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Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, October 27, 2005

RA >> Far Better Auction Games Out There

Let me get this off my chest from the very start -- for me, Ra is a wholly unfulfilling experience. From the lack of information on the tiles, being forced into turns (rather than having decisions) and the lack of action variety makes Ra one of my least favorite Reiner Knizia games.

The only two things I really like about Ra are the production quality (especially the wooden blue Ra piece) and the zero-sum bidding (where all the money remains in the game and simply shuffles hands).

What do I dislike about Ra? Wow... There's so much to choose from. I'll try to just hit the main sticking points that may be of use to people skimming a review to find out whether or not a game includes mechanics or devices that will appeal to them.

1) Being Force Fed Your Turn. There are far fewer decisions to be made, it seems to me, than there should be. Often you are forced to open up a set for bidding by either having the board filled (no decision on your part) or by drawing a Ra tile (again, no decision on your part). I like making my own decisions, rather than being forced into decisions on MY turn which end up (at least with the strong potential of) benefiting other players more than they do me.

2) Lack of Intuitive Information. The tiles desperately need some sort of icon system to distinguish buildings and civilization advances and their scoring impact. It amazes me that the game didn't come with scoring sheets like those found on BGG. The game drops a full rating point or two for this inexcusable oversight, especially given the horrendously non-intuitive scoring system. The tiles should also have had some way of denoting what tiles are discarded after an epoch rather than kept.

As it stands, there is no information on the tiles to know: whether the tile is discarded after an epoch, which set the tile belongs to, how the tile will score, the total number of that type of tile in the set. By contrast, the Stock cards in Union Pacific hold a great deal of information (type of track to be used, number of cars available, number of stock available) while still retaining a sharp look.

3) Knowing You Can't Win. With perfect information of the available bids, it's incredibly frustrating to be holding the 10 and seeing the 11, 12 and 13 in the hands of other players. Yes, there is some strategy into playing your higher tiles to try and force those upper bids into play, but you're still guaranteed to lose at least 3 bids in the round if you're the one holding the 10 tile... And in a game where there may not be many rounds of bidding at all (at least, bidding on lots with some value), being on the low rung when there's finally a good lot of items available stinks.

4) Wildly Variable End Game. Since all the Ra tiles are shuffled in with the other tiles willy-nilly, rather than having X Ra Tiles seeded into stacks of tiles, it feels like the wildly random end game often has more impact on the final results than the individual play of the players. Where some see a tense finish and push-your-luck element to try and grab tiles before the end of an epoch, I see a sloppy contrivance which further reduces player involvement.

In Union Pacific, the Gold Car/Payout cards are at least seeded through the deck so there's a bit more focus and direction for the end game. I think that sort of seeding would work much better. It's not uncommon (especially in later epochs where the Ra Tile:Non-Ra Tile ratio is considerably higher) to have *several* consecutive draws where a Ra tile is pulled. And when there is nothing on the bid track (or only something like say, Anarchy) it artificially shortens the game with no decision making or player involvement. In fact, the last round may consist of 1/2 as many lots being auctioned off as in the first round. Further exacerbating the impact of problem #3 noted above.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Oddly enough, I've done quite well at Ra, but for the life of me I don't know why. I certainly don't feel like I'm making better decisions than my more seasoned opponents, who understand the intricacies and the values better than I do.

In fact, in our last 3 player game, I won handily: 75-54-36... Which I think is more ammunition *against* the game -- how balanced and strategic can a game be when someone who makes worse decisions and is *far* less experienced than his opponents can have that sort of success? For bidding games, I far, far, far prefer Traumfabrik, Modern Art, For Sale and Goa. I rate RA a 4.5, dropping it down to a 3.5 without the excellent player mats found on BGG.

5 Comments:

  • There's just no accounting for taste....

    By Blogger Seth Ben-Ezra, at 4:36 PM  

  • Jay, perhaps you're expecting a bit much out of RA?

    The game is Knizia's stripped down, austere pure auction game which has only one key element - timing. If you're not a fan of timing in games, you're not going to like RA too much because most of the game's control is invested in that mechanism.

    That's why I'm one of those who like RA mostly just with 3 players. Not only does this give each player 4 Suns (and therefore 4 lots to win), it also shortens the timing arc, allowing for greater control. 4P is tolerable but chaotic. And never, ever play RA with 5 players as there is very little control left due to the huge timing arc.

    But I understand where you're coming from.

    By Blogger Rick, at 4:40 PM  

  • "The tiles should also have had some way of denoting what tiles are discarded after an epoch rather than kept."

    In the vein of actually providing something substantive (and not merely tweaking your nose), I'll note that the new Uberplay edition does mark the tiles that are kept, and I agree that it is an improvement in the game.

    "As it stands, there is no information on the tiles to know: whether the tile is discarded after an epoch, which set the tile belongs to, how the tile will score, the total number of that type of tile in the set."

    I think that you are being a little too picky here. The total number of tiles in each set is listed in the player aid on the board, and the graphic design of each tile type easily distinguishes them. I'll grant that individual player aids a la Settlers of Catan or Tikal might be nice, but the information *is* printed on the board.

    Of course, this is one of my favorite games, so we're probably not going to see eye-to-eye here. Oh well. At least we both like Samurai.

    By Blogger Seth Ben-Ezra, at 4:41 PM  

  • I think I discovered the biggest disconnect for me with regards to Ra. Often when I dislike a game, I find that it's because the gameplay experience I take away from the game doesn't "match up with" with the time or thought investment the game requires to achieve that experience.

    That is certainly the case for me with Ra. With the light decision making and limited control, the gameplay experience tells me that this is, at most, a "light, filler" game for my tastes. But the game plays much, much longer than I'm willing to invest in something that is either light or filler. For the time required, I can play 2 or 3 better light/filler games, or a true medium/meaty game.

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 10:56 PM  

  • Ra is not pleased. He will smite your pharoahs.

    By Blogger ekted, at 7:17 AM  

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