This review of Red Cathedral was featured on Episode 118 of The Five By. Check out the rest of the episode, which also features Lost Ruins of Arnak, Cat Sudoku, Dice Miner and Dale of Merchants.
In 2020, an unassuming board game that came in a box about the size of a medium hardcover book was released and it quickly became one of my top 10 board games I played for the first time in 2021. Red Cathedral, published by Devir Games and designed by Isra C. and Shel S., packs quite a punch with its medium-weight euro and dice rondel, two mechanisms I enjoy in my board games.
Players take on the role of architects charged with building the Red Cathedral. Each player will build different portions of the monument, and using your influence with the clergy and guilds, you’ll attempt to earn the Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s favor.
The setup of the cathedral depends on how many players are playing, and you can randomly choose one of the building plan cards the game comes with, which tells you how to build out the cathedral, complete with tower heights that consist of at least one base and one dome, and variable sections in between. For each section of the cathedral, a random workshop tile is placed on it (and I’ll explain what these do later in the game).
Each player has their own player board and matching banners. These boards represent how many materials and resources you can hold in order to build sections of the cathedral. The more banners you get out onto the cathedral walls, the more storage you’ll have. Each player also starts with 3, 4 or 5 rubles depending on if they’re first, second, etc.
Lastly, a majority of the game also involves the market board, where five different colored dice sit in a rondel wheel separated by four groups: the craftsmen’s guild, the teamsters’ guild, the merchants’ guild and the clergy. Before we begin, points in this game are calculated by Recognition and Prestige. Initially, it takes five recognition points to get to 1 prestige, but as you score more in the game, this gap eventually becomes one to one. You can score either point through various actions in the game.
This setup seems like a lot, but in reality, setup goes fairly quick and the cathedral wall cards are small cards, so this game is not a table hog by any means. There’s a lot of variability in setup as well as there are multiple cards you can choose from for each of the different guilds for each game.
On your turn, you carry out one of three actions: Claim a cathedral section, build sections of the cathedral, or acquire resources from the market.
When you claim a cathedral section, you remove one of your banners from your player board and place it on an available cathedral card. You then take the workshop tile that’s on the cathedral card and place it on an empty workshop space on your player board and pay the rubles cost printed on this space. If you have no rubles available or simply don’t want to pay, you can place the workshop tile face down into that space, but the tile will not give you bonuses when you use the space later.
A face-up workshop tile will give you a benefit when you later use the market action to acquire resources. Strategically picking which sections you want to build comes into play at the end of the game, where majority control will net you more points.
When you build sections of the cathedral, you take up to three resources from your player board and place them on cathedral cards. Each card has requirements for its completion, and if a player delivers all those items, they collect the recognition points and/or rubles. That cathedral card is then flipped over to represent it being complete, removing the resources that were sitting on it to place back into the bank, while leaving the player’s banner to show who finished the section.
Once a section is complete, a player can then decorate that section by delivering jewels on their turn, and not necessarily to a section that they themselves finished. Decorating the cathedral will net prestige points.
The last action is acquiring resources from the market. This is my favorite thing about this game, as it requires using strategy and timing to collect what you want! Pick one die to use on the wheel, move that die however many spaces around each section of the wheel based on the pips showing and where they land, they may perform any market actions in that space. A die cannot land on a space where there are three dice already so that limits which one you’ll choose.
When you land, you obtain resources from that spot multiplied by the number of pips on the die used. A player can additionally use influence or activate a workshop tile. To use influence, you look at the guild card that’s in that quadrant and use one of its two actions. To activate a workshop tile, you look on your player board to see if the die you used has a workshop tile on it. If it does, you gain resources based on where the die in the workshop tile is sitting on the wheel. At the end of your market turn, you roll all the dice in the section you landed on and end your turn.
The game ends when six cathedral cards are completed, and the player gains 3 prestige points for triggering the end. Then all other players have one last turn. Everyone then moves their score counters back to the closest prestige point and scores 1 point for every 5 leftover materials, Now comes the cathedral scoring. Each section completed is 2 points, plus 1 point for each ornamentation on it. This number comes into play for scoring the majority for each tower. Each player then counts the number of banners and ornamentation in each tower, and if they have the most, they score the full value of that tower. The second receives half, and the third receives half of that.
The person with the most prestige points wins the game. Calculating tower majorities might get a little unwieldy at the end but overall the game is a solid tight euro that allows for a lot of variability in later games. Red Cathedral isn’t too tough to teach as there are really three main actions on your turn, and the iconography on the cards is easy to understand. Plus, the market rondel is such a clever mechanism that I don’t see too often in euros, and most importantly, the box is so small compared to other euros of the same caliber. I’ve had a lot of fun playing this throughout 2021.
And that’s Red Cathedral! This is Meeple Lady for The Five By. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as Meeple Lady, or on my website boardgamemeeplelady.com. Thanks for listening. Bye!