Štěpán Štefaník is the sole designer of Rone, a game that he designed and developed over the course of 6 whole years, a project of devotion and passion.
About the game
Rone is a 2-4 player card game set in a post-apocalyptic world where you must battle for survival and win over your opponents. It follows the same principles of classic card games like “Magic: The Gathering” in the sense of a duel between players where they call units and manage their resources but with enough twists to offer a new experience.
With that being said, the game is “primarily” for 1Vs1 games but you can play a 2Vs2 or jump into a 3-player free for all. The core gameplay is straightforward and easy to learn but involves deep strategy with a lot of vital decision-making.
To start the game you need a Hero, which comes with unique abilities in 3 different levels, 5 Technology cards(optional) and a 24-card deck. You can customize your deck or draw 24 cards and you are good to go. Yes, that’s right! You can just randomly pick 24 cards and play, being ready in seconds without hurting the gaming experience. Set up has never been easier!
Rone introduces the “lifebound system”, a quite unique and intriguing mechanic. Your life is the number of cards in your deck and hand (24 at the start) at any given time. Thus, if there are no cards left in your deck and hand, you are eliminated. The cards on the battlefield (in play) doesn’t count as life-points, which means that for each card you bring into play you give up one of your life points. Therefore, you have to be careful about which cards to play. Moreover, whenever you lose a life point you must discard a card from either your or deck, placing it on your discard pile(graveyard). A discarded card can be placed, if you decide so, at the bottom of your discard pile instead of the top as usual. The reason behind this choice is that when a card is the at the top of that pile it can be played once again through the “recycle system”. This mechanic lets you play such a card once again but this time by paying its recycle cost instead. That cost indicates the number of cards you have to entirely take out of the game from your discard pile, starting from the top.
All these mechanics bond very well together, providing the core philosophy of play resulting in a quite unique and different gaming experience in contrast to other games of that genre.
Basic Gameplay Flow
In the game, players keep taking turns until a winner rises. Each turn consists of five phases. Here is a short description of each one:
- Refresh Phase: Each card on your battlefield is refreshed one time (rotated counter clock-wise 90 o) as they have an exhaust mechanic which we will get into later.
- Beginning of Turn: Some abilities resolve at this point.
- Income Phase: Add water (mana) to your pool and draw cards according to your Hero card (see “Heroes” below).
- Main Phase: Play units, tactics, recycle, attack, level-up your Hero.
- End of Turn
The Main phase of a turn is the heart of the game, where all action takes place and meaningful choices are taken. The available options are:
i)Play unit cards on the battlefield by paying the appropriate cost in water.
ii)Play technology cards. These cards are optional and you can use them for some additional options and combos once you are familiar with the base mechanics.
iii)Recycle the top unit or tactic card from your discard pile by paying the appropriate cost.
iv)Declare an attack with a unit.
v) Level up your Hero by paying the appropriate cost in water.
Vi) Declare end of turn.
In Rone, you can do any of these options in any combination, as many times you like and can. So, there are not attack phases or a 2nd main phase. That gives the game versatility and lets you try more combos but at the same time there is more space for errors on your part, so you have to stay focused!
Cards in Rone
As mentioned, to start the game you have to choose a post-apocalyptic Hero who will help you prevail in the upcoming battle, being your general. There are various Heroes in the game, each with their own unique abilities.
A Hero consists of a level 1, level 2 and level 3 cards.
- This picture depicts two level one Heroes (upper left corner number). The level of a hero is important because you cannot play cards if their level is higher than your Hero.
- The water at the top right side of the card is the amount needed for your Hero to level up.
- A number at the edge of the card indicates the number of times a card is exhausted (rotated clockwise 90o) at the time that number is facing you. This applies to all cards in the game.
- A Hero has two abilities and the colors (purple and yellow) represent the Exhaust State(times) it has to be placed for the ability to be used. Such effect types exist in both Heroes and unit cards and can be used at any time, even on an opponent’s turn!
- At the right side of a hero, there are two symbols. The water symbol (+6 in this case) and the yellow symbol (which is grey in this case as it is 0). The +6 in water means that you gain 6 water points in each Income phase. Any unspent water is kept from round to round and you can accumulate them for a more powerful future turn. Likewise, the bottom symbol indicates the number of cards you get to draw at that phase.
- In the upper right corner is the water (mana) cost for the Hero to level up. Leveling up upgrades the Income phase benefits but has no effect on the Hero’s abilities.
As you gain water on every turn, “Mana-screw”, which is a serious problem in many other games, is eliminated. Also, with the purple ability, which is essentially a basic one for all Heroes, you can either draw a card or gain a water. So, as a Hero levels up you will have plenty of water to spend and cards to draw!
Units are your main source of damage in Rone, thus the way you utilize these cards will bring you victory or defeat.
- In the upper right corner, there is the Water cost(blue) to play the card and the Recycle cost(green) to recycle the card if it is on the top of your graveyard. A unit enters play exhausted (2 times) when that happens through recycling.
- At the bottom of the card, you can check your unit’s stats. On the left side the green cross icon shows the health of your unit and at the right side the purple and red symbols show its melee and ranged attack values(damage) respectively.
When a unit attacks an opponent Hero or unit, the ranged damage is applied and then the melee (if necessary). So, if a unit with 1 ranged attack battles a 1 health unit with 4 melee attack, the melee unit will die without ever damaging your ranged unit.
- At the center of the cards, there are also various abilities and keywords that describe the unit’s capabilities, as well as some flavor text in Italic.
- Units do not have the known “summoning sickness” (can’t attack the same turn in which they are summoned) in contrast to most card games, but they have initiative. Initiative is the yellow number on the left side of the card and it plays with the exhaust mechanic we already mentioned. When a creature attacks it has to be exhausted to that point (yellow exhaust value), meaning that it will need that many turns to be available for an attack again – hence the term initiative.
Attacking is non-mandatory, of course, and there is value to keeping a unit unexhausted(ready) as these units will be available to defend against an enemy attack. Such a unit is called a Guardian as you have to attack it first, before having the choice between attacking your opponent’s life(Hero) and an exhausted unit.
When a Guardian defends it gets exhausted once, essentially to indicate it can’t defend against another attack this turn, as it will be refreshed and ready at the start of your turn.
As you may already figure, there is a lot of freedom when you play in Rone. You can attack, play a card, attack again, trigger an effect Etc. in any order, carefully unfolding your strategy.
Tactics are the “spells” or “instants” of this game. They can be played at any time as long as you have the appropriate amount of water to pay. Their ability is immediately resolved and the card is discarded to your graveyard. A tactic can be normally recycled and played again, triggering its effect once more but gets banished instead of being discarded.
Technology cards are an optional module that is recommended for experienced players, giving them more tools to utilize in their battles. You start with 5 technologies at your disposal and can only have 3 of them in play at any given time. Technologies are played in their own separate space, so they don’t get affected by regular effects, if not specified and they get out of the game instead of discarded if needed.
I am a huge fan of cards games! Have tried a ton, used to be an active MTG casual player for many years and I am always looking for good non-collectible card games. Rone is a game that includes all the thrills and variety of a good CCG, without having to buy booster packs in order to get the best cards and dominate. There are currently 2 expansions available and there may be more in the future. Every expansion brings enough cards to revamp the game and a big box containing all cards is accessible.
The playtested and design process of the game seems insane, as every game is quite close if both players play well, with all cards being randomly dealt. The make a 24 random-card-deck option is bold in an awesome way and more than welcomed by everyone who got to try it. To be honest, no one was expecting for it to work so smooth as balance issues were to be found or cases of mere luck of amazing combos in a player’s deck. For some magical reason it really works or at least it seems like that, as you genuinely feel like you could win if it wasn’t for some poor choices and timing miscalculations. You won’t find any ultra-strong cards that can change the tide of the game significantly but there are definitely some better combos than other within your grasp, as in any game with meaningful decisions.
Of course, classic deck-building is available for those who are not as lazy as us or don’t like the element of surprise. The play time is accurate, around 45-60 minutes in a 1vs1, and you down. The graphic design is clean, helping you keep track of everything without effort. Although the cards may seem busy at first, making someone think “wow this game has a lot going on”, you will understand that every detail serves a practical purpose towards being convenient to play. The artwork is also nice and if you are into post-apocalyptic sceneries like Fallout, you will enjoy it a lot.
I`m already familiar with the recycling mechanic thanks to specific cards that use it in MTG, but in this game it’s a core one and not just for 10 or 20 cards, resulting into a whole different overall experience. Any card has the potential to be used again, altering the course of the game. Although you won’t play that many cards that way, as there are limited cards to banish, it is very important to choose which cards will stay on top of your graveyard, making the difference between victory and defeat.
Don’t let the 50-page rulebook scare you, as it serves the purpose of being detailed and explanatory, making it one of the best rulebooks I have ever read. The quality of the cards is good, not linen but thick and durable. Lastly, all tokens are high quality with the water trackers being the highlight.
Let me tell you about the other player counts now. The 2Vs2 team mode works pretty well and there are some rule adjustments that apply. You play in alternate order with your partner, sharing the deck, technology cards and units on the battlefield but you still play your own turn and have a unique Hero. Communication is allowed, to weave various strategies against your opponents. You can expect it to last longer as there may be more downtime due to table talk and thinking but as you get more experienced this won`t be an issue.
Another big surprise for me was the 3-player free for all mode. It doesn`t have the classic free for all rules but once again its rules adjust to the mode. This is one of the smartest ways to deal with the “let’s gang up against one player” tactic. The main difference is that your units must attack the player on your left and if it survives combat it can attack again against the other player. Two important things happen here, players can’t form clear alliances and they get to think about utilizing that possible double attack each round as you overall deal more damage and also take advantage of abilities that trigger through battle. There is also a bonus for the one who eliminates the 3rd player, 4 cards that will be added to their deck, placing them at the bottom. This essentially gives you 4 life points but also new cards to add in your combos and state of the game. I liked this mode more than expected as it gave a new vibe and play style to the game, making me like it even more than the team Vs team.
Overall, this is a very solid title that is totally worth getting. Highly strategic with tense decision-making, tons of replay value and ultimately one of the best card games I have ever played. I was pleasantly surprised with this gem and I hope that it will become popular in the near future.
You can find out more about the game and purchase one of the available packages on its official website!