It’s the far flung future and, well, let’s just say that things have not gone well for the human race. Global nuclear war has destroyed much of what humanity had built. The situation is so dire that clean water has become the only currency of value, and the remaining survivors are left to scrape together the meager resources they can find and battle for survival in a seemingly endless war. This is the world of RONE: Races of New Era.
RONE is a strategic battling card game for two, or two teams of two. Each player chooses a Hero, and takes one of the corresponding sets of Hero cards. Heroes have three different cards which depict that Hero’s current level in the game. Higher levels allow players to obtain more resources and control stronger Units. Levels are purchased using water, the game’s currency. While the stats for each Hero are fairly standard, each Hero also has a character-specific ability which they may use throughout the game.
Besides his Hero cards, each player also gets a deck of twenty four Player cards. It is from this deck that the bulk of combat takes place. Player cards are a mix of Units, which are placed on the battlefield to fight or defend, and Tactics, which are instant, one-time-use abilities. Player cards also act as life counters in RONE. When a player no longer has cards in his deck or hand, he is eliminated from the game.
Lastly, players can choose to bring up to five Technology cards to the game. Technology cards do not count towards a player’s life points, and are available for use from the very start of the game without having to be first drawn from the deck. A player may only have three Technology cards in use at any given time, and they cannot be withdrawn once played unless they are destroyed by an action from an opponent’s cards.
The game is played in turns. On his turn a player first checks to see if any card actions occur at the beginning of the turn, and if so those actions are carried out. A similar step is taken at the end of a turn. The player then collects water equal to the amount listed on the right edge of his Hero card. Players keep track of their water stockpile on dials, and can gain more water per round by leveling up their heroes. Players can also draw one card from their deck if they are level two or three.
The player then refreshes his cards in the battlefield, including his Hero, and begins the main phase of the game. Players may make as many legal actions as they can afford to make on their turn. The possible actions a player may make include playing Unit cards from his hand onto the battlefield, playing Tactic cards, leveling up his Hero, recycling used cards, and launching an attack.
The card design for RONE is very smart, with extremely clear iconography. The cost of putting any card into play is presented as a blue droplet on the top of the card. The number by the droplet corresponds to the amount of water that must be spent to either place it on the battlefield in the case of a Unit or Technology, or to play it out of hand in the case of a Tactic. Used tactic cards and defeated Unit cards are placed in a Graveyard pile. When placing a card in the graveyard the player may choose either the top or bottom of the pile. This is because the top card in a player’s Graveyard pile can be recycled and re-used by permanently discarding a number of cards that sit below it. The amount of cards discarded is indicated near a green recycle icon printed next to the card’s cost.
Activating a Unit or Technology card’s abilities, or using the card to attack, exhausts the card. An exhausted card cannot be used again until it has fully refreshed. Each card has three exhaustion points, and these are clearly marked on the top and side edges of the card with a numbered and colored tab. When exhausting a card the player turns the card so that the current amount of exhaustion is showing on the tab facing him. An attack from a Unit automatically exhausts the card to whichever tab is colored gold. Hero cards tend to have a standard ability which exhausts to a purple tab, and then another special ability that exhausts to a gold tab. Exhausted cards regain one exhaustion point at the beginning of the player’s turn, and cannot generally be used again until they have fully recovered and become active.
Since the ultimate goal of the game is to reduce one’s opponent to zero life points, choosing when and how to attack is extremely important. Units which have been played in the battlefield may generally attack any active Unit on the opponent’s side of the field. I say generally because there are several special card effects and properties that can limit or otherwise alter the ability of one Unit to attack another.
Once an attack is declared between two Units players are given the opportunity to play Tactic cards to alter that attack. Tokens are included with the game to indicate changes in attack values, as well as changes in health. If the attack has not been canceled then both players involved deal the opponent the amount of ranged damage indicated on the right edge of his card. If a Unit takes an amount of damage equal to or greater than its Health, indicated by a green tab on the left side of the card, then it is defeated and placed on the player’s Graveyard. If both Units are still alive following the ranged attack then melee damage is dealt in the same way. Following an attack, assuming its alive, the attacking Unit is always exhausted to the gold colored tab, and the defending Unit is exhausted one time.
Active Units are considered Guardians, and a player must attack any enemy Guardians on the battlefield before they are allowed to attack their opponent’s Hero or any other exhausted Units. When a Hero is attacked that Hero’s player must discard a number of cards from his hand or deck equal to the attacker’s combined attack value. These cards are discarded into the Graveyard. When a player can no longer discard a card he has lost the game.
There are, as is the case with many card games, a very wide range of special effects and powers amongst the cards which can change rules or alter outcomes in one way or the other. Keywords on some of the Unit cards give those Units passive abilities, such as Defender which exempts a unit from paying the exhaust point when defending in a battle, and Invisible which prevents opponents from attacking that unit while allowing the same unit to bypass all guardians to attack his opponent’s Hero. The first expansion RONE Awakening which was sent along for the purposes of this preview introduced new key words that prevented the use of Melee attacks on certain Units, for example, or which eliminated the exhaust penalty when certain Units defend.
So card games like this can sometimes get bogged down with a ton of little rules and fiddly bits, but I have to say that learning how to play RONE is remarkably easy. There’s really only a handful of concepts to grasp, and the design of the cards is such that it’d almost be hard to forget how to play it. I’d say that it took maybe two rounds of play before we were entirely off book, with the minor exception of the key terms glossary since you don’t encounter all of the terms all at once. I was very surprised at how quickly we felt comfortable playing it, and I was able to teach it to someone else after only a couple of plays without really even referencing the rulebook.
The mix of Hero and Unit abilities creates a game with a lot of replay value. While the instruction manual does say that players are free to pre-construct decks, it’s also pretty clear from the instructions that the preferred method is to randomly draw all cards, including your Hero deck, and I completely agree. In every game I’ve played the strategies used were different as players reacted to the cards and powers they were dealt. One player might need to focus on leveling up quickly in order to play stronger, higher level Units to smash through his opponent, while another might create a wall of weak, low level Units and bide his time while getting off cheap shots when he gets an opening. During one play I had a combination of technology and Unit cards which allowed me to keep sending my opponent’s units back into his deck from the battlefield, essentially clearing them without attacking them half the time.
RONE is currently up on Kickstarter for a second edition reprint and an expansion. The reprint takes care of what might be my only two minor gripes about this game. First, there were a few unclear rules in the original rule book which have now been cleared up. I’ve read both and I can definitely say that the second printing book is an improvement in that regard. The new edition also gives rules for three player play, which I’ve not tried yet but am happy to see.
Second, the reprinting has changed the card backs for the Hero and Technology cards. This is maybe a minor issue, however it does make things a little easier when sorting cards. The first printing uses the same back on all cards and even as I write this one of the three cards for one of the Heroes has somehow gotten shuffled into my copy during cleanup, meaning that I have a little bit of hunting to do later to find it that a different card back design would have made much easier.
The new edition also comes in a larger box sized to better accommodate those who sleeve their cards, which will definitely be of benefit to some.
RONE is actually a pretty special game. It’s very easy to learn, but at the same time the great variety of cards prevents it from getting stale. Using the player’s deck as his health is a great idea and adds an extra strategic hurdle to a game that already demands careful planning and timing. The card art is thematically wild and fits well with the rest of the package, and I think the iconography on the cards is so clear as to almost act like a tutorial on how to play them.
RONE: Races Of New Era Second Edition and the brand new RONE: New Forces expansion are currently on Kickstarter, so go check them out, and happy gaming!