Preview of Ragami (MESAboardgames)

Designer: Gil D’Orey
Publisher: MESAboardgames
Ages: 10+
Players: 2-4
Time: 90 minutes
Reviewer: Dale Yu

Times played: 2 with advance copy provided by MESAboardgames

Mesaboardgames is still relatively new to the boardgaming scene – they first popped up on the radar at Essen 2010 with Caravelas, a beautifully produced game about Portuguese exploration in the colonial area.  Last year, Vintage took gamers through the production and delivery of Port wine.  (Yes, they’ve had other games than these two – but these are the two I’m most familiar with…)  As you can guess from their previous games’ subject matters, they are a Portuguese company.   Their newest release breaks from that trend and is set in a generic metropolitan city map.  The company was nice enough to send out an advance copy of the game, and I’ve had the chance to get it to the table once with my boys.  The full release of the game should be in a few weeks at GenCon 2012.

From MESAboardgames’ description: “In all cultures there are mythical characters that protect people and help them to solve their problems. Those characters often take the human form with wings and we call them Guardian Angels or RAGAMI.  In this game, each player will play the role of a RAGAMI, winged human form, that travels around inside a city – the board. In this city, there are always people with problems, with their own internal conflicts, that need your help. There are also holy men and demons that can help or oppose to solving these conflicts.”

The game is played on a downtown city map.  There are plenty of city blocks which are surrounded by streets that have specific spaces for game pieces.  At the start of the game, 6 Conflict Dice are randomly placed on the board – they are rolled and placed on spaces which are drawn randomly from amongst the Location chips. Four Demons are also randomly placed on the map by selecting Location chips.  Players then take turns to place their angels, Ragami and virtue dice (all in their own color) on the board as well.

The conflict dice tell you players two things – 1) where the conflicts are (in the space where the die is located), and 2) the severity of the conflict (based on the number on the die).  The Virtue dice will be used by players to help with conflicts as well as scoring VPs.

In each round, players take turns in clockwise order.  On each turn, the active player must takes an action from the Action die at some point.  He can also take any card actions that he wishes to play.  The active player can do their optional card actions and mandatory board action in any order he wishes.

So, at the start of each round, the 3 Action dice are rolled.  These dice are transferred to the Action table at the bottom of the board – the start player for the round gets to decide which dice goes on which space.  If any of the dice come up as a 1, the first player has to place a Demon on the board and then changes the number on the die to anything other than a “1”.

There are 3 available spaces on the Action Table: 1) Move a Saint and move/place a Demon; 2) Draw Cards, 3) Resolve a Conflict.  As players choose these different actions, the number of the die on that space is reduced by 1.  If the die would be reduced to zero, it is simply removed from the space on the table, and that action cannot be taken any more that round.  The player can either take the main action of the space or can use the action to move a Ragami.

If you choose to move your Ragami, you can move it up to 4 spaces (streets or city blocks).  You cannot move thru a “movement forbidden chip” nor can end your movement on the same space as the saint of your color.  If, at the end of your turn, you are on a space with only Demons, those Demons are banished from the board, and you score 1VP for each Demon removed this way.

You could also choose to move a Saint.  Unlike moving Ragami, you can move a Saint of any color.  You move that Saint anywhere from 1 to 4 spaces, but only on streets.  If you move the Saint onto a space where a Conflict Die is, you gain a white cube – these white cubes will be used later in conflict resolution.  It is not important which color Saint was moved, the active player is always the one who will get the white cube.  Then, after moving a Saint, you either have to move a Demon (1-4 spaces) which is already on the board or you can take a Demon from the supply and place it on any street in the game.

If you choose to draw cards, you take the top 3 cards from the deck, look at them and keep 1.  The cards not chosen are discarded face up to the board.  It is important to note that you cannot use the card you just drew on this turn – you must wait until next turn to use it.  Also, your hand limit is 3 cards.  If you already have 3 cards and you choose the draw cards action, you have to first discard a card from your hand before you look at the 3 from the deck.

The final Action Chart choice is to try to resolve a conflict.  To do this, you must already have your Ragami in a space where there is also a black Conflict Die.  In order to resolve the conflict, you have to be able to play at least as many Power Points as on the black Conflict Die PLUS the number of Demons in that space.  Luckily, there are plenty of ways to generate Power Points

  • Play a white cube that you have collected for 1 PP
  • Reveal an Action Card with a white cube in the upper right corner for 1 PP
  • Each Saint in the Conflict space gives you 1 PP (and the owner of this saint gets 1VP if the conflict is resolved)
  • If your Virtue die is adjacent to the Conflict, you can use pips from this die for PP
  • If another Ragami is in the same space, that is worth 2PP (The player who controls that other Ragami does get 2 white cubes in compensation for the help.)
  • Finally, you can roll the red Power Die for 0,1 or 2 PP.

Some Ragami up close and personal

Once you roll the Red Power Die, you can no longer change the Power Point total.  If you have met the total needed, you discard any white cubes and cards that were pledged to the total as well as any points from your adjacent Virtue die.  The black Conflict die is removed from the board, and you score a number of VPs equal to the number that had been showing on that black die.  You also move your marker that counts the number of conflicts you have resolved by one space.

If, after rolling the red Power die, you do not have enough Power Points, you have failed at conflict resolution.  You move your Ragami to any adjacent city block.  Lucky for you though, you do not lose any white cards, cubes or pips from your Virtue die if you fail.  You can use all of these resources again on a later turn.

That pretty much wraps up the board actions.  Again, remember that you must take one of these actions at some point during your turn and reduce the die in that Action Table space by one pip.

There are 15 different varieties of cards which allow you to do all sorts of things.  You could possibly move 2 Saints, 2 Demons, or your Virtue die.  You could play a card which allows you to take any of the 3 main actions (moving your Ragami, drawing cards or performing a Conflict resolution) – though this does not count as your board Action.  Other cards affect conflict resolution: they allow you to trade white cubes in for 2 PPs, to manipulate the conflict dice or the roll the red Power die twice in a conflict resolution.

In addition to these card actions, you can choose to trade in 2 white cubes for 1 VP at any time.  You can also choose to reduce your Virtue die by 3 to score 1 VP.  (These actions can actually be done at any time in the game, not just on your turn!)

The round continues with each player following the same pattern until there are no more actions left to be taken on the dice.  At that point, the start player marker is moved clockwise, and the board is set up for the next round. All conflict dice have their number increased by 1 pip.  If the die is already at 6, it is removed from the board and the location chip at that space is flipped over to reveal a  “movement forbidden chip” icon.  Next, all virtue dice are increased by 1 automatically.  Virtue dice also get +1 for each Ragami which is in the same space or adjacent to that Virtue die.

Now, any Conflict dice in the supply are re-rolled and placed on the board based on a randomly drawn location chip.  Conflict dice will end up back in the supply when 1) a conflict is resolved or 2) the die was already at 6 in the setup phase for a round.  Finally, the last player in turn order rolls the action dice and places them on the Action table.  Again, if a 1 is rolled on an Action die, a Demon is placed on the board and then that die is changed to any non-1 face and then placed on the action table.

The game continues in this fashion until a round ends with one the following conditions met: 1) a player has at least 30 VP OR 2) there are no more location chips in the supply.  At this point, there is one bit of game-end scoring, the player who resolved the most conflicts gets 7VP and the player who resolved the second most conflicts gets 4VP.  All ties for this are super-friendly.  After this one bonus scoring, the player with the most VPs wins.  Ties go to the player who had resolved the most conflicts.

So how does it work?  Well, I’ve only played it once, but it seems to be a solid family game or light strategy game.  In the past, I know that MESAboardgames has tried to target the family market – this is reflected in their mission statement; “To design and promote high quality board games for both children and adults, that are both educational and entertaining.”

I think that they have acquitted themselves well with Ragami.  While it was a bit confusing to grok in the first few rounds, my boys and I had the mechanics down within 10 minutes or so.  I was worried at first that the multitude of card options would slow things down, but it seemed like most of the turns in my game were fairly quick.  It was usually pretty evident when a card would be useful to me.  The only thing that I found I forgot early on was that many cards could be converted to a white cube – and not remembering this kept me from trying to resolve a number of conflicts early on in the game.

I don’t know if this was an ideal strategy, or if our family devolved into a group-think game, but our game turned out to be one of waiting and building up resources in order to generate a huge turn to try to score big points.  Essentially, a bunch of turns were spent moving pieces around to store up white cubes or cards.  Then, once enough awesome card actions were collected, you tried to spend them all in one turn to take out a high valued black cube.  Of course, since all the information was out on the board, you sometimes had to make your move a turn earlier than you wanted (and hope for a good roll on the red Power die) in order to try to beat one of your opponents to the Conflict die.

The game moves along at a fairly constant pace.  There are 30 location chips in the game, and 10 of them are placed at setup.  A new location chip is placed each time a new Conflict die is placed on the board – and there seems to always be a steady flow of black dice headed to the supply.  Low numbered conflict dice are easy targets (i.e. low hanging fruit) and are often conquered as soon as they are placed on the board.  Higher numbered conflict dice become natural targets given their higher VP yield, and there is always the chance that they “graduate” to the supply in the round setup phase.

Also helping speed the game along is the fact that most turns felt very straightforward.  None of us had to spend much time trying to plan our turns.  Usually we all knew whether we were going to attempt a conflict resolution or if we were simply going to build up resources.  While this kept the game moving along swiftly, this might also prove to be a shortcoming for hardcore gamers – there were times where it felt like my moves were pre-determined at the start of my turn.

Now, for a family oriented game, this actually could be a plus.  Having some turns like this made it easier for my two sons to stay involved in the game (and do something meaningful).  And, it’s not like people really complain when they have turns in Ticket to Ride where they already know they are simply drawing two matching cards from the supply…

Our first game was a 3-player game, and it took us about 110 minutes to finish.  Considering that was the first game for all of us, and I had to teach the game from only a single rules reading, I think that we did pretty good timewise.  I’d definitely see us getting down to the projected 90 minute window if we keep playing it.

Now, again, I’ve only played it once, but I think that this game, while solid, may have a somewhat limited range of opportunities to get onto the table.  It is admittedly a bit too complicated to get out with non-gamers – there are simply too many action choices each turn to expect a non-gamer to be able to play.  Additionally, for a lighter game, or one targeted to families, the projected game length of 90 minutes is a bit longer than that crowd usually wants to spend on any one game.  The combination of those two things puts Ragami in a somewhat uncomfortable place – too complex for non-gamers but not quite meaty enough for serious gamers.

I think it will work out just fine in my household as it fills a niche of a more complex strategy game that my kids already know how to play.  Games like this can be used as stepping stones to the more complex layer of gaming that they are not yet ready for.  However, I think that an earlier MESA release, Caravelas, still fits that niche better as it is a more solid design and plays in a shorter time period (more like 45 minutes).  I’ll have to get it back to the table with the kids later in the summer and see how they like it.

Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers

Nathan Beeler – The best thing I can say about Mesaboardgames’ portfolio as I’ve experienced it is that they seem to be improving.  Whereas Caravelas felt severely flawed (I have heard there may be patches for it), Ragami was merely boring.  The mechanisms didn’t seem to bring anything new to the table, and there was no arc to the game whatsoever; players did the same things on the first few turns as they did on the last few.  There didn’t seem to be much for one person to distinguish his play from another.  It all felt very samey.
Jonathan Franklin – I think Ragami has some very good ideas and they come together in interesting ways.  For example, I really like the way you can choose certain actions by decrementing the dice, potentially depriving your opponents of using that action.  I also like some of the movement rules that give the feeling of ‘flying’.  The production quality is very good.  For me, it felt a bit abstract to want to play it tons, but if someone wanted to play it, I’d be happy to.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Preview of Ragami (MESAboardgames)

  1. jeffinberlin says:

    The cover art reminds me of Wim Wender’s film, “Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)”, later remade by Hollywood into “City of Angels.” The gameplay description sounds fairly abstract, however.

  2. Cindy Nowak says:

    According to designer Gil D’Orey, the original movie is what inspired him, with the name taken from the first two letters of each of the Archangels

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