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Subject: [Review] Rukshuk rss

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Tom Vasel
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I was drawn to Rukshuk (Zabazoo Corporation, 2006 – Malcolm Bisiker) initially because I thought the name was funny. It looked rather interesting, but there are many dexterity games that are merely a clever idea that gets old after only a couple plays. Upon opening up the game for the first time, I was wowed by the components – nice rocks – and impressed by the interesting rules.

The game itself sounds a bit mundane – simply build different sculptures out of rocks. However, in an extremely clever move, the rocks are shaded different colors that equate to their difficulty to placement in the tower. Players must quickly build towers, and debate putting more valuable blocks in precarious positions, or play it safe with the lower scoring blocks. It’s fast, frantic, and fun. People who have shaky hands or despise dexterity games in general probably won’t be won over, but it’s one of the better ones that I’ve played.

A pile of twenty-five Rukshuk cards are shuffled and placed on the table. Each player is given two long “Bridge” rocks. A pile of five different colored rocks is placed into a bag. There are fifteen white rocks, which are fairly square shaped and easy to stack; nine blue rocks, which are a little rounder and harder to stack; seven green rocks, even more round and very hard to stack; five red rocks, quite round and annoying beyond belief to stack; and two gold rocks, so rounded that they are practically impossible to stack. The first round is ready to begin.

Before each round, players draw seven rocks randomly from the bag and place them in front of them. The top Rukshuk card is then drawn and placed face up so that all can see it. Some cards have a special “red star rule” written on them, which players must immediately do.
- Steal one rock from the player on their left/right
- Return any two rocks to the bag and draw two replacements
- Swap all rocks with the player on their left/right
- Use only one hand
- Use only one hand – their “off” hand
The card then shows a formation of rocks – possibly using the bridge rocks, which players must attempt to duplicate. For each regular rock in the formation, players can use any color they want – with points awarded for the color used (white = 1 point, blue = 2, green = 3, red = 4, orange = 5). Some positions in the tower will give double or triple points if a certain color is used there. For example, if you use a red rock on the third level of the Barangay formation you’ll score double points, triple if you use a green rock on the fifth level.

A timer is used while players build (mine is sixty-six seconds long), and during this time, players build as much of the formation as they can, fixing it if it falls. When the timer ends, players score for whatever part of the formation they have standing – you can at least get the bottom rock(s) in! Players record the amount of points they score, plus two possible bonuses (five points for using three of the same color rock; and/or five points for finishing the entire formation). The game continues with players replacing their rocks into the bag and starting a new round. The game continues until one player reaches the winning conditions (150 points, or – for a long game – the most points after going through all twenty-five formations).

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: All the components are jammed in a very sturdy small red box, which will easily fit on most gaming shelves. The Rukshuk cards are formatted quite well – anyone on the table will immediately be able to see the formation (most are quite basic and simple). The sand timer is functional, and the rocks are easily stored in a cloth bag. I do not really enjoy the score sheets included with the game, as they list the twenty-five cards and give a place to write down the score for one person. Using one score sheet per person seems awfully wasteful, especially with a full compliment of five players. I simply used a scrap sheet of paper, placing everyone’s scores on it.

2.) Rocks: The rocks in the game are certainly the heart of the game, and really fascinating. None of them are beautiful rectangular bricks, but the white ones are MUCH easier to stack than the gold ones. Every rock has at least one flat side (however small), but to stack them in the order you want is often impossible. I’m certain the rocks are fake (they sound more like porcelain than rocks when clanged together), but whoever put them together did a tremendous job.

3.) Rules: The rules are printed on a six-page foldout, clearly explaining how to play the game. Teaching the game is pretty easy, especially since the Rukshuk cards show the point values of each color. Most people have an innate desire to stack things (look how many towers little kids build), so the point of the game is pretty easy.

4.) Formations: Each of the twenty-five formations is based on a real rock formation. The layout of the rocks in the game is usually nothing like the real formations, but it does raise awareness of natural rock formations (I looked several of them up on the internet). Some of the formations are much harder than others, and each has a “maximum score” printed on the card. However, since this score takes into account using the best rocks – usually at least two gold and three reds – I can’t imagine that it is EVER done or even possible. We’re happy to get half of the maximum score!

5.) Luck: At first, it might seem unfair when you draw a pile of white rocks from the bag, and others draw colored stones with a higher point total. But when you easily stack up these stones as your opponents let out cries of anguish as their towers collapse, you’ll quickly understand that there is a tradeoff. Sure, a person with a gold rock can quickly slap it down and earn five points for a single rock; but if you manage to get three white stones into proper formation, you’ll score one point for each plus another bonus five points. Luck plays a small role in the game, but it’s most definitely balanced by how difficult it is to place the stones on the formations.

6.) Fun Factor and Dexterity: Beyond the cool trappings of the colored rocks, there is no doubt that Rukshuk, at its heart, is a dexterity game. I’ve found that most people I introduce games to enjoy dexterity games, and Rukshuk is no exception – but there are a few who simply dislike these games or are so horrible at them that they don’t have much fun. In Rukshuk, the timer, putting pressure on players to finish formations, compounds the dexterity. It’s rare to see a formation actually finished, as players get to a “safe” point and are afraid to add “just one more rock”, knocking the thing down and forcing them to start over. People who are rather clumsy can get discouraged as a nimble-fingered person puts together their formations, but the game is fun enough that most people don’t seem to mind. I myself am horrible at the game, but it’s the effort of trying, and occasionally I manage to get some nice points together (I think I finished a formation ONCE). No matter what, however, I have fun when playing the game.

7.) Players and Time: The game covers up to five players (I wish it went to six) and even can be played solitaire if you want, although that hasn’t appealed to me so much. Dexterity games are quadrupled in fun with other players, simply because the tension and laughter are increased. The game itself isn’t too long when played to a score (150 points or so), although I think playing to all twenty-five formations is too long for a simple dexterity game such as this.

Rukshuk is a very original dexterity game with beautiful pieces and fast, tension-filled play. There are some real decisions to be made about which rocks should be placed where in the formations – higher scoring ones may make it impossible to finish, while lower scoring rocks may give some good bonuses. Everyone has a good laugh at the frustration of others when their towers fall down, and each failure seems to inspire one to try again. While not for everyone (mostly those who have trembling hands or clumsy fingers), Rukshuk is sure to entertain folks for short periods of time, as they strive to build famous rock formations.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”
www.thedicetower.com
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Mike Vander Veen
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Thanks for the thorough explanation of the game Tom.

I was so attracted to the components in the box I found o the used shelf last night (at the close of a Dexterity Game Day at a FLGS no less!) that I didn't notice the rules were missing. There's no files to download here on BGG. If I don't find rules to download from the publisher, then I'll be OK using your explanation.

Thanks also for confirming my initial thought that I can keep score not using the provided score sheets. There's not too many left in the good condition (despite missing rule set), but much played copy.
 
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