Uno Was Drunk, Fluxx Looked Great
The other day someone asked how I’d describe Red7, from designers Chris Cieslik and Carl Chudyk. That’s an easy one: imagine Uno and Fluxx got plastered and had a one night stand, and their illegitimate love child grew up surprisingly well-adjusted and clever, but never forgot its roots even as it transcended them.
That’s Red7. Yes, I’m basically a genius at similes.
Red7 isn’t much to look at. Pretty much the same as a game of Uno, colorful cards on a table surrounded by a bunch of desperate-looking people. But unlike Uno, where the desperation stems from the fact that they’re playing Uno and wondering how it came to this, the folks playing Red7 are desperate because they’re struggling to stay afloat for one more round. It’s a fun desperation, born of the game’s puzzle-like plays and both short-term survival and long-term strategizing. And that makes all the difference.
See, in Red7, you must end your turn in the lead or you’re out for the rest of the hand. Each player is managing their own row of cards — your palette — which fills up with cards of various numerical and colorific values. And they’re also managing the central “canvas,” an ever- changing pile where the top card determines the current criteria for winning the game. You can add one card to each, and at the end of your turn you have to be in the lead. Then the next player tries to finish her turn in the lead. If anyone can’t end their turn “winning,” they’re out. Last fella standing wins. Simple as that.
Only it isn’t often very simple. You might, for instance, play an orange card into the canvas because you have the most cards of one number, or play a blue card because you have more different colors than anyone else, but you need to constantly monitor everyone else’s palettes, first of all to make sure you’re winning at all and second to determine if they’re working up to a particularly difficult-to-beat combo once everyone’s hand has run out. Ties are broken by high numbers and then color, starting at red and running down the spectrum to lowly violet, so the prized Red 7 is often a game-winner unless the other players can fill the canvas with victory criteria it can’t beat.
Played in a points game — which is the best way to play, since a basic game is just one hand and takes maybe four minutes from shuffle to finish — you’ll find yourself conflicted between winning big and winning at all. It might be easy to win on red (highest card wins), but that will only get you, say, seven points; win with a much trickier indigo, you might walk away from that hand with a whopping eighteen.
It’s entirely possible that none of what I wrote above made any sense. Red7 is an abstract game, as difficult to comprehend as a fifth dimensional bovine until you’ve experienced a few rounds for yourself. But that’s also one of its greatest strengths, that it’s utterly unlike the mindless “play a card and it just does something” style of its grabby (but otherwise pretty dull) progenitors.
Once you’ve figured out the basic rules, Red7 is happy to oblige those who might want something even trickier by including a bunch of special actions that transform odd-numbered cards into quirky game-changers. This turns the 1 into a card-stealer while the 7 now discards one of the cards from your palette to the canvas, robbing it of its usual tie-breaking superpowers and making it one of the game’s tougher plays.
Whichever set of rules you use, Red7 is smart, and it demands smart players. Long-term thinking is a must, as is the ability to actually recognize your opponents’ evolving strategies, at least unless you want to sit around wondering how you came to know so many smart people who love to beat you at card games.
If you’re clever, this is one of the good ones. Give it a try.