Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Finding Balance in Rhino Hero!

What is that? Is that a rhino climbing up the wall? INDEED! 
-- Rhino Hero Rulebook

The Pleasure of Stacking an Untrustworthy Structure

There is a basic level of fun before Rhino Hero even turns into a game. How often can you say that? At its most basic, the game starts as a card house. People already build card houses as an activity, because its deeply satisfying. The lizard part of your brain likes it. Each new layer of a card house almost subconsciously attracts the vested interest of every adult and child in the room.

The very setup of Rhino Hero works as an attractant, to even those people (perhaps in your extended family) who might turn their noses up at anything resembling Settlers of Catan.

But then you take the "framework" of a traditional card house, you add a few simple mechanics and you get Rhino Hero. Believe it or not even more addictive.

Everyone's Roof is Someone Else's Floor

Each player starts with a hand of cards, and by getting rid of all your cards you indeed win the game. Getting rid of cards is a grueling process because each card is a roof, and to add the roof you first have to build the walls using someone else's roof…which is now your floor.

Templates for wall construction come in all monstrous varieties. The nicest ones are shaped like a box. The meanest ones are a single wall in the center, shaped like a > sign. The most uncertain (you don't know how they'll behave) involve a crazy layout of walls finally punctuated with Rhino Hero, the demon prince of wobbly card towers, lurking somewhere on the card.

Flashy Powers on Every Corner

A close look at some of the roof cards shows most of them have some kind of special power. These powers tread a lot of familiar ground, and I'm not entirely happy with them.

From Left to Right:

1) Reverse: just like in Uno, Reverse makes the turn order go the opposite direction. According to the rulebook, this does absolutely nothing if your game just has 2 players.

2) RHINO HERO! This is the awesome one. When you play the Rhino Hero, the next player in line has to, in addition to building his/her room, also move the Rhino Hero meeple. Fishing your fingers into the gently swaying building structure of the tower to grab this guy and move him to a different level sets off all sorts of warning bells both from you and the audience of other players. This moment is where the wheat is separated from the chaff.

3) +1: makes the next player draw a card. Also somewhat boring, and basically lifted from Uno (or Crazy Eights or whatever).

4) Skip A Turn - Skipping someone's turn has never been very fun, especially for kids. But kids have just learned to accept it. Adults gnash their teeth.

5) Play 2 cards: I really like this power because it adds a little bit more strategy. Once you've got a group of seasoned Rhino Hero players who know how to build card towers, you can actually rat hole a 2X to the very end of the game and hopefully actually go out.

Rhino Hero is saved by the fact that these cards really don't have a lot to do with the overall game. You can even play without the cards doing anything special (only make sure to keep that Rhino Hero in!).

Ultimately this game is all about the stacking, and the amazing chaos lurking just barely at the threshold every time you gently set another card down on its perch.

The Excitement of the Room

Rhino Hero gets people worked up. You take your turn and all your opponents are suddenly your audience.

Rather than the strict rule set, this is more about the emotion. Emotion, but unquestionably ruled by the strict dictates of physics. Wobbly tables, sudden intakes of breath, loud noises they all play a part in the end game.

Compact enough to fit in your work bag. I've armed myself with Rhino Hero for whatever the future of social engagement holds for me.

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