Rhino Hero: Civil War
You may have heard of Rhino Hero. One part Jenga, one part… well, it largely resembled Jenga, albeit featuring a chunky rhinoceros who had a tendency to make his tower of cards crumple to the table. It was an utter delight, the sort of game that packed a minimum of everything — size, rules, setup — except fun. It had as much of that as its titular hero’s daily caloric intake.
After its well-deserved success, HABA have seen fit to give tubby little Rhino Hero a second outing. It’s bigger, it’s brasher, and yes, it’s better. Though it makes some sacrifices along the way.
Right away, fans of the original Rhino Hero are going to notice that everything has been bulked up. The cards are larger and sturdier, no longer is the tower confined to a single column, and there are now four heroes competing to reach the top. So it’s a bit like Marvel’s Civil War or that wretched Batman vs. Superman movie, except this particular clash of animal superheroes somehow feels less contrived. It’s only natural that a rhinoceros in spandex would be forced to race against Giraffe Boy, Big E., and Batguin, plus a bunch of irritating spider monkeys. Do their names matter in the slightest? Absolutely not. They just make me chuckle.
In fact, that’s easily the best thing about Rhino Hero Super Battle. This is a game designed to elicit a very particular response, and it’s nearly always a laugh. Usually because one of those blasted spider monkeys is making the whole construction wobble or because somebody tried to pass you a card through two pillars and wound up topping a nine-story superstructure. Now that’s funny.
In terms of gameplay, the concept is as simple and wholesome as coming up with the name “Batguin.” Each player is holding a hand of cards that represent the floors of an ever-growing skyscraper. On your turn you’ll choose a floor, add its displayed walls to the structure, lay the floor ever so carefully atop them, and there you go.
It’s not entirely that simple, though that’s the main portion. You might also be forced to hang a spider monkey, and each turn lets you roll a die that will see your hero climbing up the tower and possibly slugging it out with one of their super-pals. This fight is handled by a simple roll-off to hit a higher number than your opponent. It’s a bit of a letdown in one sense, all your best-laid cards perhaps amounting to nothing if you don’t happen to roll well. However, it’s brisk enough that nobody is going to be waiting around while you flip counters or arrange super-moves. You and your opponent roll and one of you is forced to move down a floor. Unambitious, yes, but also respectful about why everybody is playing a card-stacking game in the first place. This is about piling together an increasingly improbable animal house and having a silly time, not outmaneuvering your opponents.
Or at least it isn’t usually about outmaneuvering anybody. One of the central pleasures of Rhino Hero Super Battle is that there’s more room for devious behavior than before. Since the tower’s construction is wilder than that of its predecessor, it’s entirely possible to hem in an opponent’s character with walls, or place a spider monkey in a tricky spot to make it harder to extricate later, or position a floor so its center of balance is a single centimeter too far to the side to safely function as a foundation. It’s an OSHA inspector’s worst nightmare in there.
The final result is less kid-friendly, especially if you’re one of those parents who thinks “going easy” means you’ve failed to prepare your child for a life of resignation and sorrow. Some of the original game’s purity has been ruled out, and the winner is determined by whichever hero occupies the tallest spire at the moment of the tower’s collapse — which, again, is up to the dice more than your steady fingers.
The thing is, I’m not sure any of those complaints put much of a dent in my enthusiasm. Watching a tower take shape, complete with load-bearing wobbly bits and dangerous spurs and barely-Euclidean geometry, is a complete childlike joy. Then you get to watch the whole thing fall down. That’s even better.
I’ll put it another way. Sometimes there’s this expectation that a good game will be this perfect, well-rounded thing. It will have complex but legible rules, a broad but manageable set of options, and a sense of fairness and justice about letting everyone have a shot at victory. Probably also some manner of asymmetry. Maybe zombies or pirates, because like a persistent jungle fever those haven’t yet run their course.
Rhino Hero Super Battle is not that sort of game. It’s a balancing act where your chances at winning revolve inordinately around a handful of dice rolls. It’s a spectacle game that doesn’t provide miniatures or glossy artwork. It’s a competitive brawl that doesn’t want you to remember who won or lost. It’s as jerky or as pleasant as you make it.
And it’s entirely lovely. It looks great, feels wonderful, and nearly always concludes with a bang. May Rhino Hero fall to a million deaths.