Red7 Review: It’s not Uno

Red7 box art. Black background with a white splotch of paint. In that splotch Red7 is written in colourful font.

Red7 is a 2-4 player card game designed by Carl Chudyk and Chris Cieslik and published by Asmadi Games. It’s a card game that’s seen Talladega Nights one too many times, as the rules are simple: if you’re not first you’re last. If at the end of your turn you’re not winning, you’re eliminated, with the winner being the last player still standing.

Red7 information cards, with the current rule being shown.
How to play, and the first rule.

How to Play

Deal everyone a seven-card hand, and one face up card in front of each player. This is the beginning of their palette. Then place the red card in the middle of the table, this card is called the canvas and represents the starting rules of the game: highest card wins.

All cards are one of the seven colours of the rainbow and are branded with a number from one to seven. The number represents the value of the card, and the colour determines the rank – with red being the highest, and violet being the lowest. Each colour of card has its own rules that are applied if the card is discarded to the canvas. Some examples of rules include: most even numbers, most cards in a row, and most cards of one colour.

On your turn, you can do one of three things:

  • Play a card to your palette by putting it in front of yourself.
  • Discard a card to the canvas changing the rules of the game.
  • Or both actions: play a card and discard a card.

If you’ve performed an action, and you’re not leading according to the rules of the canvas, then you’re out. You’re also eliminated if your turn starts and you have no cards in hand.

But what if we’re tied at the end of a turn? Great question Dave. There are no ties in Red7. There is only one card for each colour and number combination. Therefore, when players are tied on the canvas condition, whoever has the highest card meeting this condition is the winner. The high card is determined by value, and then colour rank, for instance: an orange 6, is stronger than a red 5, while an orange 5 is weaker than a red 5.

That’s the basic game. There is also the advanced game, where when you play an odd numbered card, you must also enact a card power. Otherwise the game stays the same.

A hand of coloured cards from Red7, rules down both sides, with a big number in the middle.
It’s not Uno!

The Good

What makes Red7 one of the better small box board games I’ve played is that it cuts the noise.  There’s no opening act or prologue, the moment Red7 starts it’s a drag race, and I’m not talking RuPaul.  Once the green light is given, you no longer pick up cards – in basic version – meaning that you only have seven turns to win. This creates a tight and intense experience, and everyone’s hand becomes a fantastic tactile indicator of how long they can stay in the game.

Given that the game only lasts ten to fifteen minutes the short-term objective of Red7 is to make your palette win as many of the seven victory conditions as possible, thereby limiting your opponent’s options. The shorter-term objective is surviving until the next round. These two objectives work together to create interesting decisions about what to play, sure you can discard a card to the canvas this round, but it will leave you with palette weaker overall.

Another angle on the overall strategy, is how many cards are in hand, the more you hold the more options you have in the later rounds. The reason why you wouldn’t want to hold onto your cards, is that they’re only in play when they’re in your palette. This creates another layer of decision making, around the trade-offs of short-term gain, and shorter term power. An example is that sometimes it’s better to play two cards to cut your opponent off from a win condition, however this may leave you vulnerable if they play around it.

For a small game it requires a large amount of thought and makes for great moments, where after a minute or two of deep thought, someone throws their cards on the table, and says those two magic words: I’m out. This sense of relief for all parties is what really makes this game shine, and as far as player elimination mechanics go, Red7 does it right. It finds a balance between being quick enough for elimination not to matter that much, random enough that players are able to blame their luck for a loss, and thoughtful enough that players get invested while they’re playing.

Furthering this, is that everything that happens to you, happens on your turn. While you interact with other players through your palette, and changing the rules on the canvas, they don’t have any effect on how your turn plays out. Again, this works to make elimination a sweeter pill to swallow, because when you’re eliminated you have nobody else to blame. It removes the meanness found in some other games – I’m looking at you Exploding Kittens – but because every turn you’re risking it all, it still keeps the feeling of a back and forth card game and will bring out the smuggest grin from even the humblest of players.

Lastly, when you move to the advance version, you’ll find that the decisions that you’ll have to make go deeper still. Moves that you were comfortable making in the basic version, are no longer so straight forward here. Playing a seven, for instance, means you must remove a card from your palette – making you weaker. These powers work to reduce the amount of luck in the game further and add more ways to outsmart pesky opponents.

Red7 components, a deck of cards that takes up half of the small box.
All the contents in the box. Not many for such big decisions.

The Bad

The worst thing about this game is its theme, or lack thereof. It seems to be going for a combative version of paint by numbers, but then just says: screw it, we’re abstract now. Even if a game doesn’t tightly integrate its theme and mechanics, which ideally it should, card and box art are important for generating excitement about a board game – even if it’s on the shelf. Red7 doesn’t have this. When people see it, and when I’m looking for a game to play, it doesn’t stand out, making it a harder sell than what it ought to be.

In terms of accessibility Red7 won’t buy a colour-blind person a beer, but it will give them a spoonful of instant coffee. What I mean is someone with colour deficient eyesight should still be able to play – as card colours have two points of differentiation, with rules on the card. They might confuse card colours and won’t get that immediate recognition that non-colour-blind people will get.

The only other issue I have with Red7 is how much it’s based on luck. Even though the game allows for different strategies, deep thought and mitigation. We’ve had games where someone has lost on their first turn, or where someone has a great hand and wins without applying the aforementioned deep thought. This flaw isn’t particular to Red7, but card games in general, so don’t judge it to harshly on that measure. Its quick playtime allows this to be a lesser issue, than if it was a longer game.

Stern looking corgi with paw on Red7. He approves!
Corgi approved!

The Verdict

This game falls into the same category as Love Letter. It’s short, easy to teach, plays quickly, and it has enough depth to engage and delight. It does have some problems, with the art being as bland as unbuttered toast and there are some issues with luck involved. However, like Love Letter I would never turn a game of Red7 down. It’s a fantastic filler and a welcome addition to Roll to Review’s Critical Hits.

Thanks for reading, I’m currently ranking all my board games in a best to worst list. You can see this games’ initial ranking below.

Initial Rank: 12

Do you have any other games with little theme, but killer mechanics? Let us know in the comments below.

David Norris

Lover of dogs, books, comics, movies, anime, television, video games and most importantly board games. My site is all about the latter, and my journey through the glorious hobby.

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