Did you ever wonder what it would be like after a nuclear fallout? Enter the world of RONE: Races of New Era. In RONE you play as a hero forced to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland—a world of diminishing resources, with enemies around every corner, and devoid of Kickstarter. Life is grim and you need to fight to stay alive in this head-to-head card game of combat and strategy by Štěpán Štefaník.
RONE is reminiscent of combat-oriented deck building games like Star Realms or Ascension, but it’s not exactly a deck building game, at least not in the traditional sense. You don’t hone your deck, systematically acquiring more powerful cards and pruning less powerful cards in order to improve the probability of stronger card draws as you build your engine. Although, you do have the option of deck construction once you are more familiar with the cards, and there are some mechanics that make for similar but different decisions. Overall, RONE is a very unique, thematic addition to genre. And for that reason, I’m going to focus on what separates RONE from the herd of games that are otherwise usually very similar to one another in this review.
A basic game of RONE involves 2 player facing off against one another. Each selects an asymmetric hero, draws 24 random regular cards (unit and tactic cards), and 5 technology cards. You then draw your hand of 6 cards from from 24 card deck. In RONE, these 24 cards are more than just your draw pile, they represent your life force. When you’ve discarded all of your cards, you’re out of health and loose the game.
Water is the most coveted resource in the New Era, one of the basic building blocks of life, and thus is the currency in the game. This thematic resource is used for playing cards to the battlefield, taking actions, attacking, and recycling cards from your discard pile aka “graveyard”. Water is tracked on the water wheel.
When cards are destroyed from your battlefield, they are discarded to your graveyard. The one-time use tactic cards immediately go to your graveyard after use. You may choose to either discard cards to the bottom or the top of this discard pile. This is important since cards that sit upon the top of the pile are able to be “recycled” by paying the water cost depicted at their top. Once you’ve paid the fee, this discarded card can be added back to your battlefield.
Your Hero & Leveling Up
You play as a particular character or hero in the game. Each hero has some asymmetric powers that are activated by tapping/exhausting him to various degrees. Your hero also dictates how many cards you are able to draw and your water income each round.
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As the game progresses you may pay water to level up your hero. There are three total levels, each more powerful than the last. Leveling up your hero earns you better powers, more income, greater card draws and allows you to play more cards from your draw pile. Many cards cannot be played until your hero as attained a certain level.
When you level up your hero, you discard your hero card and replace him with new higher level card.
As you might imagine, this is the source of much of the engine building in the game.
Combat & Tapping/Exhaustion
Combat is super interesting in RONE. Every unit card that is active (hasn’t been exhausted via tapping) in your battlefield is a “guardian”, meaning they are the subject of attacks instead of your hero. If all of your guardian are tapped, then your hero receives damage and cards are discarded from your deck, one for each health point lost. Remember this is your health.
Unit cards will have ranged and/or melee attack values. Ranged attacks resolve first, followed by melee attacks. If any cards are destroyed, they go into your “graveyard” discard pile.
To attack or use many cards effects, you must tap (rotate) cards a certain number of time depending on the card and action you are using. Every card has 3-sides denoted for this purpose. To attack, you rotate the card a certain number of times until yellow number is showing at top. Other effects will specify the number of times the card must be rotated in order to use the action.
At the beginning of a round, the refresh phase rotates all exhausted cards counter clockwise once moving toward being active once again.
Tactic Cards & Stacking
On your turn, you may play a one-time use tactic cards. Your opponent is able to play a tactic card in reaction. When she does, the card is placed on top of your tactic card. You may counter-react and so may she.
Once everyone is done playing these tactic cards, the stack executes from the top of the stack top to bottom.
In addition to your 24-card deck, you are given 5 random technology cards at the start of the game.
During the game you may play up to three of these technology cards. They change up the game-state and add special abilities, just as you would expect acquiring a new technology would effect combat in a real life.
The timing in which you play them ends up being very important, especially because once you have three in-play, as you cannot exchange them for new ones. There are very limited cases in which they can be removed if at all.
The rulebook recommends not playing with them your first game, but they’re actually incredibly important and make up much of deeper game strategy.
As with other deck building games, some of the cards found within RONE have special keyword text that represent different effects. Many of the keywords in RONE, particularly some that were added in previous expansions, I found to be very thematic. A few examples:
- Flying – Cards with Flying can only be attacked if the unit doing the attacking have a ranged attack greater than 0. Also, cards with Flying must first attack other cards with Flying.
- Invisibility – Cards with Invisibility keyword cannot be the target of any effects. They also unfortunately cannot act as Guardians, since they’re not visible to be attacked first, before your hero.
- Detection – Cards with the Detection keywords are the solution to cards with Invisibility. They render all cards visible on the battlefield.
RONE: Last Stand (New Expansion)
The latest expansion for RONE, RONE: Last Stand is one of the best and the most thematic of the three.
Note: I received a preview copy of this expansion and elements are subject to change.
The expansion includes 15 new technology cards and 2 new game modes, Environment Mode which introduces the 9 Environment cards included in the box, and Radiation Mode.
Environment Mode adds a another phase to the game, the Adapt Phase, in which Environment cards effect the game, forcing players to “adapt” to new conditions.
Most of the Environment cards impose a negative effect, such as “Remove the top card of your graveyard from the game”. In this example, to prevent that negative effect from impacting you, you perform the adapt effect of paying 1 water to prevent it, thus adapting.
Each Environment card has a value printed on the side representing the number of times a player must adapt in order to become immune to its effect.
Once both players have obtained immunity to the Environment card by adapting the maximum number of time, the player whose turn it is has to draw two new environment cards and chooses one to put into play. The cycle begins once again. It’s adapt or die in this new world!
Radiation Mode introduces another one of the dangers posed by the nuclear fallout, the effect of radiation poisoning.
Radiation mode adds 9 cards to each players deck, increasing from 24 to 33.
At the start of a round, you risk radiation poisoning and you much choose: either deal a damage to your hero and discard a card, or deal damage to one of your units. Either way you look at it, radiation isn’t a good thing in the New Era.
I was a bit perplexed when I first sat down to play RONE. The artwork is beautiful. The gameplay feels new, rich, and highly thematic. Yet, it lives a life of relative obscurity, hardly known to those who covet similar games like Star Realms or Shards of Infinity. How could it be? I don’t get.
The only very minor issue I have with the game is one if it’s font choices—the only thing that’s unattractive about the game. It’s found within the rulebooks, flavor text, and card effect text.
Otherwise, RONE is a real breath of fresh air. So many of the 1v1 deck building games you come across are just too similar to one another to warrant purchasing yet another deck builder. RONE is doing so much that’s new and different, that it’s well worth space on your Kallax shelf.
I got very excited when I found RONE on the shelf at Brettspielgeschäft in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of Berlin during a recent business trip.
RONE is now on Kickstarter, where you can get both the complete edition, the core set including all previous expansions, and the brand new expansion, RONE: Last Stand.
RONE is a breath of fresh air in the world of head-to-head deck building games. If you like games like Star Realms but yearn for something new, you NEED to give RONE a try!
Do yourself a favor and back the game and bring it out from the darkest recesses of BoardGameGeek and onto your table. It deserves to be better known!