This is a family game that has elements (mainly fire) of so many other 'exploding Volcano' games. It is Ravensburger's attempt to recapture the entertaining amusement of the much earlier, yet still loved, Waddington's game "Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs" and the panic race of "The Downfall of Pompeii".
Carlo A Rossi, with the artistic assistance of Nora Nowatzyk and Vincent Dutrait, has created a fast-playing 2-6 player merriment that can be played by all ages and with differing degrees of difficulty. It has been designed as a tile-laying game with the added mechanics of resource collecting and player cooperation, though in every variant except the very basic the player cooperation has a confusion that really isn't explained in the back story or the rules.
The board is created as a two piece jigsaw using either pieces 1 & 2 or flipped over pieces 3 & 4 there is no other combination. The first, easy, board has the Volcano with its two stacks of shuffled lava tiles, the start square for the players and numerous spaces that make up the jungle through which the players have to move to get to their boat and eventual safety. Backtracking a second; the players are adventurers searching for whatever it is adventurers search for in thick jungle; ancient treasures? fossils? history? these brave men and women bring the past to life for the present by collecting items for museums the world over. Then one day. as they spend the evening in their base camp telling tales and singing campfire songs, they hear a not-too-distant rumbling and look up to see dark smoke billowing up into the deep blue of the early evening sky. The Volcano known as 'Red Peak' has awoken unexpectedly and is about to meander its boiling viscous lava down the side of the mountain and into the lush forest, eating everything in its path. The adventurer's camp happens to be directly on the lava's route and the track they have been cutting through the jungle makes an easy pathway for it to follow.
The adventurers now have to make a run for it, but panic causes them to forgo their previous path and run for the coast in the most direct route, hacking away at the undergrowth and path-blocking branches as they go. Some of the branches are too thick for a machete to get through so their passage isn't as straight-forward as they hoped and they have to to take occasional turnings to the right, to the left, but all the time trying their hardest to reach the coast and the safety of their boat.
The basic game gives the players a number of Time Tiles, some Multi-tools and a hand of cards, each card showing three different necessary pieces of equipment. They are also presented with a randomly drawn number of path tiles. Finally the pressure is applied by way of a 90 second sand-timer.
Playing it easy, the players openly lay their cards in front of themselves and then, using the 90 seconds allowed, they decide which, and how many, of the pathway tiles to place for their escape route. Each pathway tile shows a number of resources and to completely get through the tile the adventurers have to give up (discard) one of each resources on the path; the kicker being that only one piece of equipment on each card can be used and then the card is discarded, in fact every card where the equipment is used is discarded.
The players always have 90 seconds for the Daytime phase which is deciding on the route (path) tiles to lay, ensuring the necessary resources are available and moving the Adventuring party and Camp. If they take all of the 90 seconds then they use a time tile; use all time tiles and they simply run out of time.
Once the correct number and type of resource has been discarded, the adventuring party (in the shape of a large meeple) is moved along the path, followed by the camp (this appears to move on its own like Terry Pratchett's famous 'luggage'). As the camp reaches each path tile the equipment as shown by icons on the tile is collected, thus giving the players more equipment cards, more multi-tools, more time and quite often additional lava movement. The lava tiles are then played according to how many are numbered on the path tiles crossed, this could be 1, 2, 3 or none in which case the adventurers are lucky this turn, but it could also be 'plus 1' which means an extra tile is added - getting a run of +1 tiles is unlikely but hurts when it happens. There are also blue sky tiles which mean the Volcano is bubbling but not spewing forth it's boiling venom, bright skies for the adventurers to move a little easier.
The path tiles are either straights or right-angles and have no direction arrows so as long as each tile is placed so it joins the previous one by the sandy coloured pathway the adventurers movement can meander left, right or down but never ever upwards back towards the Volcano, that's about the only rule for placing tiles, well that and having the necessary resources.
Once the adventurers reach the shore there should be a boat waiting for them (if not then they continue to select path tiles and play the resources to activate them - they are waiting for a boat icon to appear) then they require the resources to get on the boat and sail to safety.
The next level of difficulty plays the game similarly to the easy game described above but adds four Bonus tiles to the board (placed on specifically marked locations). These Bonuses include adding equipment, adding time and also a non-event where nothing happens except frustration. To gain these Bonus tiles the player's route out of the jungle has to run directly over the face-down Bonus tile.
Level three of playing is a little different and a lot harder. To begin with the players have to hold their cards and keep them to themselves unseen by the other players, they cannot reveal any of the resources they have. The route tile or tiles are then decided by the party cooperating together and then any one of them can begin by adding one or more of the required resources, it doesn't matter who puts forward the resources but it should be remembered that once they are played they are discarded, even if they are unsuccessful of completing the chosen tile/s. This is the part where I say the cooperation is confusing because it makes no sense that the adventurers do not tell each other what tools they have.
Speaking of tools, the multi-tools in the player's pool can always be discarded to count as any missing tool. Timing is important, succeed in planning, placing and moving within the 90 seconds and nothing happens, but if you use up the 90 seconds you use up a time tile. If you run out of time tiles the game doesn't end, instead you gain another time tile but also turn over another lava tile.
The next variant of play uses the same mechanics as Level Three but with the addition of the aformentioned Bonus tiles. From Level Three onwards the mechanic runs like this: The players have 90 seconds to determine, by chatting among themselves, which route tile/s they think they have the resources to complete without actually discussing the equipment on the cards they hold (frustration factor kicks in about now). The players talk about which tile/s they think they can complete by looking at their own cards and trying to guess what resources the other players are holding. Then, still within the 90 seconds, they place the tiles on the board and then move the adventurer from symbol to symbol as the cards are laid by any of the players to match the icons required. It is a real pain when two players play the same resource at the same time because one of those cards will be discarded unused even if it has another required symbol on it, the card is wasted; therefore shout out (okay it is probably better to call out forcefully rather than shout) before you discard your card in case another player has the same resource, then you shouldn't waste cards.
Once the adventurer meeple has moved as far as it can across the route tiles, all those it completes are kept in place and the camp follows the adventurers, collecting the good stuff and probably moving the red stuff towards you. Any route tiles not completed are returned face up to be selected again, if possible, in another turn. All cards played are discarded.
When you are looking for just that little more from the game then you get to the final levels of play. Turn the board over and discover the wondrous treasures of the jungle. These are too good to pass on and must be photographed (passed over by the adventurer meeple) before the lava destroys them forever. These monuments are shown on the flip-side of the board. At the beginning of play the players decide how difficult they want to make the game by selecting one or more of the seven 'quest' cards - the monuments - the more selected the harder the game. Once you decide to use the Monument Quests you must divert your passage over those chosen otherwise, reaching the boat or not you have failed - remember to get on the boat you need the necessary resources or multi-tools. Directing your path over the monuments could possibly lengthen the pathway but the longer the path the more likely the lava will catch you.
The overall final variant is as above but using all seven monument quests, and this time, once more, with the added Bonus tiles. You do not have to reach the Bonus tiles to succeed but if you pass over them you do get the Bonus; you must pass over all quest targets. This is almost impossible to complete and, in our opinion, totally impossible to collect all the Bonus tiles and all the 7 monuments, but of course that makes it more of a challenge. With six players and a lot of luck perhaps ?
There are a lot of games that announce they are for both family play and core gamer players but the majority of them really aren't. RED PEAK is a true multi-faceted game which really does go through the blossoming from bud to flower the full range of metamorphosis from child's play to core play.
The breakdown of game levels is not described or prescribed within the game rules, it is my interpretation on the possibilities as I read them and as my group and I play the game. Found online between £25.00 and £38.00, probably the same in local game stores, RED PEAK is a fun, frantic and frustrating game which plays over 20 minutes or so and is entertaining whichever 'level' it is played at.
Sometimes I overthink games and components for no reason other than they exasperate me. Generally these things do not impact on the pleasure derived from playing the game, they are indeed mostly aesthetic. In RED PEAK the lave tiles do not show a flowing lave path, instead they show a splatter of lava as if it was blown from the volcano and landed. If this is the case in RED PEAK then there is no way the lava could 'follow' the passage of the adventurers, which according to the rules it does. Aesthetically the lava tiles should not have surrounding foliage. As I said, this doesn't affect the game in any way and is just me being 'picky'.