Hands On: Rise to Power preview

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Greetings noble readers. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Gold Coast game designer, Allen Chang, to test drive his new self-contained card game, Rise to Power. Chang is one half of a two-man design team known as Rule and Make (Alistair Kearney is his colleague). With Rise to Power they are striving to put their considerable talent and experience to good use by creating a unique city-building tabletop gaming experience. Herein lie my impressions of the product and whether you, dear reader, should feel compelled to contribute to their fledgling Kickstarter project. (tldr: You should!)

box shot

Each copy of the game will come in a nifty, compact box.

 

Inspiration and Development

A lifelong gamer, Allen got his start with the venerable Magic: the Gathering franchise in 1994. He assures me that he has fond memories of Stasis control decks and the rampant abuse of Icy Manipulator (ugh!). These days you can find him refining his skills at the Gold Coast Board Games club that operates at Bond University. For Rise to Power, Allen and Alistair derived inspiration from contemporary hits such as Dominion, Android: Netrunner and Smash Up.

Rise to Power is designed for 2 to 4 players and a single game is expected to last between 40 minutes to an hour. Allen explained that simplicity was the primary goal during development and he recommends it to gamers with low to intermediate experience in modern strategy card games.

4 players

Up to 4 players can duke it out with some municipal mayhem!

 

Brief game description

Each player starts with a Power Plant card and expands his/her city in a grid formation by taking on government ‘Contracts’. Each player also receives an obligatory secret starting card called a ‘Corporate Agenda’ which gives you specific endgame bonuses for playing a certain way. Contracts are turned into city ‘Districts’ by paying the required activation cost measured in ‘Prism’. Players take turns to acquire Prism, complete Contracts and/or sabotage opposing players’ Contracts. Once a player has accumulated 8 Districts the endgame is triggered and players tally Victory Points to determine the winner.

There is a colourful cyberpunk flavour to the visual style of the cards—not unlike that of Android: Netrunner. The game’s primary resource, Prism, is the term for a fictional clean energy source that has fueled massive economic growth on Earth. Prism is divided into three types encoded as green (low refinement), blue (medium refinement) and orange (high refinement). These colours correspond to specific district types that award differing categories of bonuses to your original Power Plant. To read more about the game’s near future utopian universe, be sure to check out the impressive ‘mini-fic’ on the Kickstarter page.

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Districts. Note the colour coding that corresponds to Prism refinement

 

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The (so far) partially complete suite of artwork is by Brisbane resident Nick Smith, (originally from the UK). He has an impressive resume having worked for Sega and Creative Assembly (he has contributed artwork for several entries in the famed Total War franchise). Other credits include recent Kickstarter success story, Hand of Fate, and his own comic book series, Hilt.

The artwork is clearly a strength of the product with clean lines and a warm, pastel colour palette. This choice accentuates the urban utopia setting and the optimism associated with abundant, clean energy. Allen noted that the grid formation of the District cards is intended to convey the order and beauty of city building and Nick Smith’s artwork helps to sell this notion. I look forward to seeing the complete set of District images if the Kickstarter succeeds.

 

Test Game

Allen and I played a game using a prototype that is currently in its 10th iteration. The board state looked like this to begin with:

intitial layout

Initial Rise to Power board layout

rise to power layout

Initial Rise to Power board layout

 

I don’t want to go too deep into the gameplay mechanics but I will attempt to give a brief summary here:

Each turn I had to choose Prism cards from the Prism track to add to my hand (equal to my ‘Draw Power’). Then I had to perform 2 ‘Actions’. Actions are:

  • Take a Contract from the Contract track and connect it to your grid
  • Complete a Contract on your grid by paying the Prism cost (it becomes a District)
  • Upgrade a District by paying the Prism cost
  • Use the ‘Exchange’ ability of a Contract (putting it onto the Exchange track)
  • Take a fully powered District from the Exchange track

The kicker is that when a Prism cost is paid, if you pay the exact amount, then you accrue an additional action. This way a clever player can chain a lengthy sequence of actions together if he/she chooses the right combination of Prism cards! The interactive part of the game involves sacrificing a Contract in order to either give yourself a bonus or sabotage your opponent. The downside is that it gives your opponent the opportunity to acquire a fully charged District from the Exchange track. There is an impressive array of choices that need to be made and each choice involves some sort of tension. For example, some cards add powerful abilities to your Power Plant but only award a small number of Victory Points.

In the beginning of our game I was able to connect 2 or 3 Districts to my grid and quickly upgrade them. I managed to pay the exact amount of Prism on a number of occasions and secured a lead by performing more Actions than Allen.

early game

I was able to jump out to an early lead.

 

At the halfway point it became apparent that a crucial component for city building is available Grid Connections. The Power Plant starts with 4 slots and you have to upgrade it with District abilities to increase capacity. I got stuck on 6 grid connections whereas Allen was able to increase capacity to the maximum of 8. Luckily I was able to upgrade my 6 districts quite substantially much to Allen’s chagrin.

mid game

I stalled on 6 Grid Connections. But check out dem upgrades!

 

Toward the end of the game Allen grew concerned that my upgrades were taking the game away from him. And, since I could not create new districts, I simply started throwing nasty Exchange abilities at his city. Allen decided to act and complete his 8th contract in order to end the game. Once the scores were tallied it turned out that I had scored 44 points to Allen’s 36 points. I made sure to rub it in that I had just beaten him at this own game!

 

end game

The final layout. A magnificent metropolis!

 

Conclusion

Even though Rise to Power isn’t quite finished, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it will be a fun and easy-to-play card game. It features great artwork, smart mechanics and plenty of interaction. I particularly enjoyed the planning stage at the beginning of my turns when I carefully selected the Prism cards that had the best chance of paying exact costs for Contracts and upgrades. The arithmetic is simple but there is significant depth in that you have to account for colours and the strengths and weaknesses of high value or low value Prism cards. High values allow you to pay for high tech Districts but low values give you a better chance of paying exact costs. The sequencing of plays reminded me of the programming gameplay of the classic board game, Robo Rally .

There do appear to be lingering balance issues. The Corporate Agenda cards did not seem to have much of an effect on the end scores and some Districts seemed a little too overpowered compared to the others. Presumably these and other kinks will be addressed if the Kickstarter is successful and I can confidently predict a quality product from the talented duo at Rule and Make. Be sure to contribute to the Kickstarter, folks. Not only will you be supporting quality Australian indie gaming but you will be securing a terrific gift idea or a nifty addition to your tabletop games collections. Check it out!

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