Imagine with me, if you will, a game about gnomes wrestling atop a redcap mushroom, in which the gnomes are discs that push each other across said mushroom. Like a dexterity game, but without any dexterity. Not flicking, just… lightly nudging. Not even shoving. Like the world’s lowest-contact contact sport.
That’s the pitch for Redcap Ruckus. Apparently somebody at WizKids heard it and exclaimed, “I dreamed of this exact moment! Sign this contract right now, before I think better of this decision.”
Redcap Ruckus is the sort of game that worms its way onto your table. For instance, when you have a policy to play a game three times before you review it.
The first time we played, there were three of us. Two sat at cross-angles to the third player, which normally isn’t the sort of detail that matters enough to be written down, but in this case proved pivotal. The goal is to push your discs onto the redcap one at a time, hopefully chaining together to push rival gnomes and eventually the GREAT CRYSTAL off onto the table. It turns out that this is an easy task when you’re going first and your opponents are seated at a cross-angle to you. Onto the redcap went the first gnome from each player, barely tickling the edges of the play-space. Then the second gnomes. When it came time for the third, our first player selected her Vaulter Gnome, which is pushed onto the redcap and then is accompanied by three sticks that can push it even farther. One stick, two sticks, three sticks — and the GREAT CRYSTAL toppled from the redcap, handing our first player the victory before any gnomes had come into contact with each other. Like the first goal in a round of some sport, scored before the other team had exited the locker room.
One play down.
Redcap Ruckus isn’t exactly overburdened with rules. You push a gnome onto the redcap, careful to slide it flush with the border, no more and no less. Sometimes gnomes do special things. Pushed off the raised platform and onto the table, each gnome is worth some amount of points. Even a negative point if you happen to perturb a grumpy gnome from the board. Simple. Except for the part where now we had an optimal seating order, because the first player must have somebody seated across from them or the whole thing fails to function.
Our second play sought to remedy this problem by using four players. Nobody won on their third gnome. The melee lasted significantly longer, a slippery Greek wrestling match as gnomes gradually ground against one another, the discs near the middle deadlocked by friction alone while the gnomes near the edges rotated under the pressure and slipped from the playing surface. Somebody called it a “gnome orgy,” which encapsulated the experience neatly: awkward, full of motion but little resolution, and far too long for our comfort.
The GREAT CRYSTAL did not fall. The ordeal lasted until everybody had played their entire hand of gnomes. This time, the victor was not clear. We went through the tabulations — one point for a fighter or vaulter gnome, zero for a twin but six if both twins of the same team were in your captured pool, five for a champion, minus five for your own champion, minus one for a grump of any color. We’d played point salad Eurogames with simpler arithmetic, and certainly with better visibility. “Which one is a grump?” somebody asked. Another wondered aloud why this game, supposedly for kids, made us refer to the score chart in the rulebook instead of printing the point values directly on the discs. Is it because somebody was operating under the assumption that every kid loves referring back to the rulebook?
“Wait,” my wife said. “Kids! Let’s try it with a kid!”
Our seven-year-old approached Redcap Ruckus with a childlike enthusiasm that soon cooled into the resolve of a child who knows she’ll earn a trip to the gelato shop if she just gets through the experience, not unlike a trip to the dentist. When at last the GREAT CRYSTAL fell, she asked if we could play another game.
“This one again?” my wife asked.
My daughter answered by fleeing to her room and returning with our tattered copy of Forbidden Bridge.
A complimentary copy was provided.