The niche of party games is often a crowded one, with many titles competing for attention, and so it's not entirely surprising that Ranking has been largely overlooked. It's by two well known designers - Stefan Dorra (For Sale) and Ralf zur Linde (Finca). They have previously collaborated to produce Pergamon and Milestones, so their past credits should already lend this title some credibility. With Ranking, first released in 2010, they have put together a creative style party game.
Over the years the party game genre has been the subject of a lot of mockery from gamers, and much of it has been deserved. Party games are often synonymous with silliness, and the more embarrassing they make players behave, the more "fun" they're supposed to be. Yet not all this scorn is deserved, because not all party games are bad. The successful Apples to Apples came up with a very simple mechanism for scoring that worked and proved very popular. It made the players the judges, and this paved the way for even better party games relying on this mechanic and awarding points accordingly. Successful titles like Say Anything and Dixit took this system and used it as the basis for games with genuinely clever systems of judging and scoring, and where players must really use their wits, because they'll be penalized if they make it too too obvious which choice or contribution is theirs.
Ranking belongs to this "new" branch of party games, by using a similar scoring system, relying on the creativity and story-telling of the players to make the game shine. At the same time it also has elements of subtle bluffing, where it's in your interests to be careful not to make your intentions too obvious or too clear. If you enjoy the creative kind of story-telling, bluffing, and interaction this requires, then definitely take a closer look at Ranking.
Current question: "What does the youngest player find most boring?"
The game box comes in the standard Hans Im Gluck/Rio Grande Games style and size.
The reverse side gives us an idea of what we can expect:
"Are women more likely to buy gold coins or stylish shoes? Which does one see more frequently in a ditch: an anchor or a bicycle? In RANKING, players are required to answer such questions. In addition, all players work together to place a group of items in order of rank. In this process, each player tries to secretly or brazenly move his own item upward in rank. Thus, by bluff, good reason, and small lies players move their items upward and their opponents’ items downward in rank. Naturally, a player who proceeds too obviously, falls straight to the bottom!"
Here's a complete list of what you get inside the box:
● 1 scoring/ranking tower
● 46 question tiles & storage bag
● 120 picture tiles
● 5 player tiles
● 5 player scoring markers
● 20 player guessing markers
● 1 rule book
These 46 tiles are double sided and made of sturdy cardboard, and feature questions about various topics. A cloth bag for storing these tiles and ensuring a random draw is also provided.
Examples include: "Which is cheaper?", "Which do you find more often in a woman's purse?", "Which burns better?", "Which is more often cleaned?", or "Which would one take to a lonely desert island?"
The game comes with 120 picture tiles which feature a range of items that players will use to answer the specific question that is selected for a round.
Examples include: sunglasses, teddy-bear, suitcase, cannon, compass, train, ring, wallet, balloons, chessboard, life preserver, doll, and many more. The artwork is pleasantly cartoon-like, and the objects are all familiar and simple enough to give players the possibility of coming up with plausible and inventive explanations for choosing one above the other. Ranking these tiles by comparing them is what the game is all about.
This tower is also made of sturdy cardboard, and consists of seven levels numbered 0 through 6. It has a dual function in the game. Firstly, various items will be placed alongside it to measure the order in which they are ranked from top to bottom. Secondly, it functions as a score track, with the aim to be the first player to move your marker from the bottom to the top and then to the bottom again.
Ranking can cater for up to five players, and each player will get a player tile in their colour (red, yellow, green, blue, and purple), that will serve as a visible reminder of what colour they are.
These wooden arrows are used on the score-track, with one for each player in their colour.
During the game, you'll have opportunity to try to guess which picture items are your opponents, and will place guessing markers on these picture items to indicate that. A successful guess will make the opponent concerned lose a point, so these guess markers are a wonderful addition to the game, because they penalize players for being too obvious, and encourage them to bluff. There's four in each player colour (since you can't guess yourself).
The rulebook consists of a double sided three page spread, and is accompanied with images and illustrations to explain how the game works. The rules are very straight-forward and easy to learn and teach.
At the start of a game, the tower is assembled and placed in the middle of the table, with the picture tiles face down, and question tiles in the cloth bag. Each player gets a player tile in their colour, one guess marker in each of the other player's colour, and six random picture tiles. The scoring markers are placed at the bottom of the tower in the space marked 0.
Complete set-up for a four player game
Flow of Play
Each round consists of drawing a question tile, having players rearrange the ranking of two picture tiles and placing their guess markers, and finally scoring victory points.
1. Round set-up
At the start of the first round, the starting player draws a question tile randomly from the bag, and places the selected question at the top of the tower, reading it out loud. The artwork matches to make it look like a flag on top of the tower.
Each player now secretly chooses a picture tile from their hand of six tiles that they think best fits the question. These are placed face down together, tiles are added from the draw pile to make a total of 7 tiles, which are then shuffled and placed face-up alongside level 3 of the tower. In the example below, the question tile was: "What do women like to talk about on the phone?"
Current question: "What do women like to talk about on the phone?"
2. Ranking items
In turns, players will have opportunity to change the ranking of two picture tiles in the same row, moving one tile a level down and another tile a level up. When doing so, a player must also give a verbal justification for changing the ranking. For example, if the question tile is "Which does one prefer to take on a vacation?", then a player might move a passport upwards, saying that it is necessary because you are travelling abroad and going to an exotic location, and move a laptop downwards, saying that it reminds you of work which you want to forget about when you're on holidays, plus it is old and unreliable.
Current question: "Which does one prefer to take on a vacation?"
Place guess markers
After a player has changed the ranking of two tiles, other players may optionally place a "guess marker" corresponding to that player's colour on any picture tile they think is his. If you guess right, that player will lose a point for each guess marker of their colour on their tile at the end of the round, so you want to look and listen for clues that might uncover which picture tile belongs to your opponent. Once placed, you can't change them, and since you only have one such guess marker for each opponent in a round, you'll need to place them wisely!
Another player thinks that the red shoe is purple's picture tile
3. Round scoring
A round ends after a player's turn in which there is one picture tile on both the bottom level (0) and on top level (6) of the tower. Players now reveal which tiles were theirs, and (using their arrow tokens on the tower track) get points equal to the tower level that their picture tile corresponds too, minus any guess markers in their colour on their tile. The first player to move their scoring marker off the bottom of the scoring tower wins the game.
End of a round: "What do women like to talk about on the phone?"
Most games last around four rounds. To start a new round, the picture tiles beside the tower are discarded, players get back the guess tokens back and draw one new picture tile to bring their hand back up to six, and the next player in turn order chooses a new question tile to begin the next round.
Advancing scoring markers
What do I think?
Bluffing: When you first play Ranking, you might think that the obvious play is to move your own picture tile up. But you quickly discover that this is in fact a bad strategy - because when your opponents realize your plan, they'll move your tile down, or load it with their guess tokens to reduce your score. So you need to be far more subtle about how to increase the ranking of your picture tile. This leads to a very interesting game where players are trying to be inventive about how the tile order is rearranged, trying to enhance their own score without making it too obvious which tile is theirs. It's important to realize this, otherwise the game would quickly feel boring and pointless. The challenge is to find subtle ways to advance your position, and even to bluff and make your opponents think that a different tile is yours. There is strategy here - especially if you change your approach from round to round, and try to play in an unpredictable fashion; on some occasions you might even attempt to advance your own tile from the outset, precisely because it is so obvious that your opponents won't be expecting you to do that. I happen to love bluffing games, so these kind of possibilities are right up my alley. Even so, Ranking is still a light and casual game where your best plans won't always come off, and for that reason it is best enjoyed at a quick pace, rather than agonizing over all the individual choices.
Story-telling: Because the underlying game-play is about making subtle moves and can reward bluffing, players will need to find ways to justify what they're doing, and that's where the story-telling element comes in. The rules encourage players to come up with an explanation for why they are favouring one picture above another, and this justification is necessary to legitimatize their choices, as well as disguise the identity of their own picture tile. This works best when players are creative and inventive about their explanations, and with the right players at the table, this is where the game really shines. Ideally people are trying to give an explanation that sounds convincing, and yet hides their true goals. This requires imagination and humour, and when played in the right spirit and with the right group, it can create a lot of laughs. In one group we had one player trying desperately to persuade the group that lipstick should be ranked as the most suitable gift for a teenage babysitter, even for males, while another player made a convincing speech as to why a teddy-bear was the least likely item to be cleaned, because a sentimental childhood connection to a particularly beloved teddy wouldn't forbid you from letting it be washed. Some hilarious explanations are bound to emerge, and players sometimes need to resort to ridiculous reasons for advancing their cause, yet while at the same time trying to make a case where it's not too obvious what tile is theirs. Those not inclined towards Dixit style creativity and story-telling will likely not find this appealing, while those who thrive on this will love it here.
Mechanics vs theme: One of the problems with Ranking is over time you'll start to realize that optimal play (i.e. to get points for yourself and to minimize your opponents' points) effectively requires you to play counter to the theme. What you're doing on your turn is supposedly choosing one picture tile above another and suggesting it is a more suitable item for the current question. However because it is likely that the most suitable items are ones played by other players, in an effort to reduce their score it makes more sense to rank these picture tiles down, and rank higher the picture tiles that have very little to do with the current question category. If you can rank up a random picture tile that was added to the pool of current items from the draw stack, this will hurt your opponents; and thus it makes sense to do that, even though it completely goes against what the game is supposed to be about. You probably won't notice this immediately, but when you play the game a couple of times and approach it with a gamer mindset of trying to get the most points for yourself and to minimize the points of your opponents, then this is the kind of optimal play you'll find yourself doing, even though it really is counter to the game's theme. As a result, you can end up with strange situations where picture tiles that actually fit best with the current question are ranked low, while the least suitable picture tiles are ranked high. Taking this even further, you could even argue that for this reason there's no game-related incentive for players to pick a picture tile that fits the question, and that your chances of success will be greater if your opponents think your picture tile was a random one from the draw stack. As you can see, there definitely are layers of strategy to uncover, much of which only becomes apparent on your second or third game. The only problem is that optimal strategic play that gets you the most points runs counter to the theme, because it's usually in your best interests not to rank picture tiles in an order that best suits the question. Does this matter? To some people it won't, but it does take the shine off the "ranking" theme and the concept that lies at the heart of the game.
More squeaky mechanics: One aspect of the mechanics that I do like are the guess markers; they are essential to the game, because they give players an extra incentive for not making it too obvious which picture tile is theirs. In reality, however, it's usually not in the players' interests to place these too early, but to wait until the final stages of a round before placing them, when they have more information to work with. But there are also some minor issues with the mechanics that could prove frustrating for some. Firstly, one potential weakness is how the early and late part of a round play out. If your item gets downranked early in a round, you can't really afford to ignore it, but reacting by ranking it higher it will often make it too obvious that it's yours, because then it will attract guess tokens from your opponents. Similarly if you're the player who closes out a round, it's in everyone's interests to place any of your remaining guess tokens, meaning that there can be a slight disadvantage in triggering the round end. None of these squeaky mechanics are major issues, but you may find them a little annoying at times.
Justifying ranking: Having players verbally justify their rankings is the most fun part of the game, but you will find people suggesting that this serves no game-related purpose. Some of the people we played Ranking with suggested that it was irrelevant, so to test this theory out, we tried playing an entire game with players just changing the rankings and offering no justification for doing so, i.e. no talking! This forced players to give attention to which picture tiles were being moved as the only evidence available for trying to figure out which item belonged to which player, and the game still did work when played in this fashion. However, one result of this was that the question became entirely irrelevant to the game; all that mattered were the picture tiles themselves and how they were being moved. The game also lost some shine by lacking the fun, discussion, and banter that player justifications create. So removing the verbal justifications for changing rankings does have a impact on the gameplay; furthermore the justifications that players offer for their choices do give small clues about which picture tiles might be theirs. As such I wouldn't agree with the viewpoint that this aspect of the game is entirely pasted on, and it's certainly necessary in order to give the question tiles a meaningful function in the game, and to add atmosphere to the game. However there will be times where this verbal banter does become entirely irrelevant, e.g. at the end of a round where the last two items are being moved and nobody has any more guess tokens anyway, because at that point the justification won't make any difference to the scoring outcome of that round. So it does play a role, and is essential, but perhaps not quite as much as one might first think.
Group dependent: The verbal banter and discussion part of the game is really what makes Ranking so much fun. However in reality this also means that it isn't going to work with every group. The older children I've played this with seemed to really enjoy the game, but as an adult playing with them I missed the level of interaction and sharper wit and banter that I could expect from a group of adults. The kids had a great time playing with both adults and with their peers, but playing with them wasn't as fun for me; on the other hand playing with a group of similarly minded adults proved to be a blast! This doesn't mean Ranking is a bad game, but it does mean that you'll have to select carefully who you'll play it with, and you'll need to come into the game with the right approach. People looking to just have a fun time with a light and casual game are going to be more likely to enjoy it, whereas folks approaching it with a more serious gamer's mindset and trying to find the optimal way to eek out points could find themselves disappointed.
Quick & light: The concerns expressed above aren't fatal to the game, although for some groups they might be. But certainly they do mean that the game is most likely to succeed when it is played rapidly and quickly. Most games are over in only four rounds, and for best results should be played fairly smartly and speedily, and players shouldn't linger too long on their turn. Ranking is most likely to be a success when played quickly with a casual approach, and where players are willing to add some bluff and bluster to their explanations.
Replayability: One thing in the game's favour is the sheer variety of cards and questions. There's almost 100 different questions, and each game you'll be using about four of these. Further, there's a massive 120 picture tiles, of which only seven are in play each round, so in most games you'll only see 30 of these in play. Even if you did come across the same question in a future game, it's almost certain to have a different mix of picture tiles with it, making for a whole different set of decisions, rankings, and amusing justifications. Additionally, the comparisons that happen will also depend on the players and their personalities, as well as which picture tile happens to be the one they want to rise highest. All this means that the verbal banter and justifications that emerge throughout a round will be completely different from game to game. In theory, this should lead to a high replayability, but in practice the novelty of the concept may wear a little thin after repeated plays. The questions and pictures are most fun when you see them the first time around, as is the concept of the game, but over time some of the initial charm may wear off slightly, especially because of the above-mentioned tension between theme and mechanics. During your first game, you'll likely find yourself quite enchanted by the game and have a lot of fun with it, but by the end of your second game some of the weaknesses with the mechanics may begin to become obvious, and you'll start to realize that if you're out to score points then there's little incentive to rank the tiles in a meaningful way that best fits the question, and even that the incentive for giving good justifications can sometimes be lacking, so over time you can expect enthusiasm to wane. Despite this, Ranking is a good choice to introduce to people who have never played it before, because they will likely have a great time on their first couple of outings with it. If you regularly have opportunity to play games with different sets of people, and are looking for a lighter party style game, this could prove ideal. Ranking might not be the kind of game you can expect to play over and over with the same group, but could well get some extended mileage when being introduced to groups on a regular basis. My children have enjoyed playing it several already with their friends, and I've probably played it over half a dozen times myself, and would be happy to play it again, although I'd be more likely to pull it out again with adults who have never played it before.
Accessibility: One positive element about Ranking is how easy it is to teach. This makes it ideally suited for introducing to non-gamers, and to first-timers, which also represent the kind of people that the game is most likely to succeed with. You can explain the game in just a couple of minutes, and despite the suggested age of 13+ on the box, even older children can enjoy it (and in my experience, they were very eager to play once they saw how the game worked!) We introduced the game to a non-gaming family, and they had a great time, and were eager to find out more about the game and where to get it. So Ranking is the kind of game that can have quite a broad reach.
Components: A final note on the components - they're more than adequate. The box insert is attractive and functional; the images on the picture tiles are straight forward, clear, and appropriately cartoon-like; the tiles themselves are sturdy and durable; the cloth bag is a nice inclusion; and the wooden bits are good quality. There's some great inside jokes in the artwork with clever references to the publisher and some of their other games. A good job all round!
Current question: "Which is more important to men?"
What do others think?
One of the main criticisms this game has received is that the "justify your choice" element doesn't mean anything. Some critics suggest that this element is simply pasted onto the game, doesn't actually function, and isn't relevant to the game itself. Maybe this is somewhat group dependent, but for us this wasn't the case at all; in fact removing this element from the game creates bigger issues. The problem with eliminating the verbal justifications entirely from the game is that it gives players even less information to work with, makes the question itself meaningless, and removes a significant amount of fun. If you make a convincing justification for your choice, you can potentially disguise your true motives in moving a particular picture tile up or down, and your opponents might be drawn to focus on some other aspect of your play other than the one which was your plan.
Similarly, this element of the game can give subtle verbal clues as to which picture tile belongs to your opponent, and searching for such clues is part of the fun of most bluffing games. It's true that the justifications offered by players aren't decisive in figuring out which picture tiles are theirs (and in some instances the justifications may prove irrelevant for deduction), and that which picture tiles your opponents are moving will give information that is at least as important, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to remove the "justify your choice" element altogether. Ranking is intended to stimulate bluffing and creative banter, and this is just part of the game. I can appreciate though that with the right group this might just not work, and gamers approaching Ranking too seriously might not find this appealing.
One critic pointed out that there's no incentive to choose a tile that best matches the topic. This is a criticism that does have merit, and is one that I've already discussed in the section about theme versus mechanics. To try to score points, you're forced to move tiles that are not the obviously best choice for the topic, all the while creating a convincing story for doing so, while at the same time not making it obvious which choice is yours. Optimal play does run somewhat counter to the theme, but it could also be argued that this forces players to be even more creative in coming up with humorous explanations that justify their choices, and even if the final rankings are less than intuitive, it's the fun of the journey that Ranking is setting out to create, rather than a realistic ranking.
Fortunately there's also quite a few folks who were pleasantly surprised by Ranking, and even enjoyed it more than they expected. Some examples:
"Not a typical Hans im Glück game, yet one of the best party games I've ever played." - Peter Niem
"Much better than Apples to Apples and a nice twist on something like Dixit." - Adam Hibbard
"Ranking is likely the best filler game I’ve ever played. It provides a great time and boisterous laughter. It expertly blends joking around the table with enough bluffing and deduction to keep you stimulated and interested in the game." - GeekInsight
"Could be considered a version of the Dixit, personally would prefer to play this rather than Dixit. You have the bluff part to have more fun..." - Roberto Bueno
" I was pleasantly surprised by this game. It really captures the basic essence of bluffing games." - Jason Lott
"A very entertaining variant of Apples to Apples that can be hilarious if the right questions come up with the right crowd!" - Rick Baptist
"Strangely under-rated game. We found this went down really well." - Peter Cox
"This is more fun than I thought it would be. It is an "Apples to Apples' style game, but there is a bit more to it." - Ken Spontelli
"I love this game. It's such a simple concept but, it really makes for some great conversation. We were laughing and bluffing and goofing off the whole time we played. While the player is somewhat limited to what they're able to play, it's still a lot of fun. Highly recommended for friends as an enjoyable game." - Joseph Peterson
"I usually suck at bluffing games, and this was no different, but it was still a lot of fun as accusations flew back and forth about whose item was the telescope, and whose was the suit of armor, and how in the world is a construction crane a better token of one's love than a pretzel?" - Dave Wilson
"Kinda reminds me of Dixit, but with more strategy and less creativity. Not bad for a half-hour filler." - Morganza
"This one is highly recommended by anyone who played the prototype." - GasDrivenHolothurian
"A game that got very high praise from the cliquenabend.de crew who declared it as a insiders tip. - Elektro
"It won't blow the socks off of any gamers, but I liked the ranking mechanism. There was a lil strategy, some bluffing, and laughs." - R.J. Adams
So is Ranking for you? Ranking is certainly a very interesting game, and if it has a weakness, it would be that with a more reserved or quiet group it could quickly become an exercise in unexciting tile shifting that is devoid of fun. It also shouldn't be approached too seriously, and gamers should be forewarned to approach it without a cold and calculating mindset, but take it on as a light and casual and quick game. With outspoken and extrovert players who are prepared to embrace this world, and to take on the challenge of coming up with humorous and semi-serious explanations as to why one thing might be better than another, Ranking can prove to be a success. You'll need to carefully plan the advance of your own picture tile while plotting the regress of your opponents' tiles, hoping to blind your opponents with your bluff and verbal bluster, while at the same time trying to read them for subtle clues that might give away which picture tiles belong to them. As players come up with crazy justifications for their comparisons, expect some laughs and fun, especially with new groups. When played light-heartedly and with the right audience, Ranking can be a good choice for a party game.
Current question: "Which is more important to men?"
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Fri Jun 6, 2014 2:12 am (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Tue Mar 4, 2014 7:54 am
Having players verbally justify their rankings is the most fun part of the game, but you will find people suggesting that this serves no game-related purpose. Some of the people we played Ranking with suggested that it was irrelevant, so to test this theory out, we tried playing an entire game with players just changing the rankings and offering no justification for doing so, i.e. no talking! This forced players to give attention to which picture tiles were being moved as the only evidence available for trying to figure out which item belonged to which player, and the game still did work when played in this fashion
I agree on both of the initial counts; justifying the ranks is the fun part, and it serves no game-related purpose at all. Whether you played without giving reasons or not is irrelevant; which picture tiles are being moved IS the only evidence for trying to figure things out. Whatever anyone says their justification for moving a tile is, it's a lie. They aren't moving the piano because guys like pianos more than shoes, they are moving the piano because either A) it gives them more points, B) it gives someone else less points or C) they're bluffing people to confuse them. Always.
Whatever justification you give is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if you say "There are lots of men famous for playing the piano and very few famous for wearing shoes" or "bicycle tires actualize radishes greenly". They are both BS, and everyone knows they are BS. After a bit of play we had most of the players simply and honestly as their justification saying "I moved that because I think in the end it will help me win".
A good game trying to use the ranking system would have some mechanic to actually award at least some players for getting the items into an agreed on "best" order. Games like Say Anything, for example, have scoring methods that actually encourage players to try to find the "best" answer.
- Last edited Tue Mar 4, 2014 4:06 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Mar 4, 2014 4:06 pm
Thanks for the review. It put a game on my "shouldbuyifagoodopportunitycomesby"-list.
"Your results are back: it's negative"......um, is that a bad thing?
Thanks for the review. It put a game on my "shouldbuyifagoodopportunitycomesby"-list.
My thoughts exactly. My family loves party games, and this one (which I hadn't heard of until your review) seems to be up their ally. Thanks again for the review!