Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in details or the minutiae of games. You spend 30 minutes talking in circles about why mechanics should come before theme. You write 1,500 words on dice, expressing your frustrations but also in the end trying to work in some praise. Then you scrap that piece because something comes along that reminds you that games are meant to be fun. This time it was a small yellow box, that cost the princely sum of £6 on Amazon.
Build It Up
Open the small little yellow box that Rhino Hero comes in and you’ll see some cards. Two stacks of cards, childishly illustrated, and a meeple. A silly little meeple really, shaped like a rhino in a superhero outfit, with a sticker on it portraying just that. So you know straight away it’s silly. But who really cares? Once you get your first game under your belt, you won’t care either, I can promise that.
At it’s heart Rhino Hero is a simple dexterity game, similar to Jenga in many ways. In Jenga you have a stack of bricks, and you have to pull bricks out and put them on top of the stack without collapsing the whole thing. In Jenga, the stack is built right from the start of the game, but in Rhino hero you start with nothing. There’s no building, no structure, just a single card showing the foundation on which you will build. If you’re playing the easy mode, you take two wall cards, bend them along the seam, and line them up on the grey lines on the foundation. Then you place a roof card on top. This roof card will also have grey lines on it, which the next player places walls on. This process of placing walls and roofs continues until one player uses all of their five roof cards they were dealt, or, more likely the tower collapses.
There’s something visceral about building the tower. The cards you’re using are light, they feel like they could never knock something down, so you feel confident. But at the same time, you’re tentative and nervous, because you don’t want to knock the whole thing down! There’s a lot of fun to be had in building a tower of cards with your friends, a childish joy derived from watching each other stacking and balancing, breath held, sighs of relief and nervous laughter punctuating the careful placement of the next set of walls, the next roof.
But there’s more to the game. Certain roof cards have special powers: you get to place a second card, next player skips a turn, reverse the order of play. Tried and true mechanics that appear in many games and add to the tension here. It can be surprisingly strategic at times, as you decide when to drop a particular card on your opponent. Will I make them skip a turn now, or wait until closer to the end? Or maybe I should reverse the direction, then next time round make my other opponent skip their turn because they just used a double card to place two roofs!
The Hero I Needed
I haven’t even mentioned the Rhino yet. Rhino Hero, what an animal, a fiendish beast who always throws a spanner into the works. The little Rhino meeple climbs up the building. I place a roof with the little Rhino Hero picture on it, and the next player has to place the Rhino on that symbol, taking him from wherever he landed previously. This is so fiendish and tricky that you won’t be able to prevent yourself from groaning when you’re burdened with this responsibility. Be careful now…steady, just…yeah…easy, pick him up…there you go. OK, deep breath, steady your hand…right…slowly, get in position, slowly, place him gently there, don’t drop him…OH THANK GOD! Congratulations, you’ve managed to move the Rhino, without ruining yourself.
I’ve played this game with adults and kids. The adults love it as a lighthearted distraction, a quick game of skill and nerve with an hilarious result for whoever knocks down the tower. Kids also love it, taking the building very seriously, while they love exploring the art on the cards, exclaiming excitedly when they spot a cake, a balloon, or anything else they love. This is a big plus, because it keeps them engaged in the game, paying attention when the other players are taking their turns.
I recently joked with someone that Rhino Hero is the answer to most board game questions, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that it can be a good answer to many board game questions. A game to introduce to friends to show there’s more beyond the standard, mass market fare? Rhino Hero. A quick, fun game to fill time between bigger games? Rhino Hero. A game for lunchtime in work? Rhino Hero. Something I can play with my family? Rhino Hero. A game for kids that parents can enjoy too? Rhino Hero. A game that’s portable? Rhino Hero. A good game that won’t break the bank? Rhino Hero. Seriously, Rhino Hero will fill so many different roles for you. At £6 from Amazon, you’d be silly not to.
Rhino Hero is a short game, 15 minutes at the most. I’m not sure you’d drink a beer in that amount of time, and I’m not exactly sure beer is conducive to the steady hands necessary to play this game! If you’re using Rhino Hero as a break between bigger games, why not use it as a chance to take a break from your beer, and just have a glass of water, or a lovely cup of coffee? Trust me, there’s enough excitement in this game!
But, if you really want to have a matching beer, and you live in the US, there’s Lost Rhino Brewing Company in Virginia, who also encourage and promote rhino activism. From Adelbert’s Brewery in Austin, Texas there’s Black Rhino, a black session ale. Check them out and let me know what you think!