Ryu takes place on a planet called Titan, where centuries ago the tears of a dragon flooded the land. Five different races that inhabited Titan were able to flee to the Dala mountain range with its nine peaks. As the water rose those peaks became islands and each of the races settled on one of them, with the four remaining points acting as neutral grounds for trading, smuggling and politics. But the world of Titan is changing again and all signs point to a return of the greatest dragon of all time, Ryu. Each of the different species (Shibuke, Reptilians, Goblins, Amazons and Sharks) are in a race to create a dragon statue worthy of the great Ryu. Whichever people can complete their statue first will win the honour of welcoming back the great dragon. Ryu is coming!
In Ryu, designed by Kim Sato and Sha Yk, players take on one of the five ancient races of Titan and move around the nine islands that make up the planet collecting the required elements to complete their tribute. At its heart it is a set collection/action selection game. The rules are pretty straight forward and learning them shouldn’t take too long.
At the start of the game the board is randomly set up by laying out the nine tiles that represent Titan’s islands in a circle. Each of the five races has their own home island and then there is a Smuggler Guild, a Merchant Guild, a Bazaar and the Governor’s Island. Players will start with their dragon meeple on their own island and the five stages of their dragon statue turned facedown. The goal is to collect the components needed to complete each stage of the dragon statues. The first one to complete all five stages is declared the winner.
Players have three options on their turn. They can either move 0-2 spaces and then execute an action or execute an action and then move 0-2 spaces or finally they can just move up to four spaces (helpful for getting around the board quickly).
Early in the game the action you’re going to do most often is Exploration. This is actually a really cool mechanic. When you’re visiting another player’s island you can explore it for some of the materials commonly used in dragon sculpture creation (dragon scales, claws, memory stones and precious stones). These are represented by orange, blue, purple and yellow cubes. When you explore someone’s island there is a benefit for both you and the island’s owner. You’ll flip your exploration token that shows either a four or five. Depending on the result you’ll draw that many cubes from the cloth bag. If you draw four cubes then you will get the first pick, the island’s owner will take the next two and then you will take the remaining cube. If you got to draw five then the island’s owner will split the five into two groups and you will choose which you want with the other going to the other player. This little exchange happens quite often, especially early in the game and the decisions you make can have big consequences.
Once an island has been explored it is flipped and will stay that way until the fifth island is explored. When that happens the previous four islands will be flipped back to their non-explored side. You definitely want people to be able to explore your islands, it’s a way to get statue components on other people’s turns.
Hiding in the bag of cubes is a single white cube (dragon’s tear). When that is drawn it is going to set off a blind bid. Each player secretly chooses a number of cubes they want to bid and hold them out in a closed fist. The player who found the white cube must bid with it. Once the bids have been chosen they are revealed. The person who has risked the most will automatically get to complete the next stage of their statue.
The different non-player islands will give you ways to exchange cubes or acquire smuggler, merchant or governor tokens. These can be used to grease the wheels of the game and bend the rules a bit. For example on the governor’s island you can spend a merchant token to flip someone’s island, even your own. This can slow down the leader by making their island unavailable for exploration, or flip yours back so that it’s ready for other people to explore. Spending two precious stones at the merchant guild will get you a governor token that acts as a wild card when paying for the cost of your dragon statue. Non-player islands never get flipped and are available for all players to use.
Now, the coolest element in this game is the different statues everyone will be working on. Each race has their own representation of what they think a dragon should look like and while they are going to be all constructed out of the same materials, the finished products will look very different…and pretty darn cool! The statues are made up of five tiles labeled A-E. They each have a cost to complete and they must be constructed in the right order. Once a stage is finished you can flip the tile and you’re one step closer to winning the favour of Ryu! Although each dragon will look very different the materials needed for each stage are the exact same. I kind of wish the designers could’ve come up with a way to have different costs for the different dragons, making some materials more important to certain players, but they possibly would’ve run into balance issues. The game ends immediately when someone builds their fifth statue tile.
Ryu is pretty simple and won’t be a huge challenge for seasoned games, but there is enough potential for ‘take-that’ moves that when you’re playing against people of similar skill you can have a lot of fun with it. The art in the different islands, statues and player screens is top notch and dragon meeples are pretty great too. I’m not sure if I can call it an instant classic, but if you’re looking for a set collection game with a lot of player interaction then the return of Ryu the great and powerful might be just the news you’ve been waiting for!