The Battle of Red Cliffs Game Review


The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 10+)
  • For 1 to 9 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • None


  • Gamer Geek mixed!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek mixed!


The Battle of Red Cliffs is believed to be the largest naval battle in history, according to some academics and historians. A bold statement when we consider that the battle took place in 208 A.D., the exact location of the battle remains hotly debated, and the actual number of combatants and lives lost is unknown. Regardless, the impact the battle had on China then and even today is still visible. From cultural events to highly romanticized fictitious retellings of the “historical account” of the battle, Red Cliffs remains a significant event. This game has nothing to do with that battle.

The Battle of Red Cliffs, designed by E. R. BurgessTa-Te Wu and published by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio, is comprised of 15 Zero Rank cards, 63 Ranked cards (numbers 1 through 9), 24 Beauty cards (in 4 different types), 9 Zhuge Liang cards (this card also represents the Tien Zi Que card), 2 Event cards, 9 Player Aid cards, 2 Discard Pile cards, 1 Trash Pile card, 7 Mini Score cards, 1 Scoreboard, and 7 Player Score markers. In total, there are 132 cards in the game which are all of excellent quality and durable. The Scoreboard is made of thick cardboard and the Player Score markers are made of wooden cubes.

Note: The Battle of Red Cliffs is a different version of the card game Tien Zi Que, which is in turn a different version the tile game Mahjong. You don’t need to know how to play or pronounce either of these games to enjoy The Battle of Red Cliffs. I mention it only because I find it interesting and cannot pronounce either game well.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first decide if you are going to use the Scoreboard or Mini Score cards. Place the Scoreboard next to one player and assign them as the Score Keeper (it’s just easier this way). If the Mini Cards are being used, individual players or one player per team can keep track of their points.

Second, the type of game to be played now needs to be determined. The types of game to be played is based on how the players want to compete and influenced by the number of players in the game.

  • If there are 2 to 7 players, each player can play individually (Free For All).
  • If there are 4, 6, or 8 players, teams comprised of 2-players each can be formed. Team members should sit one or more seats away from each other to stagger team plays during turn order sequence.
  • If there are 6 or 9 players, teams comprised of 3-players each can be formed. Team members should sit 2 seats away from each other.

Third, place the Trash and the 2 Discard cards in a row in the middle of the playing area. These cards mark where the Trash and Discard piles will be placed. Leave room between the Trash and 2 Discard cards to make it easy to quickly see which cards belong to which pile.

Fourth, each player selects 1 Player Score token and places it next to the Scoreboard or next to their Mini Score card.

Fifth, give each player 1 Player Aid card and places it in front of them.

Sixth, if playing with 2 to 9 players, each player is given 1 Zhuge Liang card to start with. All the remaining cards (Event, Zero Rank, Ranked, Beauty, and any remaining Zhuge Liang cards) are now shuffled together to create one very large deck which is placed face-down next to the Trash card to form the game’s Draw pile.

Seventh, draw 2 cards from the Draw pile and place 1 card on each of the Discard piles (not the Trash pile). If a wild card is drawn (Zero Rank or Zhuge Liang cards), it’s placed on the Trash pile instead and a new card is drawn until both Discard piles have 1 card each.

Eighth, each player draws up to 6 total cards in their hand. The total includes the Zhuge Liang card. If an Event card is drawn, shuffle the Event card back in the Draw pile and draw a new card.

That’s it for game set. Let’s play some cards.

Quick Word on Card Sets and the Cards

The Battle of Red Cliffs is a set collecting game, but the players are collecting twice. The first card set allows players to score 1 card and discard or trash the other 2. The second card set is comprised entirely of all the cards the player scored during the game and is referred to as the Master set. Each player has a special Score pile that is directly in front of them to keep all their scored cards face-down that slowly builds their Master Set.

The first card set is always comprised of 3 cards. A card set could be made up of the following combination of cards.

A Straight

A numerical sequence comprised of any color of cards. The number values rang from 1 to 9 and the numbers in the set must be sequential. The sequence does not “wrap”, meaning the next number after “9” is not “1”. The Zero Rank card can be used to represent any number in the sequence.


Example: Ranks “3”, “4”, and a Zero Rank which is representing “5”


Any 3 cards that share the same value, but do not need to share the same color. For example, 2 Zero Rank cards and 1 Rank “7” card.

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

Beauty Trips

Any combination of 3 Beauty cards. The Beauty cards do not need to be all the same type. For example, a Beauty trip could be 1 “Warrior” Beauty, 1 “Damsel” Beauty”, and 1 “Maiden” Beauty card. It could also be 2 “Warrior” Beauty and 1 “Lady” Beauty card. Beauty cards provide an action, but only the Beauty that is kept for scoring can be used for the action it provides. Actions are taken after the card has been placed in the player’s Master set.


Zhuge Liang

Zhuge Liang is considered a “super wild” and can be used to create a card set with Rank and Beauty cards. In other words, Zhuge Liang is considered both a Zero Rank and a wild “Beauty”, even though Zhuge Liang is a guy. The only limitation to this versatile card is that it cannot be a card set in and of itself. Players cannot score a card set of 3 Zhuge Liang cards.


Trash, Discards, and Master Sets

When a player wants to score a card set, they need to decide where to play their cards. One card will go to the player’s Score pile and be part of their Master set. This card is placed face-down leaving the player 2 cards left in their card set.

Zero Rank and Zhuge Liang cards always go the Trash pile. These cards are out for the game until the Draw pile is depleted. If both of the remaining cards are wild cards, both go in the Trash pile.

All other cards can be placed in the two Discard piles in any order, including both cards going to the same Discard pile. This is a useful way of burying the card if you think an opponent wants it. However, there are a few restrictions. First, if one of the two Discard piles does not have any cards in it, one of the two cards to be discarded must be added to the empty Discard pile. Second, if both Discard piles are empty, then each of the cards to be discarded must be used to fill the Discard pile, one per pile.

Note: Players can look through the Discard piles at anytime during the game, but cannot rearrange the card order in the Discard piles.

At the Cliffs

The Battle of Red Cliffs is played in rounds and turns with no set number of rounds per game. A player’s turn is summarized here.

Note: If playing with teams, team members CANNOT reveal their cards to their teammates. All cards in a player’s hand should be kept hidden for the entire game until played to the table.

Step “Whenever”: Peng!

“Peng” is a Chinese word that means “bump”, but don’t quote me on that and be careful what you click when you search on the word’s definition using the interweb. It has become a slang word that means a lot of things that have nothing to do with this game. During the game, any player (including the active player) can shout PENG! (or just quietly say it in a dignified manner) during any player’s turn, but only one Peng can be declared per turn. This is considered an interrupt action that stops the game temporarily and allows the player who shouted Peng to collect 1 of the 2 cards in the Discard pile.

However, a player cannot shout Peng unless the 1 card they select allows them to create a card set using 2 of the cards in the player’s hand. After revealing the cards in the set to the other players, they place 1 in their Score pile and places the other 2 cards on the Discard piles or the Trash pile.

Priority of Peng declarations goes first to the active player. Then to the opponent to the active player’s left and then to that opponent’s left and so on.

Step 1: Draw

The player draws 1 card from the Draw pile, adding it to their hand.

If the Draw pile is ever depleted, shuffle the Trash and 2 Discard piles to form the new Draw pile. Draw cards until both Discard piles are 1 card each, trashing any wild cards that might also be drawn.

If an Event card is drawn, it’s immediately resolved. Then the player draws another card. The Event card is placed in the Trash pile.


Step 2: Take Actions

Each player has 2 actions per turn. The actions can be taken in any order and the same action can be taken twice.

  • Action: Play 1 card set, revealing the 3 cards, score 1, and discard the other 2.
  • Action: Discard 1 card to the appropriate pile.
  • Action: Pass, which ends their action step.

A player is never required to take all 2 of their actions, but if they take none, then they MUST discard 1 or 2 cards from their hand to end this step. Passing as a second action does not force a player to discard.

Step 3: Refill

The player draws back up to 6 cards in their hand.

This completes the player’s turn. The next player in turn order sequence now goes starting with step 1 noted above.

End of Round, Scoring, and Next Round

Players continue to take turns until the active player has 5 or more cards in their Master set at the end of their turn. The end of the round has been triggered and the round ends when the opponent immediately to the player’s right completes their turn.

When the last player completes their turn, it’s time to score. Players take all the cards in their Master set and place them face-up in front of them. Any cards in the player’s hand are ignored. Points are awarded based on the number of types of cards collected so far. The number of points collected increases as the number of cards in the player’s Master set increases.

  • Points awarded for 2 or more Ranked cards (including Zero Rank) in the Master set
  • Points awarded for 2 or more Beauty cards in the Master set
  • Points awarded for 3 or more cards of the same color (red, blue, green, white, and black)
  • Points awarded for 4 or more cards in different colors
  • Points awarded for 4 or more cards in a straight (color doesn’t matter)

Note: Wild cards lose their wild ability during scoring. Zero Rank is just a zero and Zhuge Liang is a black card.

After points are calculated, the Player Score markers are adjusted accordingly on the Scoreboard.

On the Scoreboard are a series of Ranks with values 1 through 9. Each Rank has 2 or more scoring spaces where the Player Score markers are placed. After points are calculated and scored, players should look to see where their Player Score markers are on the Scoreboard. If the Player Score marker is on any scoring space within a Rank, it’s moved to that Rank’s lowest score space to the left. As the player climbs up the Ranks, it becomes necessary to score more and more points to make it to the next Rank. It’s important to note that a player never loses a Rank level. Once they obtain it, they will remain their until they pass into the next highest Rank.

For example, a player needs to have a total of at least 3 points to make it to Rank 2 from Rank 1. If they score 5 points at the end of the round, their Player Score marker will be placed in the Rank 2 row, but dropped back to the “3” score space. In order to make it to Rank 3, the player must score at least 3 points for a total of 6 points.


Note: It’s unfortunate that the game’s rule book doesn’t describe the above Rank rule in better detail. The terms “Rank” and “Level” are used interchangeably and caused much confusion in our groups. Hopefully this review will save you and your players a few of the headaches we had. We actually scored the game wrong the first couple of times. It didn’t impact the game play, but you can’t get a true perspective of a game until you play it right.

As long as none of the players have 20 or more points, a new round now begins.

  1. Starting with the First Player, move all Master sets to the Trash and Discard piles. Play them to the different piles in whatever order the player thinks is the most strategic.
  2. The player with the lowest score is now the First Player.
  3. Give each player 6 cards.

Ending the Game and Victory

The game ends during the round when one or more players have 20 or more points. The player with the most points wins the game. Ties are broken by which player scored the most points in the final round. This means players should not adjust the Player Score markers for Ranking if a player hits 20 or more points.

Game Variants

A small number of game variants are available that mostly address team and solo play. They are summarized here.

Boot the Peng

Remove the Peng action from game play when there are 3 or fewer players. No Peng for you!

Team Play

When playing as teams, add all the team members scores together and record it on the Score board. Team member score their own Master sets without combining or trading cards. The game ends when a team of 2 scores 30 or more points or when a team of 3 scores 50 or more points.

Solo Play

Game set up is the same as described above and includes 2 additional steps. First, place 1 Player Score marker on the Scoreboard as a timer. This is in addition to the Player Score marker used to keep track of the player’s score. The “Timer” Player Score marker should be placed below Rank 1 column and will travel up this column as the game is played. Second, remove the Event cards from play.

The Zhuge Liang cards play a different role in the game when playing solo and is never used to create sets or placed in the Master set for scoring. When a Zhuge Liang card is drawn, it’s placed aside and a new card is immediately drawn. The “Timer” Player Score marker is then moved to the next highest Rank value on the Scoreboard.

The only other 2 in-game rules that change are Peng and Beauty card actions. Both are ignored and not used in the game, but players can still score using Beauty cards.

A solo game ends when the “Timer” Player Score marker hits Rank 5 or the player scores 50 or more points. If the player reached 50 or more points before the “Timer” Player Score marker hit Rank 5, the player wins.

To learn more about The Battle of Red Cliffs, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks were excited to play this game at first. The game’s title suggests an epic battle of some sort. They felt let down when they realized that The Battle of Red Cliffs is little more than a set collecting card game with a few action effects. The majority of the Child Geeks simply adapted and played the game for what it was, while a few of our Child Geeks grumbled how “stupid” the “lady cards” were. Even now, that statement makes me smile. All the Child Geeks demonstrated a complete understanding of how to create initial sets, but only the older and more experienced Child Geeks demonstrated a clear understanding of what cards they were keeping for scoring. According to one younger Child Geek, “I keep forgetting what I want to put into my Master set and have to look at it. I don’t think I’m going to score many points.” An older Child Geek said, “I really like this card game. You always have to lose some cards to gain some cards. It’s like paying for the card you want to score.” An interesting point-of-view and one I do not disagree with. In this game, players do have to pay to score, losing cards to gain points. The only other aspect of the game that had our young geeks were mixed about were the Event and Beauty card effects. Some of the Child Geeks liked it while others just thought it was unnecessary. In the end, the Child Geeks were undecided about The Battle of Red Cliffs. The older Child Geeks enjoyed it, while the younger Child Geeks wanted to play something else.

Stupid lady cards…


One of my little geeks makes combat sounds behind his cards to add the “battle” back into the game – cute, but unnecessary

The Parent Geeks really enjoyed themselves. They found the Rank scoring progression to be an interesting challenge and loved how you build your scoring pile as quickly as you could while playing cards at the same time. According to one Parent Geek, “I’ve never played a game like this before. It was difficult to understand at first, and the scoring can be tricky, but it’s a lot of fun. Also, the game’s title is really misleading.” Yes, it is. Another Parent Geek said, “I don’t usually go in for card games, but I like this on. There’s a lot to think about, but I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on.” Peng was used often and no one really understood who the Beauty cards were meant to represent. Everyone thought it was ridiculous that the “Warrior” Beauty card looked like she might way 30 pounds, but everyone liked the card effects. According to one Parent Geek, “The effects and actions seem a bit out-of-place at first, but they add a different dimension to the card game that makes it really unique!” When all the sets were made, scores calculated, and ranks climbed, the Parent Geeks voted to approve The Battle for Red Cliffs.

The Gamer Geeks had no problem understanding how the game was played and quickly demonstrated excellent card plays. All the Gamer Geeks liked how you were essentially playing twice whenever it was your turn, making it twice as important to think hard about what cards to use. According to on Gamer Geek, “You can’t only think about what you are doing now. You have to think about what you are adding to your Master set for later, too. That can be challenging when all you have is great cards.” Challenging because players must always lose 2 cards on their turn and time is always against them. If they wait too long, they might not have a chance to play a card to their Master set. If they rush, they might be sacrificing future card plays that would be beneficial. Another Gamer Geek said, “I think this is a great example of a gateway card game that uses enough standard card game rules to make it easy to learn and has enough unique game play to keep it interesting.” When it came time for the Gamer Geeks to vote for the game, they discussed the pros and cons in great detail. A few of the Gamer Geeks were voting it down because it wasn’t a game they liked, not because they thought it was a bad game. A number of other Gamer Geeks voted for the game because they thought it hit all the right points. The final vote resulted in a mixed bag, with everyone agreeing that The Battle of Red Cliffs was a good game, but not one that was easily identified as a Gamer Geek’s game.

For the most part, the rules of the game do an adequate job of describing the game and how to play. It’s exceedingly unfortunate that the rules dropped the proverbial ball when it came to Rank progression. This is a major part of the scoring and a lot of fun. Players must do better and better to achieve the next rank. Failure to do so will keep you in the Rank until you get the points you need. This is not as hard as it sounds, to be honest, as most players will go up 1 or 2 Ranks when scoring. What the Ranking does is start everyone on the ground floor of their Rank when a new round beings. This doesn’t give anyone an advantage or put anyone at a disadvantage, but it does keep one player from running away with all the points. And thank goodness for that. During a few games, one of our players could do no wrong and kept scoring big points. Even so, they were always just ahead of us and it was obvious that the rest of the players could close the distance if we could just play a better game than the leading opponent.

I very much enjoyed The Battles of Red Cliffs. It always kept me thinking and engaged. You have to watch your opponents closely to see what cards they are keeping and how many cards they have in their Master set. You sometimes have to sacrifice good cards in order to make a few more points. Peng is used often to get a free action and fights over discarded cards can get silly. The Event and Beauty card actions and effects were interesting little “plot twists” in the game, but seldom resulted in big impacts. I don’t think they are necessary, but they were fun to use in a passive-aggressive sort of way.

Yes, the game’s title is exceedingly misleading, but the game itself is worth playing. If you like card games with unique game play and multiple levels of strategy, then do play The Battle of Red Cliffs as soon as possible. This is one cliff you’ll be happy you jumped from. Not that I condone jumping from cliffs, mind you…

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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