I’ve written before about the merits of an excellent children’s game, and sung the praises of the best in the business, HABA, many times. Tier auf Tier remains a firm favourite with each passing year, and the bright yellow box sits proudly on the shelf alongside some of my most loved games. And now, another title has joined the ranks of games that are ostensibly aimed at children but can bring great pleasure to grown ups too. Rhino Hero is here, designed by Scott Frisco and Steven Strumpf with gorgeous, sweet art by Thies Schwarz, and it is bloody marvellous.
Part dexterity game, part gentle strategy, Rhino Hero – like Tier auf Tier – is once again all about stacking, albeit in a more collaborative fashion. On their turn, players take cards from their hands and add them to a central skyscraper that quickly becomes far from stable. Each card represents the top of the previous floor, capping the building temporarily, until the next player adds to this wobbly creation as the time comes. After choosing which card you’ll be using from your starting hand of five, you gingerly add walls made from folded cards before placing your new roof on top of the building; should the building fall when you’re the active player, you’re out.
It’s not that straightforward, of course. Different card types bend the rules ever so slightly, changing the direction of play, forcing the next player in line to miss a turn or take an extra card from the deck, or even allowing you to place two cards on your turn – not that it’s always a great idea, as they are slippery little buggers and can offset the balance of the every growing tower of cards. The most dangerous one is the card that brings the titular Rhino Hero into play…
Should one of these cards be added to the building – and there are a lot of them! – the active player has an additional action to perform that could well bring the literal house of cards crashing down. You see, also included in the box is a cute-as-a-button wooden Rhino Hero mini, which needs to be taken from whatever position he currently is sat at in the tower, then placed atop his image on the card that was just put on top as a roof. A gentle touch and nerves of steel are required to make sure this dangerous move doesn’t topple the lot.
It’s a very simple affair, but still quite the challenge, which is why it appeals so much to players of all ages. Dexterity games are a great leveller – a steady hand isn’t reliant on the ability to plan five moves ahead, after all, so it doesn’t matter if you’re five or fifty. Of course, excellent play could mean that the tower gets very high, so smaller children could struggle to reach the top, but that’s far from a major issue. If you manage to get rid of all your cards, you win, though it’s far more likely that victory is decided by whoever has the smallest hand leftover once the building is destroyed.
And that’s it. Short and sweet, much like this write up! Coming in at under $20 (just checked, at the time of writing it’s $12.34!), Rhino Hero is a bargain. It’s quick to set up, speedy to play, and as equally fun for grown ups as it is for younger players. Much along the lines of Loopin’ Louie, I can see competitive rules being introduced for convention play between Serious Adults (especially when beer is involved) but that doesn’t mean that the gameplay out of the box is watered down or weak in any way. In fact, its simplicity is what makes it such a wonderful little game to play. Now, anyone seen a relatively affordable copy of the Japanese large-format release? If so, let me know! I need it in my collection!