Ironrise, by Ironrise Games, is a board game where heroes and villains compete against each other to achieve noble or nefarious objectives in the steampunk world of Spirel. Players take on the roles of the aforementioned heroes and villains, each group forming a cooperative
team working together against the other in head-to-head competition. This beautifully-crafted game shines in every aspect, from gameplay design to component quality, and is sure to be a favorite for years to come.
“They belong to me now…all of them.”Beckett Blackwell
Gameplay consists of four phases: Start, Exploration, Adventure, and End. The Start and End phases consist of the expected resource collection, asset management, and turn resolution.
The Exploration phase allows players to move their characters on the game board, exploring five cities. Four of the cities each have six districts, while the titular city of Ironrise has nine.
During this phase heroes may also complete side quests specific to their location on the map, while villains can use torment cards to hinder the progress of the heroes.
During the Adventure phase, players work towards their primary objectives. For heroes this involves completing heroic endeavors, and for villains it involves carrying out diabolical schemes.
The mechanics of almost everything in the game comes down to the “challenge.” Each endeavor, scheme, and many side quests and torments all have challenges with difficulty modifiers.
During the challenge, a member of the opposing team will face off with the initiator in a bit of a mini-game of trying to out-do the other in a set of four categories: Martial, Savvy, Ingenuity, and Evasion. In short, this plays out in rounds of blind card play and token betting to amass points in the categories. Success and failure brings with it consequences and rewards for both parties in most cases, compounded by special asset cards that can be played during the challenge.
Everything about Ironrise screams quality. The box itself is a sturdy container that should last for years with attractive art and a matte finish that feels great in the hand. Before this even, one will notice that it is heavy. With hundreds of cards and tokens, the box is packed full of components.
Heroes and villains have their own huge decks of asset cards that range from number modifiers for challenges to special equipment and abilities. Each of the five cities has a small deck of side quest
cards, and as mentioned before villains have access to a deck of torment cards. There are also oversized character cards, and the heroic endeavors and villainous schemes are also represented on oversized cards. The cards are all printed on average weight paper with semi-gloss finishes, and while not the heaviest stock I’ve encountered they are definitely not flimsy. I’d say they’re just a tad lighter weight than Magic: The Gathering cards but superior quality in printing and finish.
Sideboards act as both asset trackers and the play-space for challenges, and the card stock on these is thick enough that should things come to physical blows each player will surely have a weapon handy.
The tokens are also nice and thick, and at about an inch across, they are generously sized and easy to manipulate. They were all set in their punch boards in the box, but came loose easily and with no fraying.
The board itself is heavier than average as well, definitely thicker than something you’d buy for the kids and about the same as something from Fantasy Flight Games.
And speaking of the elephant in the room: if one holds the quality of Ironrise’s components up to the bar of a Fantasy Flight product, I think you’ll be more than satisfied that you have a piece of quality workmanship in your hands.
And, it came with zipper baggies for the components, because this is a game made by people who love to play games. The baggy hunt is always one of the necessary evils of unboxing a new board game, but the folks at Ironrise Games have you covered in this case.
As mentioned above, the core mechanic of Ironrise is the “Challenge.” In completing almost any task or achieving any goal, players will face off in this head-to-head competition of wagering cards and tokens in up to four slots representing the skills of the characters involved.
The challenge itself is a fun mechanic, and something relatively unique in games such as this. It has some elements of chance determined by the pool of cards available to the players, but there’s quite a bit of strategy involved as well.
Will you go all-in to achieve your own goal, or will you save assets to foil your opponent’s plans on their turn? Is your opponent playing their best cards? Will they wager tokens as well, and risk losing these valuable assets?
The way this plays out has the feel of old fashioned gambling games like Poker or Blackjack. You’re trying to read your opponent’s intentions while hiding your own. You hope to outwit them with clever card plays, such as playing a Martial-boosting item card in an Ingenuity slot, but you don’t know if they’ve done the same. And then when the cards flip, everybody gets to see the results and rounds of guffaws, gotchas, and facepalms ring the table as players realize if their plans have come to fruition or been cleverly foiled.
Overall, I highly recommend Ironrise to anybody who’s a fan of the steampunk genre or tabletop games that offer complex layers of strategy. The flavor and story to the game leaps from all the components, from detailed stories on the Endeavor and Scheme cards to the bits of flavor text everywhere. The artwork is all amazing, and having the characters represented by real people in costume is a fantastic twist. These characters appear on many of the asset cards as well, so there’s a consistency throughout the product.
Despite the huge assortment of components, the game is deceptively simple. It’s easy to pick up, setup doesn’t take long, and you can tweak the length of play from ninety minutes to a few hours by changing the number of victory points it takes to win. The gameplay is fun and exciting, and having a blend of both cooperative and competitive elements makes this very crowd pleasing. You can find plenty of games that are purely competitive, and there’s quite a few on the market these days that are cooperative, but Ironrise combines the two in a way that you don’t often see. Also, while there’s a race to accumulate the most victory points, each team has their own set of goals. This makes it feel like—no matter whether you’re playing a villain or hero—you have agency in how the game unfolds.
I give Ironrise 5 of 5 D20s!
Physical Quality: Superb
Gameplay: Innovative and exciting!
Learning Curve: Easy to Average
Publisher: Ironrise Games
Number of Players: 2 – 6
Game Length: 90 Minutes / Variable