David G. Cox Esq.
Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
How Ruck!/Heave Ho!
The Game of Scottish Highland Tug O’ War
For Two Players
Designed by Richard Borg
Published by Kosmos (2002)
Imagine the scene, a sultry summer day by the shores of Loch Ness. The sky is blue, the sun is shining and it’s a warm 12 degrees celcius (for those of you in countries still using Fahrenheit, that is what the British would describe as “rather warm” but we in Australia would describe as “bloody cold). The wind is blowing gently and hitting you in the face like a truck load of bricks.
Crowds abound and cheering fills the air. Today is the day the team from Glenfiddich pulls against the team from Bowmores. It is what we would call a Tug o’ War.
Adding to the fervour and excitement of the moment is a bevy of beautiful Scottish lasses. The excitement of the day proves to be too much for many of these lasses. They can’t contain themselves. They have to jump in and help pull with their menfolk. Sometimes even Nessie can’t help but join in.
How Ruck! is a game in the Kosmos Two-player series. You may ask if it is a board game or a card game – personally, I would describe it more as a Borg-game.
How Ruck! was also published by Rio Grande Games, but the English version is rare, expensive and hard to come by. In the end I made English text labels, stuck them over the German text and sleeved the cards.
Let’s look at the game and how it works. The game has 55 cards (40 cards represent Scottish lads, lassies and Nessie – each with a numerical rating from ‘0’ to ‘6’ and 10 Action cards which give you a special, once-only, ability), a board, five barrels and rules (an English language translation is available on BGG).
The object of the game is the be the first person to win three rope pulls – each time you win you score a barrel. You want to win three out of five rope pulls. Let’s call each rope pull a round.
There are two parts to each round. To begin with each player is given 20 cards – this means that each round there will be 15 cards ‘sleeping’ – this is a very important aspect of the game and has big impact regarding the Action cards – you don’t know which ones are being used each round. Starting at the same time, each player draws the top two cards from their deck and decides to keep one and set one aside to give to their opponent – we are drafting the cards – we are basically selecting our ‘team’ for the rope pull. You want to do this as quickly as you can as the person who drafts their 20 cards first gets an advantage. When you finish your drafting make an announcement to that effect. You then get to draft any remaining cards in front of your opponent AND get a slight advantage at the start of the rope-pull.
The second part of each round is the play of cards. You take six cards from your deck of 20 cards (ten selected by you and ten selected by your opponent). You take turns playing a card and drawing a replacement into your hand. Cards can be played on your team, making it stronger, OR on your opponent’s team, making it weaker – by that I mean if you have a ‘3’ or ‘4’ strength card you will play it on yourself while if you have a ‘0’ or a ‘1’ you will give it to your opponent. Some cards have “How Ruck!”/”Heave Ho!” on them and that means you will have a ‘test of strength’ and the stronger team will move the barrel (marker) towards it’s home space. If you can move the barrel to your home spot you win. Some cards are Action cards and allow something special to take place – each Action card is unique. If, after all cards have been played the barrel is still somewhere in the middle, the team that has it on it’s side of the centre line will win.
It’s that simple – it should take less than 30 minutes to play a complete game.
Subtle Play – the drafting mechanism is clever and makes the selection of cards important. Number cards come in four different colours – red, blue, green and white. The colours are most important as they determine where a card may be played on the board. Red, blue and green match one of the three positions on each player’s team. These cards must be placed on a matching position on the board. The white cards are the lasses and they may be played in any of the three positions. The action cards are unique and need to be considered carefully as they lend themselves to subtle play. One of the most subtle aspects of strategy is what to do with Nessie – she is the strongest of the females (some say she is not really a girl at all but really the Loch Ness Monster, but we know that is just a figment of the imagination). Nessie has a strength of ‘6’ – however, one of the action cards says that if your opponent has Nessie they will lose? Do you keep Nessie and hope the ‘Monstrous’ card (which brings doom to the team with the mystical lass) is sleeping? Do you give Nessie to your opponent and hope you have the ‘Monstrous’ card?
Team Selection – most times it is easy to select cards – I find the cards with “How Ruck!” to be the keepers as they allow control over when there is a Test of Strength. I like to keep extreme number cards (‘0’s and ‘3/4’s). some of the action cards are more desireable than others. I particularly like the card that allows a card to be moved from one team to the other – I think this is as good as a “How Ruck!” card.
Components – the components are strong, like Scotch Whiskey. They show a nice sense of humour (what is worn under a Scotsman's kilt? Nothing - everything is in perfect working order). I particularly like the tattoo on the cover showing a whiskey brand – McPuke.
The game is both addictive and exciting. Given the drafting mechanism it should be a very balanced game and I am surprised how often I win this particular game – there are many games where I just suck. There is a strong planning element in this game and once card play begins it really is a matter of taking the initiative from your opponent and hanging onto it.
Love this game.