“Filler” games–games that are simple to learn, quick to play, and don’t take up much physical space–are expected to be breezy affairs that don’t involve a lot of thinking and decision-making.
But most filler games aren’t designed by Carl Chudyk.
Red7 was released in 2014, but the app version was just released this year for both iOS and Android. Is the game–in either incarnation–any good? Find out below!
How It Works
Red7 is a hand management game for two to four players. Players play cards to their personal palettes and to the central canvas in order to be winning at the end of their turn. The player winning once other players have dropped out wins the game.
To begin, the deck of 49 cards–cards numbered 1-7 in the seven colors of the rainbow–is shuffled, and each player receives a hand of seven cards. The “red” rules card is placed in the center of the table (the “canvas”). One card is dealt face up in front of each player, to that player’s “palette,” and the player to the left of the player dealt the highest card goes first.
On a turn, players may play one card to their palette and/or then one card to the canvas. The only stipulation is that a player must be winning at the end of the turn. If the player cannot win by playing to the palette and/or canvas, the player must resign and remove his or her cards from the game. The last player to resign wins.
There is an advanced variant (where odd-numbered cards have special powers) and a scored-match variant included in the game.
Taste the Rainbow?
I had never played Red7 before receiving a download code for the app, so this review will cover both the app and the game. Because, yes, I’ve played the app (a lot more than I expected to), and yes, I bought the physical game after playing the app.
Red7 is a codesign from Carl Chudyk and Chris Cieslik of Asmadi Games (of We Didn’t Playtest This At All fame).* I’ve made no effort to hide my love of Carl Chudyk’s games in the past, but for whatever reason, I hadn’t made it around to this lighter title. Which is a shame, because it’s quite good. And the app implementation is especially good because it plays to the design’s strengths.
Red7 is a Carl Chudyk game that’s easy to get into. It’s the family Chudyk. For those unfamiliar with Chudyk’s other games, his designs are often complex, combo-heavy affairs. That’s what makes them so satisfying. It’s also what makes them such a bear to teach and what limits the audience. But Red7 is different. Sure, some people won’t want to think in the mind-bending ways that Red7 requires of its players, but the rules are dead simple: play one or two cards each turn; make sure you’re winning.
There isn’t really a “theme” to Red7, but the rainbow that ties the seven colors together and offers the tiebreaking scheme is useful in teaching and remembering. This is also useful in making the game more approachable than some of Chudyk’s other games, which have themes like ancient Rome, Buddhist temples, or…an ancient Romish place that also has dinosaurs (?).
But just because Red7 is approachable doesn’t mean it’s declawed. There’s a subtlety to Red7, and while the initial taste is sweet, there’s a bite that follows it. The “changing rules” genre, judging by Fluxx’s popularity even in mainstream retail environments, is appealing, perhaps because of humanity’s inborn desire to rebel against authority. And Red7 involves this, but it employs the changing rules idea at the service of a hand management puzzle.
The goal is to be the last person standing. Your first game–at least if your experience is like mine–you will be considering just the present. How can I win at the end of this turn? That’s effective to stay in the game, but it’s usually not effective to win. As you play, you begin to realize that each turn is almost more about the turns that follow it. Yes, you want to be winning now, at the end of this turn, so you can reach your next turn. But you also want to plan ahead. You might play a card that’s a different color to match the blue rule currently on the canvas, but you play a card that fits in a sequence to prevent someone from winning indigo on their turn. Or you might play a card that’s a different color but that matches a number you’ve already played so that you can prevent someone from winning orange on their turn. And so on. Winning within the current parameters is usually preferable to changing the rules because changing the rules costs you another card–a precious commodity. But you’re also trying to make it less likely that another player can be winning at the end of their turn, even if they change the rules. The subtle hand management of the game is what elevates Red7. It requires a puzzly kind of thinking that is several steps beyond the here and now. And it’s better for that.
The main drawback of Red7 is that it can feel unfulfilling. It’s an interesting puzzle to wrap your mind around as you play, but there are times when you will simply be dealt a bad hand, and there’s nothing you can do about that. You may have mostly purple cards–and high numbers. Or other players have higher-ranked colors than you and essentially the same hand. Rounds are quick enough that I don’t fret too much over a bad hand, and playing to a set score limit can alleviate this somewhat by making a game last multiple hands, but Red7 for this reason feels like just a snack. It’s got the nice mind-bending puzzle thinking that makes Carl Chudyk’s games so great, but it doesn’t last long enough (even with the scoring mechanism to play multiple rounds) for the Chudykian “controlled chaos” to take effect. If you’re looking for something you can play quick and that tastes great in a “sip test,” Red7 works. If you want something more fulfilling…well, have you heard of Innovation? Or Glory to Rome?
But this sort of “quick match,” which can be a weakness of the physical card game, is the great strength of the app. A hand of Red7 on the app can take as little as a minute or two, if you play against the excellent AIs. It’s hard to get upset about a raw deal with a game that is over so quickly, and the puzzle is fun enough that you don’t feel too much frustration if you don’t win. The fun is in trying to manipulate the puzzle to your advantage more than in winning (especially against robotic opponents, who don’t gloat or patronize when they win).
Red7, because it’s a game with shifting rules, is the kind of game that’s hard to police without slowing down. One player, if confident enough, can “win” simply by virtue of the other players not checking that player’s work closely. And the tiebreaker rules (by number and then by color), while second nature once learned, in practice can be a pain to implement. But the app takes care of all this for you. If you’re not winning, it won’t give you the option to advance your turn. You can either undo your move (try again!) or resign. Again, the app takes what could be a weakness (or at least a sometimes annoyance) with the physical game and makes it an argument for the app.
The app is a little barebones, but it’s not worse for its spartan approach. The colors are easy to see, and the information you need is easily accessed. The response time to do what you want to is zippy, and the app removes any barriers to play the game: it’s easy to focus on the puzzle instead of the controls for navigating the app. The tutorial was good enough for me to learn the basic game and feel like I knew what I was doing (although I’m still learning the idiosyncrasies of good play). I was a little less clear after the advanced tutorial, but again, rounds are quick enough that there’s room for experimentation without feeling too bad about it when you lose. The app includes some generic music and sound effects. These are easily turned off if you’d rather have the straight experience without distraction (which is how I’ve chosen to play). From my experience, the app is an excellent entree into the physical card game.
The app supports pass-and-play multiplayer and online multiplayer, although admittedly, the online multiplayer feature has been a miss for me. I’ve either encountered login problems, or there aren’t any other players to challenge at the times I’ve logged on. This, of course, can be a problem with any “new” app–waiting for it to catch on. Someone else can probably speak to the app’s suitability for this better than I can: I’m not usually one to go looking for online matches, and I think Red7’s AI players are what I’m looking for. Red7 is the kind of game I can play quickly when I have free moments, and when I want to play against another human, I think I’d pull out the card game anyway.
Red7 is a very simple, very fun, very quick card game, and it’s well suited to its app implementation. The app is a simple build, but it’s clean and it works and it shows off the card game in its best light. Perhaps the two best things I can say about it are these: The first night I had the app, I had only intended to play a couple of rounds and I ended up playing a couple of hours. And then I bought the physical card game. If you like puzzly games that encourage you to think in new ways, first of all, you should already be acquainted with Carl Chudyk. And then, if you aren’t, Red7 is a great place to start.
* In this review, I treat Red7 as if it were solely a Carl Chudyk design for the simple reason that I’m much more familiar with Carl Chudyk’s games than Chris Cieslik’s. This is not intended as a slight. The truth is, most of Chudyk’s recent designs have gone through development with Cieslik at Asmadi Games, but his contribution is acknowledged with a codesign credit on Red7.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmadi Games for providing us with a download code for the Red7 app. The app was played on an 8″ Android tablet.