Full disclosure: A preview copy of Rise & Fall was provided by The Crowdfunding Agency. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
I planned a bit poorly, as I am wont to do. Usually, when I go on a trip of any kind, I have my reviews planned out so that I am covered at the beginning and end of my trip. Usually, as well, I’m only on a trip for a week, so this is relatively easy to do. Be two weeks ahead, et cetera. This time, since I’m going on a two week trip and having a friend visit around Labor Day, I’m in the unenviable position of having to be, essentially, four weeks ahead on reviews. Whoops. But we abide, and we’ll get through it. Rise & Fall is our next review this week, pitched as a lighter-weight civilization game, which I’m always into. Dominations is pretty great, but it does take a while to play. Let’s see what’s going on with it!
In Rise & Fall, players take on the role of fledgling civilizations emerging into a new, untouched land. As nomads from a single city, players must manage resources, construct new cities, and start the process of building additional units to explore even further beyond their initial shores if they want to attain wealth and influence over the land. However, their opponents have their sights set on the same goal, so clashes (and trading) may emerge to complicate matters. Will you be able to find a place for your people in this new land?
To start, each player is going to pick a color and take all the relevant components of that color. That includes their Civilization Cards:
Their Mountaineers (I keep calling them Wildcatters, for reasons that make sense to me):
And, finally, their Merchants:
Then, create a supply of coins:
You’ll remove the four 100-coin tokens from the bank in a two-player game, and remove two of the 100-coin tokens in a three-player game. Also set aside the wood and stone tokens. Now, add the Trophy Board and the Trophies (they can be in any order):
Finally, the last part of the game is setup! Give a player the First Player Token:
They’ll take the first turn in setting up the world, which is done by all players. Take the tiles:
You’ll use different numbers at different player counts:
- 2 players: 2 big Sea tiles, 12 Sea tiles, 10 Plains Tiles, 8 Forest Tiles, 6 Mountains, 2 Glaciers
- 3 players: 3 big Sea tiles, 15 Sea tiles, 14 Plains Tiles, 11 Forest Tiles, 8 Mountains, 3 Glaciers
- 4 players: 4 big Sea tiles, 19 Sea tiles, 17 Plains Tiles, 15 Forest Tiles, 11 Mountains, 4 Glaciers
The starting sea tiles have a particular configuration to them, and once you’ve placed them as such, players take turns placing one tile starting with Sea tiles. Once they run out, move on to Plains, then Forest, then Mountain, and finally Glacier tiles. Generally speaking, there are a few rules around placement:
- Sea Tiles must share at least two spaces with another Sea tile.
- Sea Tiles cannot be placed such that they create a void, or a zone that contains one or more empty spaces.
- All land tiles must be placed fully on top of another tile; they cannot hang over.
- Plains tiles must be placed on top of Sea tiles.
- Forest tiles must be placed on top of Plains tiles.
- Mountain tiles must be placed on top of Forest tiles.
- Glacier tiles must be placed on top of Mountain tiles.
- All tiles must be placed. If you cannot make a tile fit, move other tiles to make it work.
After you collectively do this, each player takes a Nomad, a City, and a Ship (and the Civilization Cards corresponding to them). Each player, in turn order, places one unit of their choice on a space (noting that Ships must be placed on Sea spaces and Nomads and Cities cannot be placed on Sea or Glacier spaces). Do this until all players have placed all three units. After doing so, you’re ready to begin!
Generally speaking, a game of Rise & Fall is played in pursuit of victory points, which are earned over a set of turns. As players play their turns, they’ll collect resources, move and create units, and occasionally earn new cards or trophies. Let’s talk about how that works. Each turn has up to six phases.
Play a Civilization Card
This one’s not too hard. Choose a Civilization Card from your hand and play it face-down. Once everyone has done so, flip it face-up and announce which card you’ve played.
There’s an optional variant where, if a player is taking too long, you can count to three and upon doing so, take a random card from their hand. I put it here as more of a threat than anything else.
After playing cards, starting with the first player, each player activates as many of their units of the card’s type as they’d like. Once they’ve done that, the next player can do so, and so on.
Each Civilization Card has multiple actions that a given unit can take. Some generate resources, some allow movement, some build new units, some upgrade existing units, things like that. Each unit can choose any action on the card, provided they can fully execute it (some cost resources / money). The challenge here is mostly remembering which units you’ve already activated. The other players can keep you honest, or you can tip an activated unit over and re-right it later.
If you add a new unit type to the board, take its corresponding Civilization Card from your reserve and add it to your hand. If you remove your last unit of a given type from the board, place its corresponding Civilization Card into your reserve.
It’s worth noting that while you can gain money and resources, you have a resource cap of five wood and five stone. Any more than that is lost.
If you place your last unit of a given type, and are the first to do so, you gain that unit’s trophy! Remove it and place it in front of you, sliding the other tiles up by one. This will cause a Decline.
If no player claims a trophy, this phase is skipped.
Otherwise, for each trophy claimed this turn, each player must take a card from their hand or discard pile and add it face-down to the Decline section of the Trophy Board. Once every player has done so, flip them over.
Cards in the Decline Zone are out of play for all intents and purposes. There are ways to get them back, though!
Purchase a Card in Decline (Optional)
Each turn, a player may spend money to retrieve one of their cards from the Decline Zone, placing it back in their hand (if they have the relevant units on the board; otherwise it goes to their reserve). The cost varies based on how many Trophies have been collected (between 5 and 80 money, as indicated by the bottom tile).
If you have no cards, you must buy a card in Decline. If, somehow, you can’t afford one, you just … lose. So try not to do that.
Recycle Cards (Optional)
If you no longer have any cards in your hand, draw your discard pile, placing all of those cards in your hand.
Should at least one player Recycle during this phase, pass the First Player token one player to the left. If multiple players Recycle, the First Player token is still only passed once.
End of Turn
At the end of the turn, check to see if the game ends (if four trophies are claimed). If not, start a new turn! Play continues until the end of the game.
End of Game
After the fourth trophy is claimed, the game ends. At this point, players earn points for various things:
- Economy: Each player earns 1 VP for every 2 money they have.
- Trophies: Each player earns the printed value on the trophies they earned.
- Development: Each player collects all their Civilization Cards that aren’t in Decline. On the bottom of each card, it has a set of VP values for the number of units of that type that exist in the world. Each player counts the number of units of each type they have out in the world, and earns the listed VP for those units. Civilization Cards in Reserve (because the player has no units of that type on the board) are worth 0 points, since you have 0 units of that type out. So that saves some time.
- Territories: Now, for the area control. A region is defined as a set of adjacent spaces of the same type, with Glacier spaces being treated as Mountain spaces for the purposes of region assessment (which may make for a large Mountain region). Going region by region, players count the number of their units in each region. The player with the most units in a given region controls that region and earns VP for each space in that region.
- Plains: 1 VP per space
- Sea: 2 VP per space
- Forest: 3 VP per space
- Mountain / Glacier: 4 VP per space
The player with the most VP wins!
Player Count Differences
As player count increases, the board gets larger, granted, but it doesn’t scale at a 1:1. Inevitably, more players will make the game more crowded, which can either be hilarious or frustrating, depending on how the areas are structured. Generally, Nomads can’t move through occupied spaces (friendly or not), so you may see some congestion if more folks block key spaces. That said, that can happen in a two-player game, as well, so it’s hard to really call that a drawback of additional players. I wouldn’t say I have a strong preference, honestly, as a result. The game feels like it scales nicely; it just takes a bit longer with more folks since there are, ultimately, more players taking turns. Plus, a bigger map is more fun to build. The game notes that it can technically support up to eight players by combining two copies, but that sounds like it eliminates its “takes less time to play” advantage and seems messy, so, I’d probably stick to one copy. Plus, they only sent me one copy, so I didn’t have a chance to try and find seven other people to play this.
- Towards the end of the game, it makes sense to drop a card, in all likelihood, since it’s not worth the points you have to spend (as money) to get it back. Let’s say you buy a card back for 40 money; that means the card cost you 20 points. You’d need to be earning literally 21+ points from that Civilization Card in order to make that transaction make sense. And if that’s the case, why is that card still in Decline? If you had enough of those units out to make it worth it, you should, ostensibly, be making money off of them or something to compensate. I usually just drop Nomads, since they cap out at 8 points; then I don’t have to think about the pros and cons of other card types.
- Your initial placement matters a lot, since it determines what you have access to and where you can build in the future. It also might determine where your opponents cannot get to. You really want to have easy access (as the rulebook recommends) to wood and stone, so that you can quickly and easily build more Cities. More Cities means more Nomads (and also the ability to upgrade other units), which can help you start to sprawl. If you place all your units close together, you’re also effectively ceding a lot of territory to your opponents. Spread out! Start new cities on other islands or landmasses! See what happens!
- Getting a bit of money quickly can be helpful, especially if your cards are going to end up in Decline. You should probably have 5 – 10 money at the start of the game, since as soon as a player gets a trophy (even you), you’re going to lose a likely-useful card. It’s early game, so buying it back is relatively cheap, but you’d likely prefer to not be totally broke.
- Having a bunch of different unit types can be helpful, but consolidating to try and earn a trophy first can be pretty handy, as well. I generally try to earn my Nomad trophy first and then go back and make them into Mountaineers and Merchants to get money, focusing on the economy aspect of my civilization, at that point. Having a bunch of Nomads also allows you to quickly earn a bunch of resources, which you can then use to turn them into Ships and Cities. It’s about early scaling. Plus, locking in a trophy before your opponent gets you points and might lock up one of their cards in Decline.
- Look at spaces where you can block your opponent from encroaching into your territory. Nomads can’t move into occupied spaces (though other units can or can ignore cliffs), so you might be able to build a City somewhere and make an entire plateau inaccessible. Just make sure you don’t end up blocking yourself!
- Watch out for Temples! They can convert your units to your opponent’s Civilization. Temples are bad news if you’re trying to explore! I had a game where I built a Temple right next to an opponent’s City, so every time she created a Nomad I could just convert them straight out of the gate. It creates a very real threat to moving through that area and strictly helps your opponent. Try to stay out of their way if you can. Note that this means you can also build Temples to protect key accessways into your civilization.
- Building seaside Cities (for boats) or Cities close to your opponents’ Cities (for Merchants) can be very handy ways to get a lot of money quickly. I usually try to start with a City on the shore, just to help myself earn some quick money. I then double down by putting my starting Ship in the biggest water feature, to try and get some early control. If that all works, other players may try to build Cities / place Ships there, which just increases the amount of money we all make!
- Don’t overlook the area control elements! That’s where most of your points will come from. You do, ultimately, need to explore a bit so that you can claim territory for points. Mountains are nice, but there aren’t a ton of them, so you might end up fighting other players for control. Mountaineers help, since they can sit on Glaciers. But having some Forest and Sea control can really boost your score a lot, if your opponents aren’t looking for that as hard because they’re fighting each other over Mountains. Either way, it’s the biggest chunk of your score, so treat it with the importance that it deserves.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I think the initial setup is extremely fun, though having a few recommended layouts for new players might be good, since there’s some strategy to the placements that isn’t immediately apparently until you’ve played. I really like building the game board, and I think it’s fun to play around with like, naming things or referring to islands or building certain types of locations. It’s some of the same level of excitement that I feel from exploring in the Civilization series. It’s fun to see how everything comes together.
- All the pieces are, perhaps, a little detailed for a prototype copy, but I like them. It’s a bit silly, but they look really good! I like having different shapes of things rather than just the generic meeple shape. I’d love if the Civilizations had unique styles, but that’s likely asking a lot.
- I also like how there are some clear and interesting avenues for expansion, like new types of pieces and such. I’d love to see civ-specific units, for instance, or heroes or leaders or just some way to differentiate. You could even imagine special terrain types that players could throw in, like desert or canyon or coral reef or something. I’d love to see how the game could expand itself in that way.
- I think the multi-use cards are interesting! We all like multi-use cards. I appreciate that they let you be flexible beyond just “what are all of my units doing” by letting you make per-unit decisions, even if that does add a bit of extra complexity to turns as you get more and more units. It’s still nice to have the fine-tuned control.
- The simultaneous play is helpful and action resolution is interesting, albeit complicated in the late-game. As mentioned, trying to resolve eight Nomads in a turn can be a bit hard to track, but I think the simultaneous action selection helps the game move a bit faster than it otherwise would. The game’s flow doesn’t feel bad while we play, which is nice.
- I just like that the Mountaineers ride big cats; it’s a little goofy. I ended up calling them Wildcatters as a result, but they look really good! I appreciate the detail on the tokens, as well, but more people riding large cats would improve pretty much every game.
- Only having two resource types (three, counting money) does make the game simpler, which I appreciate. Not having to worry about second- or third-level resources (coal, wheat, steel, things like that) keeps the core gameplay loop simple, and that’s honestly … nice.
- I also appreciate that players can develop their civilization in whatever way they choose, and still get fairly rewarded for it. You wanna go mercantile? Go for it. Religious? It’s tough, and you won’t make a lot of friends, but it’s workable. Want to essentially only do Ships? I think you can probably make that happen. I like the ability to spread, since so much of the game focuses on that final area control element.
- A lot of the iconography is a bit hard to parse on the first playthrough; it would be nice to see it simplified in some way. The Civilization Cards are a lot, since they’re using their own unique iconography to communicate some things that aren’t necessarily obvious (like cliffs or adjacency requirements). It would be lovely if it were possible to make the cards a bit simpler (or include text cards for your first game).
- Having a bunch of spots on the map that Nomads can’t travel through because they’re occupied can hinder access to certain landmasses, which is a bit frustrating, too. I imagine this comes down to the initial board state construction, but it would be nice to get some additional guidance from the game on how to avoid corridors and other construction tips. We definitely made some bad choices when we set up our first game.
- Some player colors that aren’t blue and green would be helpful, just given how much of the board space is blue and green. It’s also that the blues and greens are a bit similar, so it becomes easier for your brain to overlook them. They’re not the same color, but something with a bit more contrast (a pink or a purple) would be really helpful for spotting tokens, especially things like the green units in the forest spaces.
- Being able to steal / convert other players’ pieces is kind of frustrating for that player in a way that I think some play groups won’t necessarily enjoy. I would love for that to be an optional playstyle, since it’s more aggressive than I prefer to be, but I understand why it exists. I would just prefer to sub the Temple for a different unit like a toll or something. Having my opponents pay me makes me feel a lot less bad than I would stealing their units.
- Losing cards in the Decline phase, only to buy them back, feels bad in the early game and feels pointless in the late game. It’s just not a particularly interesting gameplay loop. I get it, to some degree, but we just ended up opting to throw the requisite money into the supply and not even bother with placing a card and buying it back in the same turn. It feels like punishing all players, and that’s not an interaction mechanism that I particularly favor.
- There were a few things that were particularly clunky about gameplay that I’d love to see smoothed out in some way. We struggled a lot with transferring the first player token at two players. We would end up with different numbers of cards over the course of the game, so we would also Recycle at different rates, which mostly just meant that the first player token kept passing back and forth almost every turn. That ended up feeling like more work than it was worth, strangely. The Decline phase was similar; we just didn’t really love burning cards.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I liked Rise & Fall, but I’m hoping there are some changes made to the game before it goes into fulfillment. For instance, I really enjoyed the core setup, where players work to collaboratively-but-not-cooperatively build the landscape. I think that’s a really neat way to do that kind of setup, and it makes the world fairly unique every game. However, without having a good sense of the rules and strategy, it can lead to suboptimal world configurations for players (and potentially an early lead for players with good placement, a la Catan). Having a few starter configurations for players would be nice. Additionally, we found a few things to be rather clunky. While I enjoy the simultaneous action selection and the hand-building elements of getting cards when you create certain units, we found that passing the first-player token around every time any player refreshed made the game feel less fluid and more confusing (especially when players had different numbers of cards, sometimes leading to situations where first player would pass several turns in a row, as players recycled at a staggered pace). And more generally, we just didn’t enjoy the Decline phase. Losing cards feels bad, and it essentially boiled down to just buying your lost card back, which didn’t really feel like it had much of a gameplay impact until it became too expensive to do so, at which point, you just didn’t buy the card back. Hard to care too much about that. These things made an otherwise-quite-fun gameplay experience feel a bit rougher than I think it needed to, but it’s also a prototype, so hopefully there’s still some work being done on development. If so, I think Rise & Fall will end up a perfectly fun mini-civilization game, with lots of interesting room for expansion. I’d love to see what additional terrain types or additional unit types could add to the game, for instance. If you’re interested in a simpler civilization game, you enjoy tiles and units and a nice sense of verticality, or you just want to see a guy ride a big cat into a glacier, Rise & Fall might be what you’re looking for!
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