train, harvest or BETRAY!
These range from letting you get more dudes on the map to tearing apart your alliance and pop some of your pieces on the board where there used to be someone else’s, keeping in mind that this allows Dragons to become men or vice versa. Every player gets to do the thing chosen but the person making the choice and their ally will get an extra benefit.During this choice of actions you are trying to amass money so that you can fight properly during the war that is coming at the end of the phase, hire Shinto to go and pray for the gods along the top of the board that have a variety of effects, and trying, poorly in my case, to focus on a strategy that will amass you the most points.
When you get to battles you spend money to kidnap combatants, write poems about the dead (being serious here), die an honourable death or something else I don’t recall. The point is that money is important so spending it all on strongholds or cards isn’t always a great idea. Money flows from the combos you can build with those cards however, so finding the right balance is paramount in having control of the War phase of the game.
Rising Sun, although appearing to be a man on maps game, is actually really about area control and engine building. Certainly you can amass points by winning regions in war, but you must stretch far over the map in order to take the largest variety, not just sit in one place and hold court, a mechanic I really liked as it encourages you to interfere far across the board. The cards that come up you can buy with the Train action, encourage certain paths to victory be that kidnapping people from battle, amassing monsters or just having piles of money to have your way in a fight.
Although the monsters you can hire, and I hired a lot, look impressive they are not the key to victory, and the player who pays attention to the cards they can draft, the opportunities afforded through alliances, their money and the regions to be take in battle will win the day.
Not just a pretty face
I’m pretty lukewarm on Kickstarter in general, though I totally understand it as a vehicle for the little guys to get their games out in front of a bigger audience. Whilst I also get that CMON have every right to use the platform, it also feels like they may be edging out the little guys, but maybe it’s good for them to have big successes like this on there. That is a debate for another time.
The main reason I ignore Kickstarter a lot of the time is that the buy in is immense for a game I won’t see for a year or so and have absolutely no idea how good it is. In the case of Rising Sun, it did seem pretty good to me on a first play, though I did absolutely horribly. There is a lot to chew over in the game and it has a lot of interesting systems that I really enjoyed interacting with. The battles are non-random which is bound to appeal to a lot of people and there is quite a bit of variety in the setup giving you different cards to draft each time.
Overall I was very impressed by Rising Sun and hope to get the opportunity to play it again soon. If you are after a really interesting area control/ engine building game that looks absolutely fantastic then I think it might be right up your street.