The dexterity game is probably one of the most popular board game genres especially for childrens and family games. Probably the most popular sub-genre of dexterity games is what I would call the “stacking” genre. The basic premise of this genre is to try and add your objects to a stack without knocking over anything in the process. Games like Jenga are probably the most popular, but there have been many different games created for this genre over the years. We have actually taken a look at quite a few of them here on Geeky Hobbies. While I don’t hate stacking games, I wouldn’t say that it is one of my favorite genres mostly because almost all of the games are pretty much the same. I was intrigued by Riff Raff though as the component quality is hard not to notice, and the game had some interesting additions for the genre. Riff Raff is arguably the best and most difficult stacking game that I have ever played, but it does suffer from many of the same issues as most games from the genre.
How to Play Riff Raff
- Assemble the ship.
- Each player takes all of the cards of one color.
- All of the players will also take one set of objects and will place them in front of themselves where all of the players can see them. In two player games each player will take two sets of objects.
- The oldest player will be the captain for the first round.
To begin each round all of the players will look through their cards to find a card to play for the round. After a player has chosen a card they will place it face down on the table. Once everyone has chosen a card, the players will reveal their chosen cards at the same time.
The player that played the highest numbered card will be the captain for the current round. If two players play the same number, the captain will determine which of the tied players will play first.
Placing Objects on the Ship
Starting with the player who played the highest numbered card and proceeding to the next highest card, all of the players will take their turn adding one of their objects to the ship.
On your turn you will choose one of your current objects that you would like to place on the ship. You can choose any object. You will try to place it on the space on the ship corresponding to the number on the card you played. If you played a card between five and ten and there is at least one piece already on that space before anyone places objects this turn, you can choose to place two of your objects instead of one. Before you start your turn though you must tell the other players if you are going to load one or two pieces.
When placing objects onto the ship you can lay them down, hang them, or place them any other way as long as they are placed in the area of the ship you chose. You can use one or both of your hands to place the object. The object may extend past the section you choose, but it cannot extend into another section. When placing a piece you cannot physically touch a piece already on the ship, but you can use your current object to push an object that has already been placed.
If any objects begin to fall off the ship as you are placing your object, you should try to catch them. Any objects that you catch will be removed from the game. Any objects that fall off the ship that you don’t catch are added to the objects that you still have to place on the ship.
After all of the players have taken their turn, all of the cards played in the current round will remain where they were played as the cards can only be played once per game. Only one previously played card will be visible at a time though so each round you should play your card so it covers up the previously played cards. The next round is then played.
End of Game
The game can end in one of two ways.
If someone is able to place their last object onto the ship without knocking off any other objects, that they have to add to their collection of objects to play, they will immediately win the game.
Otherwise the game will end after ten rounds (all of the players have played all of their cards). In this case the players will count up the number of objects that they weren’t able to play. The player with the least objects remaining will win the game. If there is a tie, the tied players share the victory.
In the two player game the players will play through all ten cards and then take them back into their hand. If no one has won after 20 rounds, the player with the least objects remaining wins the game.
My Thoughts on Riff Raff
At the most basic level Riff Raff is very similar to your typical stacking game. Instead of stacking objects on top of one another, you are tasked with stacking them on a ship that towers above the waves. Players need to choose an object from their supply to add to the ship, and will then need to carefully place it in order to prevent the ship from tipping and knocking off objects. The objective is to try and get rid of all of your objects before the other players.
While Riff Raff actually has some intriguing ideas that I will get to shortly, it still shares a lot in common with your typical stacking game. Thus your opinion of the game will likely depend on your opinion of the genre. If you have never really cared about the premise behind stacking games, I don’t see that changing with Riff Raff. Riff Raff is arguably the best stacking game that I have ever played, but the basic gameplay is still pretty similar to every other game from the genre. Those that enjoy stacking games though should read on as Riff Raff has a really interesting take on the genre.
Lets begin with the stacking element itself. Instead of stacking objects on top of each other, you will be placing them on different areas of the ship. The assembly of the ship is a multi-stage process which leads to a ship that is surprisingly tall. Below the water’s surface there is a large weighted metal ball and a number of different focal points that the ship rotates around. This creates a really interesting feeling to the ship as it does a good job rocking back and forth like a real ship would naturally do. When you add a new piece to the ship or even slightly touch it, it will adjust to what you do. It really feels like you are placing objects on a ship that it rocking back and forth in a storm. This feels a lot more dynamic than just staking pieces on top of one another.
This also illustrates one of Riff Raff’s greatest strengths. The game’s component quality is fantastic. Outside of the water base platform all of the pieces are made out of thick pieces of wood. This makes them really durable and just a high quality overall. The assembly takes a little time, but it is hard to not marvel at the ship when it is fully assembled. This is honestly the most visually impressive stacking game that I have probably ever played. I honestly only had two complaints about the components. The first is that the cardboard pieces that hold the bottom of the ship in place can become damaged after a while. The other problem is that the game was pretty expensive to start with which has lead to the game becoming kind of rare and expensive to this day.
How the ship rocks back and forth is really impressive. It ultimately leads to the game becoming quite difficult though. The game’s rules are actually quite simple where you can teach it to new players within just a couple of minutes. The difficulty comes from the fact that the ship will react to any little pressure you apply to it. Each piece you place on the ship will alter the orientation of the ship. Thus you need to be really careful when placing pieces as it is really easy to knock off pieces. Riff Raff honestly might be the most challenging dexterity game that I have ever played. Unless you get lucky and have someone knock off pieces right before your turn, the odds of you knocking off at least one piece from the ship is actually quite high.
I honestly don’t know if I see this as a positive or a negative. On the negative side the game is going to be quite difficult for younger children and adults that don’t have the steadiest hands. If you usually struggle at these type of games, you will likely really struggle playing Riff Raff. If you aren’t careful when you place your pieces you will likely knock off a few objects from the ship. On the positive side though the game is challenging to the point where it might really appeal to fans of this genre that want a real challenge. While I think the game is a little too challenging at times, I thought this brought an interesting element to the game.
This is brings me to one of the new mechanics that Riff Raff adds to the stacking genre. In most stacking games you are stuck with all of the objects that you knock off the stack. That is not the case in Riff Raff. In fact any piece that you can catch after it falls off the ship will be removed from the game. Thus you can recover from a poor placement if you have a good enough reaction time to catch the objects that fall off. In fact there will be times in the game where it is pretty obvious that you won’t be able to place an object without knocking off at least one object. In these cases you should prepare to catch objects as soon as you place a new object on the ship.
I had mixed feelings about this mechanic. On the positive side it helps when you get stuck in those situations where you are basically forced into making a play that will knock pieces off the ship. This reduces a decent amount of the luck in the game as you can counter other players that actively try to mess with your placement options. This also adds a sort of reaction time element to the game instead of having it rely entirely on how steady your hands are. The problem that I have with it is that it sometimes cheapens the whole experience. You can struggle with placing pieces and be in the same position as a player that does a better job just because you were able to catch all of the pieces that fall off. In fact a player could exploit this mechanic to purposely knock off objects that they know they can catch as it doesn’t hurt them in any way. To enjoy the game to its fullest you really can’t play it with one of these types of players that would exploit the rule to increase their odds of winning the game.
The other main mechanic that Riff Raff adds to your traditional stacking game are the cards. On the surface the cards are pretty basic, but they actually add a pretty interesting element to the game. Unlike a normal stacking game you can’t place objects wherever you want. All of the players choose where they will place their pieces and reveal at the same time to lock players into specific locations. Everyone has the same cards ranging from low numbers that are quite easy to place as they are at the base of the ship to the high numbers that will be placed on the masts. There are two things that you need to consider when choosing a card. You will likely have to eventually use all of your cards so you need to decide when you want to play the riskier and safer cards. The higher numbers are much harder to place as objects are much more likely to slide off the masts and the ship will tilt more. Players need to decide whether to play these cards early in order to get rid of them, or wait to play them and hope for an opening when the ship is more stable. The card you play also determines turn order so you may want to play a higher card just so you are able to play before the other players.
While this mechanic doesn’t drastically change the game’s main gameplay, I thought it was a really nice addition to the game. These cards actually add a decent amount of strategy to the stacking genre that rarely has any. You need to put thought into what cards you decide to play. You don’t want to be stuck having to play to a section of the boat that is already tilting towards the water. When you play a card you can’t play it again for the rest of the round as well so you want to always have options remaining for your turn. The strategy is far from deep in Riff Raff, but the game has surprisingly more than you would typically expect from this type of game.
I am not the biggest fan of stacking games in general as I feel they normally don’t do much to distinguish themselves from other games from the genre. Riff Raff actually does add some interesting new mechanics to the genre though. This is one of the reasons that I felt it was one of the best stacking games that I have ever played. The main problem that I had with the game is that at its core it is still a stacking game. While I had fun with the game, it still has many of the same issues found in most games from the genre. The game is fun, but it is not something that I would play for long stretches of time. I would only play the game every so often and then come back to it another day. If you are a big fan of stacking games I can see playing the game regularly, but most other people will likely only play the game every so often.
Should You Buy Riff Raff?
Riff Raff is not a perfect game, but it honestly is probably the best stacking game that I have ever played. I attribute this to a couple factors. First the component quality is fantastic. They look great and actually do a good job simulating a ship rocking back and forth. This does make the game kind of challenging as any object placed on the ship or any slight touch will have an impact on the ship’s balance. You need to be careful when placing objects or you likely will knock some of them off. The game does have an interesting mechanic where you don’t have to keep any objects that you catch which is interesting if not vulnerable to being abused. The game additionally adds a card mechanic where players choose cards to determine turn order as well as where they will place pieces. This actually adds a decent amount of strategy to a genre that rarely has any. At the end of the day though it is still a stacking game and is not something that I would play for long stretches of time.
My recommendation for Riff Raff depends on your opinion of stacking games and cost. If you don’t really care for stacking games, I don’t see the game being for you. Those that enjoy stacking games or at least don’t mind them should enjoy the game. The question then becomes how much cost matters to you as the game can be kind of expensive. Ultimately fans of the genre will likely really enjoy Riff Raff and should consider picking it up.