Sometimes you play a board game that you know will just be a joy to write about. Rhino Hero is one of those games. It's not really a board game, of course. It's actually a card game. But it's kinda a dexterity game too. And it's also a kids game, for kids of all ages. If you don't have kids, buy Rhino Hero anyway. If you feel weird about having a kids game with no kids at home, then this game is worth having some kids for. Go have children immediately.
The Rhino Hero that this game talks about is a small wooden rhino in a superhero costume. This small component, the size of a trinket you'd find in a Kinder Egg, is the key to the joys of this game. It's a weighty little wooden rhino with a happy face and a cool costume, and in this city full of cats and pigs and stuff, he's the guy you call upon to save the day when there's some kind of crisis.
At the start of the game, each player is dealt 7 Roof cards. Now, these roof cards have two key elements to them. Each card has some lines printed on it, showing the orientation of the walls that will be set on top. Some cards also have an image of a rhino printed on the face. And many cards have a symbol in the top corner.
In a turn, players need to play one card as a roof, by first building walls and then laying their card on top.
It works like this:
Daddy lays down the very first card of the game – the Foundation card. On this card, the very foundation of the tower block, there are lines that show where the walls need to go. Daddy then takes his turn. He takes –
Wait. The walls. I said this was a card game, right? Well there are two decks of cards. One deck is the Roofs, and these are the ones held in a player's hand in the conventional manner. The other deck of cards are bendable Walls that will be used to create a 3D tower that each player will attempt not to topple. To win the game, a player needs to play out all his Roof cards. Alternatively, if a player topples the tower, then they automatically lose and the player with the least Roof cards in hand wins.
So anyway, back to Daddy. Daddy takes two of these Wall cards, bends them just so, and places them onto the foundations on their edges creating verticality. Then he decides which Roof he will play out of his hand. The symbols on the Roof cards offer classic family card game twists. A +1 forces the next player to draw an extra Roof card from the deck. Another symbol switches the order of play in the opposite direction. Another allows a player to play out two Roofs. But many of the cards also have that little picture of a rhino that causes so much glee and despair.
It's later in the game, and the tower is rising high off the table. Daddy's little girl has just played out a roof card with a rhino printed on it. This means that Rhino Hero is going to leap from the floor he's on right now to this new floor on the tower. So Daddy builds the necessary walls on the new card, and then reaches into the tower with his fingers to fetch Rhino Hero.
And the tower starts to sway.
And little Rhino Hero, he's not that heavy. But he's heavy enough. Heavy enough that this tower of cards, this visual delight, is deeply affected by his every movement. As Rhino Hero flies up in the air, held between Daddy's fingers, the question is – will Rhino Hero bring the tower down? If not, will Daddy's shaking hand do it? Or will Daddy's laughter puff the tower into a sudden collapse?
This game, folks, is absolutely fantastic. It is a beautiful, simple idea, executed magnificently. The components are gorgeous – a lovely little wooden piece and a couple of decks of very high quality cards with great artwork combine to create a game that looks gorgeous on the table. It's a real head-turner of a game. The kind of game that looks like a fun time. If you're playing this game with kids, your own enjoyment is only going to be enhanced by their sense of awe as this little card game from this tiny box becomes a cool-as-hell building project that makes everybody giggle.
I can't stop playing this. It's a game you blow through in ten minutes, max, and you'll want to set it up again and again. It works as a simple card game, but it explodes into life because of how much fun it is to build and balance and try to stifle your laughs while you're doing it.
It's also a timely reminder that, as board games enter the mainstream, we have to remember to save a space for games for kids. And we have to make sure that those games for kids are good ones – games that create joy and great memories.
That little Rhino has made my daughter and I laugh so long and so hard this past week.
What could be more heroic than that?