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Does it stack up? – Rhino Hero: Super Battle Review

Dexterity games can be really hit or miss, sometimes literally.  They tend to need the right crowd, and it seems as if the sweet spot for their success can be much narrower than for other types of game, possibly because they are more usually physical than cerebral.  Get the combination right, though, and these games can be rip-roaring successes, especially with a bunch of children or childish adults crowded around the table.  After all, there’s a reason that even serious gamers still have a copy of Jenga at the back of the cupboard, even if it’s not – you know – officially part of the collection, and when those stars align the sight of a stack of blocks succumbing to gravity is deeply satisfying.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

Who could possibly be behind that mask???

Dexterity games?  Can be hit or miss!

However, there are many times when dexterity games come up short or have some fundamental flaw.  Jenga, for instance, produces a loser but no real winner, while even the thought of something as lovely and involving as Flick ‘Em Up brings me out in a cold sweat as I picture its small discs flying under the dishwasher, never to be seen again.  Every now and again I look at something like PitchCar or the lifelong addiction/huge waste of money (either one or the other, unlikely to be in between) that is Crokinole, but then I shrug my shoulders and walk away.

But Rhino Hero was different.  Firstly, it is the GDP of a small country cheaper than something like Crokinole, so you can afford to make a mistake.  Secondly, it can be explained in about two seconds – it’s Uno meets Jenga, but better than either of those.  And thirdly, it has a superhero rhinocerous!  I mean, really, how come nobody thought of that before?  So simple, so obvious!  So you play your cards, build the tower and up goes Rhino Hero until it all comes tumbling down and, after all the laughing has stopped and if you remember, you can even work out who the winner was if you like, even though that seems a little superfluous to requirements.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

Definitely bigger, but is it better?

As a game Rhino Hero is wafer thin, but as entertainment it is right up there, and I have used it more than once to hook people into the taste of what the gaming hobby might have to offer.  We took it to some staunchly non-gaming friends, hooked them and their children into the Rhinoverse, sent them a copy as a present and they then took it to some of their staunchly non-gaming friends, and so on…

I need a hero!  But four of them..?

But Rhino Hero has its rough edges.  It is really very simple indeed, which is fair enough as it is marketed as a children’s game after all, but it is also pretty much useless as a head to head game, when the fun falls out of it like a collapsing tower overburdened by a rhinocerous in a mask.  If anything, it could just do with a little more meat on the bones, something to turn it from good-in-the-right-circumstances to good-in-any-circumstances.  Maybe Rhino Hero could do with some help, and maybe that help could come from other unlikely superheroes, like Big E, Giraffe Boy and Batguin, and maybe that help could arrive in a big box with Rhino Hero: Super Battle emblazoned in the front.  Cue super and heroic theme music!

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

A delivery of paperclips from Amazon? Or Rhino Hero: Super Battle?

I say that Rhino Hero: Super Battle arrives in a big box, but the truth of the matter is that it arrives in a massively and stupidly oversized box that is mostly air, so the portability that was such a strong point of Rhino Hero is straight out of the window here.  The box is so large that you could easily store the original game in there with all the new stuff and still have space for an actual rhinocerous to sleep inside it.  Maybe.  For the life of me I cannot quite imagine the thought process that went into it, but if the likes of Splendor and pretty much anything by Fantasy Flight make you seethe then Rhino Hero: Super Battle will not do anything good for your blood pressure.

Rattling around in that box are the components – some chunky dice, various super heroes, although sadly illustrated only on a single side of their pieces, walls, floors and spider monkeys.  Spider monkeys!  I feel better already!  The walls are also – wait for it – in two sizes in Rhino Hero: Super Battle, which is one more size than in the original game, so there’s clearly been some kind of development going on in terms of how the game plays, meaning it is time to take a look at the rules.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

Cheeky monkey – but Batguin is watching him!

Easy to learn!  Not without its floors!

Rhino Hero: Super Battle is still supposedly a children’s game, so the rules are clear and straightforward and in multiple languages too, although players who love complex Euros are going to find some ambiguities that should not really be there.  Still, again, this is not meant to be compared with those, so we will turn a blind eye and be a little indulgent on that front.  In reality the game is simply understood, the card play of the original Rhino Hero being replaced here by floor play.  The base of the structure is provided by three large and solid tiles with dots pictured on them, and these dots mark where the first walls will be placed.  Happily these tiles are double sided and with more dots on one side than the other, so the game can be set up for more stability (ten dots) or more terror (five dots) and anywhere in between, a good touch.

Players receive three floors each, and another three form a central pool, while the leftover ones become a face down draw pile on the table.  In turn each player then chooses to place a floor, but it must be supported by the walls illustrated on it and sometimes it will attract the attentions of a spider monkey as well.  There are some restrictions on placement of the floors, so they must be horizontal and cannot rely on other floors for support, but it is all simple and easy to grasp.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

The four heroes line up.

Time for battle?  You’ve got to roll with it!

If the structure is still standing after the new floor has been placed, then the fighting starts, and this, sad to say, is where Rhino Hero: Super Battle falls down, metaphorically at least.  The active player rolls the large powder blue die and the result determines whether their hero moves up or down the structure.  If, after moving, another hero is on the same level then a battle (presumably a super battle) takes place, the new arrival rolling one die, the incumbent another, with the result tipped in favour of the attacker.  The loser of the battle has to move down a level, where another fight might take place, and so on.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

Two heroes on the same level mean a battle.

Of course, Rhino Hero: Super Battle is all about staying upright, and if the active player causes the structure to collapse then the game is over and the player whose superhero was at the top of the building is the winner.  Luckily there is a token to represent this, just in case people conveniently forget who was at the top of the tree when it all comes tumbling down.

What’s the problem?  I just can’t win!

But, but, but.  There is a big problem with Rhino Hero: Super Battle, the rhinocerous in the room, at least if you are taking the game even remotely seriously, and the problem is this – the placement of each hero and outcome of any resultant battle is totally at the mercy of the dice, and thus is bad enough a feature to mean that, theoretically, somebody could play this game for the rest of their life and never be in a position to win it.  Admittedly, if the owner of the topmost hero causes the tower to collapse then all the other players share the victory (hardly satisfactory), but even then being in a position to win is totally outside a player’s control.  You can certainly lose this game on purpose, but you could never win it on purpose.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

Meaty dice, but they highlight this game’s weak spot.

This is something that would be totally unforgiveable in any other modern boardgame, and the only reason Rhino Hero: Super Battle can get away with it is because it is a game aimed at children and that winning is probably secondary to having fun, but it makes the experience terribly imbalanced.  Even more bizarrely considering that HABA have included four heroes in the box (and you could legitimately play with five if you throw in the components from the original game) Rhino Hero: Super Battle is actually at its best with two players, when the fact that my giraffe is above your penguin becomes irrelevant, but instead it is all about not knocking everything down and losing the game.  I don’t have too much of a problem with this as I tend to play head to head and Rhino Hero was pretty poor with two.

Who is it for?  I’m not sure!

In fairness, if you get a group of slightly tipsy adults together to play this then they probably will not mind, but I must admit to being mystified about who exactly this game might be for, especially as the battle rules are  needlessly fiddly and convoluted for young players.  Is it for young people or their parents?  Is it for two players or a group or five?  And does any of this matter is the game is fun to play?

The first half of each turn, the stacking and the floors and the monkeys, works like a charm, and the strange and wonderful erections that result (stop that!) are a delight to behold, especially with the little pictorial touches that characterised the original game – pigs sliding down banisters, a duck listening (presumably) to heavy metal, that kind of thing.  It will bring a smile to even the most jaded gamer’s face.  The second half of each turn is more troublesome and difficult to justify.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

Lovely details.

Does it stand up?  Only just!

So Rhino Hero: Super Battle is a qualified success, even if it outpunches its progenitor in almost every way, and its positives are many.  It is bold and colourful, the components are impressive, and the game in progress looks fantastic, its weird and wonderful constructions so much more fun than the rather austere tower of the original.  The spider monkeys are also a wonderful touch even if they do not change the game very much but simply hang around looking naughty.  The negatives also need listing, though, from the unnecessarily oversized box to the distinctly strange and fundamentally random battle process to the fact that, weirdly, this only works properly as a two player game.

Rhino Hero Super Battle Board Game

Whatever its faults, it looks great.

There is something that Rhino Hero: Super Battle definitely shares with Rhino Hero, and that is its need for the right crowd and occasion.  Get four fun-minded players together for a blast of the original and you are pretty much guaranteed a good time, but do the same for the sequel and you will most likely have a pile of confused and underwhelmed gamers by the end, along with your components.  On the other hand, couples who found the original as insubstantial as a debtor’s promises will probably find that their eyes light up in the middle of the first game.

For these reasons, therefore, Rhino Hero: Super Battle gets a 7 out of 10 from me as a game.  It is not terrible but do think long and hard about buying this because it may well be that your enjoyment of it is inversely proportional to your enjoyment of Rhino Hero.  If this does turn out to be right for you then it will probably hit your target dead centre, and I’ll be keeping my copy, but just like those superhero animals in pants you might wonder whether all that dressing up was necessary.

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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.

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