I generally don’t like the term "filler." That’s because it is usually applied in a derogatory way to a game to make it seem less legitimate or too simple for refined tastes. But what filler is supposed to mean is simply a game that is on the lighter side, fun to play, and finishes quickly: something enjoyable between heavy games to relax with. Well, with that definition in mind, Ranking may be the best filler yet.
The Basics. Ranking, published by Rio Grande Games, has a very simple concept. The board is merely a tower with numbers from zero to seven. Players take a starting hand of six tiles. Each tile has a random object on it, everything from circus tents to lighthouses, to wigs, to wheels, to clothing: completely random.
Then, the players randomly select a question from the bag. They are usually oddball questions like: "What is seen most often by a postman?" or "Which item is more often counterfeited?"
From there, the players select a tile that they think matches the description and put it into the pot face down. Several random tiles are added until there are seven in a row. The players then take turns picking two tiles on the same line. They decide that one answers the question better than the others and move that one up. The one that is less responsive gets moved down. Play continues until at least one item is at level 7 and at least one item is at 0.
So why not move your own entry up every time? Well, every other player has a set of crowns in the various player colors. Each turn other than their own, they can place any color on any tile. If they guess correctly that the tile belonged to you, then you will get points taken away from you.
The Feel. When I first read the rules, I immediately thought that this was going to be a not-as-good Dixit, or even a bad Apples to Apples inspired game. I put off playing it at first because, since it was very simple, and had a playtime listed as 30-45 minutes, I was less than enthusiastic about it.
But then I got it to the table and had an absolute blast. The questions are interesting and original. You don’t see any repeats - not really even from game to game - because there are tons of random options. Best yet, the listed playtime is much longer than your average game. A more accurate estimate would be 10-15 minutes, with my longest game stopping short of 20 minutes.
The fun of the game is not in actually moving the pieces, but rather in trying to figure out which pieces were placed by your opponents. And, consequently, it is also in trying to move your piece up the ladder without being obvious about it. Often, you’ll move a different piece as a feint to try and get your opponents to guess incorrectly.
Ranking can be played very quickly and leads to a ton of laughs. For example, in one all-male group we had the question: "What most often appears in women’s magazines?" Almost every item placed in was a phallic symbol of some sort (which says something about the maturity level of my peers, I suppose). We could not stop laughing and enjoyed that game immensely.
Ultimately, Ranking is probably the best representation of a fun "filler" game. It is brief, provides a very merry time, and doesn’t require that you analyze every move. It’s a great game while waiting for other players to show up, or as a quick endeavor in between other games.
Components: 4 of 5. For a lighter game, the pieces are remarkably solid. The tower is on thick cardboard. The game comes with a nice cloth bag to hold the question tiles. The tiles themselves are very thick and will not easily be bent or dinged. The guess markers are solid wooden bits. This has the quality of a much meatier game.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 3.5 of 5. Sometimes you’ll have something that matches the question perfectly, sometimes you won’t, so there is some randomness to it. Even so, there is a lot of bluffing and maneuvering that can be done when deciding which items to move upward and where to place your guesses. Certainly, it is a filler that keeps you very engaged.
Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. The game plays very quickly and is remarkably simple to learn. There are just a few rules and everyone can play like a pro after a turn or two. The one (very minor) drawback is that each player is supposed to have guessing tokens for every color but his own, so it can be a bit of a hassle to ensure that everyone has the right colors before the next round. But otherwise this game is a mechanical gem.
Replayability: 4 of 5. Ranking isn’t a game you could play multiple times in a row, but it is probably a game you could play weekly. The sheer variety of questions and picture tokens means the experience is always different, and the ways that players try to move their tokens around will differ from game to game. I’ve enjoyed each play and still rank it highly among the fillers.
Spite: 3 of 5. Since you don’t know who put in what tile, it is impossible to target a player for certain. But you can sure try. You can place your guesses as accurately as you can to deny players points, or you can move down objects that you are certain were placed in by at least one other player. That way you are denying someone points.
Overall: 4 of 5. Ranking is likely the best filler game I’ve ever played. Again, I generally hate that term because it is often used in a pejorative manner by reviewers. But in this case, it fits the neutral definition and 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. If you need something fun that plays quickly, Ranking may fit the bill perfectly. I could not have been more pleased with my experiences.
(A special thanks to Rio Grande Games for providing a review copy of Ranking)
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)