Tension ramps up as you approach the end of the epoch
Always hilarious watching overly greedy players end with nothing
Steep strategic learning curve, new players will rarely win their first game
Fair amount of luck involved, but that is also part of the fun
A chant of “red, red, red, red” rang out amongst four of the players. Others in the lunch canteen were looking round wondering what the fuss was about. The fifth player pulled a tile out of the bag. Sighs of disappointment all round as he avoided the red Ra tile that would have ended the game, leaving him to continue pushing his luck and potentially collect any remaining tiles uncontested.
In Ra, players compete for the glory of the Sun God Ra by earning fame, which comes from set collecting (civilisation tiles and monuments), gaining the most (Pharoahs), or points per tile (gold, gods and farming). These tiles are won (or not) via a really interesting auction mechanic.
On their turn, players perform one of three actions. The most common action is to pull a tile blindly from the cloth bag. Most of these tiles are points earning, and will be placed on the board. However, there are a few disaster tiles, which, if won, will destroy other tiles you hold, and there are Ra tiles. Each time one of the Ra tiles is placed on the Ra track, an auction starts. To really add tension, once the Ra track is full, the epoch ends and thus there is a fine line between saving your auction tokens for the right time, and running out of time to use them at all.
Players can also voluntarily start an auction by announcing “Ra” (the louder the better of course), and banging down the Ra statue on the table. This can be a really useful way to make others use up their higher tiles (if you deem the pot really valuable to them), or maybe steal a small pot cheaply if everyone else passes. The final action you can take is to discard a gold tile you have previously won to to take any tile on the board.
In the auction phase, each player in turn chooses to pass, or bid with one of their sun tiles (everyone starts with three tiles, numbered from 2 to 16 and distributed with an even balance, with the 1 tile starting in the middle of the board). Each player then bids once in turn with the highest bidder collecting all the tiles on the board as well as the middle sun tile to use next round, which is replaced by the winning bid sun tile.
Once you use up all three sun tiles, you have to sit and watch until the epoch ends, either when everyone has used their three tiles, or when the Ra track is full. Thus, timing is key. Use your tiles too early, and others can sit and fill up the auction track with tiles, winning them uncontested at their leisure. However, get too greedy or wait too long and the epoch could end, meaning you don't get to win three auctions that round, leaving you at a significant disadvantage.
This leads to some really interesting decisions to be made during the auctions. Ideally, the person holding the highest tile would wait until the tiles on the board are both plentiful, and relevant to them. However, wait too long and a disaster tile may be added, making the tiles less useful, or the epoch might end and the sun tile might be completely wasted. Voluntarily calling an auction can make others use up their higher bids on tiles valuable to them but if no-one else bids on it, the person calling has to bid.
Ra is a really interesting game that plays quickly (within an hour) but has a lot of strategic depth, as well as a large slice of push your luck. The variety of ways to score points makes a variety of strategies viable. And of course, you get to shout “Ra” very loudly.