20th Feb2019

‘RONE: Second Edition’ Card Game Review

by Matthew Smail

rone-box

Fans of card battling games like Magic: The Gathering have had no shortage of choice in the last few years and it’s also hard to make a bad example of the genre, thanks largely to the amount of inspiration on offer. This can make it difficult for titles to differentiate themselves, however almost every game comes to the table with a unique concept that its designers felt would help it make the grade. For RONE: Second Edition (which contains both expansions to the original release) it’s the post apocalyptic theme, the use of hero’s that level up over time and the interesting use of resources that persist from one turn to another.

Upon opening the box, all you’ll really see is a daunting amount of cards. The vast majority of these are the basic unit and tactic cards that will form the basis of each player deck, whilst the other two card backs you’ll see nod to the hero cards (which come in sets of three per character) and then the technology cards. There are many, many more cards available than you’ll use in any one game and whilst the long game in RONE is all about building and customising your own decks, your first games will likely be played using a randomised selection of one hero, twenty four regular and five technology cards.

Shuffling such a huge stack of cards is a hell of a job to begin with and the lack of some kind of “start by building these decks” guide is a bit of a shame, but the inverse of that logic is that I quite like how the RONE designers simply trust their product to work no matter which two decks happen to come out of the blocks. The reality is that unlike in most card duelling games, RONE has a built in balancing mechanic provided by its hero levelling system. Regardless of which hero you draw (or choose) you’ll only be able to play cards up to the same level as the hero – so more powerful level two and three cards will simply clog up your hand until you can deploy them.

Hero’s are a key feature in RONE and unlike other, powerful characters in similar games (like Magic‘s Planeswalkers, for example) cannot be attacked. One of the reasons why this is so important is because it is the player’s hero that generates their water (the in game resource) at the beginning of each turn. Rather than being linked to the hero card, player health is provided by the cards remaining in their main deck, meaning that once a player has no cards, they lose. A key mechanic arising from this is the ability to recycle cards from the graveyard at the cost of permanently discarding others.

Whilst we’re only four paragraphs in, we’ve already discussed a lot of complexity in RONE and there’s more to come. Levelling hero’s and recycling cards from the graveyard are two unique features, whilst another is the use of technology cards which are drawn from a separate deck (and come with their own rules.) Tech cards can be played at any time (if their cost can be met) but only three can be in play at once. Some cards and abilities do affect technology cards, but unless they specifically say so, most abilities do not. A technology card will usually allow the controlling player to enhance one of their other cards or abilities, or to bend the rules in some way.

The last major bit of unusual complexity in RONE is probably in the way that cards are exhausted when used. In most games, a card will suffer one stage of exhaustion (or tapping) when it is turned sideways. It will then be refreshed during a start or end step so that it can be used again later. In RONE, cards are exhausted one or more times depending on what they are doing, meaning that they will be rotated as many times as the ability used shows. Some cards have several abilities with different costs, but RONE handily signposts this using colour coding on the sides that a card will need to be turned to in order to use the matching ability.

When these mechanics are brought together, RONE feels immediately familiar and yet it is very much its own game. You’ll naturally lay out your deck and your board in much the same way as you might in a game of Magic, for example, but your technology cards will go below your main cards and your hero usually somewhere near your draw deck. Your graveyard will be positioned near your deck as well, but you’ll also need to accommodate a second discard pile to place cards that were used to fund recycling in. Water is tracked on a dial and can persist from one turn to the next, which is the only way you’ll ever save up enough of it to level up a hero or perhaps to play a powerful level three card.

Combat is straightforward and familiar too, but I’d say it is somewhat simpler than most games of this kind. The active player simply declares the unit she will attack with and what the target will be. Individual units can be targeted, as can the enemy themselves. Units trade ranged damage first (which can kill one or the other before it can deal damage back) and then melee damage, with one or both having a chance to survive or be defeated and removed, depending on the outcome. Much like in other games, tactics cards can be played during combat to influence the outcome and timing the use of such cards is a key factor in winning or losing.

The exhaustion mechanic that I discussed earlier really shows in combat, since most attacks will result in a unit being turned two or even three times. This means that it will not be able to attack for several turns (since it will only refresh one step each turn unless an effect says otherwise.) As a result, players need to consider the sequence of their attacks a bit more carefully than in some other games, because it’s possible in RONE to be left entirely defenseless for what seems like a much longer time. Technology cards actually work a lot like unit cards in that they carry a similar cost and must be exhausted, but they tend to perform a supporting role and will never directly participate in combat. Among the hero’s that I’ve played with, all took a supporting role and were never able to engage in combat directly.

As players get more experienced, they’ll want to begin experimenting with their own decks in order to zero in on specific strategies. It would take me months to play with enough combinations to speculate about balance or good versus bad strategies, but I could imagine that I would love exploring the many available options as a teenager, which makes me want to recommend RONE highly for a teenager with some free time on their hands. For a casual gaming group, RONE is still a very interesting card duelling game, but it is possible for the random deck approach to throw out some odd combinations and it’s unlikely that any player will really get to grips with their deck before the game ends. For dedicated players then, RONE is a great option, but for a casual player, I’d recommend something like Keyforge instead.

***½  3.5/5

RONE is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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