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The Red Cathedral: Unraveling the Mysteries of Classic Board Game Experience

The Red Cathedral: Unraveling the Mysteries of Classic Board Game Experience

Robert Moore created Cathedral, also titled Cathedral: The Game of the Mediaeval City, a two-player abstract strategy game that was initially released in 1979. In it, opposing factions of light and dark fight it out for control of territory inside the boundaries of a medieval city. By trying to position all or most of their game pieces on a board and preventing their opponent from doing the same, players play pieces to capture territory. At the moment, Chrisbo I.P. Holdings Limited in New Zealand is the owner of the game’s article.


Robert Moore, a pilot of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, invented the cathedral between 1962 and 1979. The surroundings of Christchurch, New Zealand, especially the Christchurch Cathedral served as inspiration for the game. Moore found it fascinating how the cathedral and surrounding structures fit together so precisely from above, almost like puzzle pieces.

Moore showed a prototype to Brightway Products, a wooden toy and game manufacturer based in New Zealand, in 1979. Originally, two versions of the game were made: an “abstract piece” made of two-dimensional squares and a “formal piece” made of three-dimensional wooden models of medieval structures and towers. The formal piece, which is the only one still in production, proved to be more popular.

In 1985, Mattel released a plastic-molded version featuring intricately designed pieces and a gridded locking mechanism.

Engaging in the Game


Cathedral is an easy-to-learn, rather straightforward game. Games might move quickly or take a long time to finish; however, we rarely played any that were longer than twenty minutes. At first, the game seems to have less strategy than a competitive jigsaw puzzle where you just drop your pieces wherever they seem to fit. We started to get the hang of it after a few games, and the planning and strategy element emerged.

The issue is that it isn’t very profound. We needed to start adding rule variations to the game to keep it interesting. Despite that, this game is rarely played and is kept on the shelf for a long time. In other words, the replay value (for us) significantly decreased after we played it for a time.

Referring back to our wooden predecessor, there is a good deal of “wiggle room” between the board’s components. This frequently left people wondering if an item could go in a particular location. This is quite aggravating, and it forced me to restart a lot of games.

Alone Mode


The package includes a solo mode. To be honest, I haven’t tried it and I’m not sure I will! But if I do, I’ll add my thoughts in this section. However, the fact that it has one is excellent!


The rulebook includes a suggested setup for your first play. After that, unfold the market game board and distribute tokens in the appropriate quadrants and cards at random in each corner. Roll the dice and also place them on the board. Next, construct a “cathedral” of cards based on the number of players, and then distribute the pertinent tokens at random across each section.

Assign each participant a board that corresponds with their token color. On the player boards for each player, these have a specific location. Lastly, assign Rubles according to the rulebook’s turn-order system. The Red Cathedral is now ready for you to play!

Game Details

The board (10 x 10 square grid), 14 light pieces (buildings), 14 dark pieces, the gray cathedral initial piece, and a brief rule document were included with the classic wood edition that we purchased. Although the wood version has an excellent appearance, the components were badly put together. We had to re-glue nearly every piece over a year, so be aware that the wood version is more for display and less for serious gaming use.

It’s like

I counted to six in my sleep after listening to The Red Cathedral several times! You count pip after pip to determine where each die will land and its payout. The rondel is entertaining to traverse and optimize, so this isn’t hard. You can also advance dice to aid:

  • The towers’ area majority is a tricky issue
  • First, you think it’s the dice bonus on a card
  • Then you realize it’s also about building materials
  • This is balanced by assessing the number of points and dominance potential
  • I enjoy this decision-making process’s brain-wrestling
  • As players move and decorate the game, the terrain changes
  • Resource analysis around the table is welcomed and often helpful
  • Since the eagle track prizes are hardest to earn early in the game, the duel score tracker is a great idea that pushes early game decisions
  • There are several settings, so repetition shouldn’t matter
  • I’ve heard great things about the Contractors Expansion, but I’m still loving the base game
  • Players may expect analysis paralysis as other players’ turns regularly modify theirs
  • Adding surprisingly tough decisions can cause downtime between turns
  • I prefer this one with two or three players
  • I was startled to see that the box says 10+, so I wouldn’t play this with anyone under 12

Table Presence

The Red Cathedral’s little box doesn’t need an insert because the components are firmly packed under the lid:

  • I love the artwork throughout
  • Russian folk tale images by Ivan Bilibin from the golden period of book art come to mind
  • Pedro Soto and Chema Román set the game’s tone well
  • Resource tokens are simple but useful
  • Gems sparkle with beauty! They have a nice color pallet and cleaner edges than other dice
  • Player boards are great—not the prettiest—but they help players and hold resources
  • I appreciate that because it’s easy to teach and helps after a break between shows
  • I was lucky to learn The Red Cathedral from Gareth (BoardGameMeeple on Instagram), so I rarely used the rules
  • Despite the delay between the teacher and this copy coming, it flowed well as a refresher
  • Other than the jewels and rondel artwork, the contents aren’t luxurious
  • Equally, the box contents are solid and high-quality


Winnie Yang of Wirecutter called Cathedral one of the best board games of 2023 for its simple rules, fast pace, and “beautifully made” design. In Family Games: The 100 Best, Wolfgang Baur called the game “board gaming nirvana” for “its speed, its simplicity, and the sheer joy of placing that one, perfect piece that seals your opponent’s doom.

“Cathedral was praised by Games senior editor R. Wayne Schmittberger in Issue #43 “Amazing graphics and gameplay. Abstract Strategy likened the game to Pentominoes and Go in Issue #3, praising its medieval city atmosphere and “beautiful playing equipment.

Cathedral is “both an attractive and interesting abstract game for 2,” according to ludologist Tom Lehmann on his website, but it is broken since the first player has an opening strategy that the second player cannot counter. He recommended having the second player place the Cathedral with their first piece.

Final Thoughts

Anyone can pick up and play this game with ease, and it is fairly enjoyable. Except for the first few minutes after the purchase, we don’t get much use out of ours.