I’ve already looked at the beautiful, sassy, and funny Rhino Hero by Haba Games, and wouldn’t you know it, after I got it for my mother, I then got it for my sister, and then she – with some help – wound up getting Rhino Hero Super Battle for herself, and played it with her kids. I for one, am shocked, shocked to find that Haba, a games company that’s been making games for eighty years, has managed to, once again, make an absolute corker.
Shut Up and Sit Down did a comically in-depth review of this game where they pretended to take it all super duper seriously on like, an academic level, but I’m kind of… not… really… kidding? when I bring this game up as a wonderful example of the kind of stepping stone you can use to make sure designers recognise the importance of materiality and base assumptions in their game designs.
C’mon, I’ll explain.
The main addition to Rhino Hero: Super Battle is – okay, no, there’s not a single main addition. There’s a lot extra in this game. First, the building just gets to be wider – and hey, it can be seen as one large building, or a variety of buildings interconnected by walkways and fire escapes. Everyone has their own animal hero, and there’s a mechanic for moving them around and fighting against one another.
There’s even, and this is diabolical, there’s even an independent type of animal, like the rhino hero of the first game, crime monkeys. Crime monkeys are important because you have to hang them on some of your cards. As in, literally hang them off the edge of the card. So it’s not the matter of moving the weight around any more, it’s a matter of carefully setting them up so they’re both difficult to get to (for the next player), but also not messing up in the process of putting them in. There’s risk and reward in how you handle the monkeys, but the monkeys are everyone’s problem.
The fascinating thing about Rhino Hero Super Battle is the subtle ways it involves its materiality and the way you’re going to make assumptions about it. You aren’t told where to roll the dice, but rolling the dice has a physical impact on the game state by dint of interfacing with the board. You can’t roll them where people can’t notice them, and you can’t roll them away from the game state – not practically. People are going to gather around your tower, around that play space, so the dice are naturally sheparded into the space of the tower, where they can bounce or rattle or skew and maybe, just maybe nudge the boards the tower rests on.
And if you don’t, if you avoid that, if you, say, roll the dice into the box? Well, you’re still rolling these big heavy dice onto the table, shaking the whole thing by its foundations. Did you put the tower on the smallest table you have? The biggest one? Is it particularly stable? Are you going to risk your tower merely by how you throw the dice? How long through the game are you going to get before you realise that throwing the dice is an action that impacts the tower?
Are you going to notice?
There’s an interplay of objects here. It’s kind of fascinating because, ontologically speaking, it’s not like there’s any reason the items in the game care about one another. They’re only meaningful to one another when in the space the game constructs. Little wooden shapes and cardboard and dice and boxes and card drawing is all part of the game in a way that I think most people don’t even consider. You affect the game by what you’re wearing.
Now, all games have some materiality to them that matters – a game like Ticket to Ride isn’t going to care about how quickly or tidily you put down your trains, but it’s folly to pretend it isn’t a thing – the ease with which you can access cards plays into whether you consciously think of them as an option, the ability to read your progress in comparison to other people’s is the root of making strategic decisions. Rhino Hero: Super Battle just puts the material object of the game, and your interface with that, in full force, in the center of the play experience.
When you play a game like Magic: The Gathering there’s a belief, misplaced though it is, that the entirety of the game is a mental one, that the clean operations of game states are all that matters, with the ability to logic through your opponent’s possible game actions and their deck’s possible behaviours and there’s nothing else going on in the process of playing these games. It’s a very pure view that tries to neglect the actuality of objects. The thing is, the materiality of those games are as much part of them as they pretend otherwise. That you can tap cards to show their being expended is an enormous piece of mental effort resolution, and it makes the entire play experience faster and smoother – really, it’s part of what makes Magic: The Gathering possible at all. The objects are conveying information, sometimes without you consciously realising it, and your mind is using that information to process things quickly.
Rhino Hero takes that conception, that notion of the pure game, and dissolves it like so much sugared honeycomb, and even then, hides the implications of its materiality, the assumptions you make, and lets you think that everything you do is obvious and correct, when it’s infinitely flexible.
As a game, all the problems of Rhino Hero are still here. It’s still a game about delicately placing small objects, it’s still a game where what you get dealt determines play and where your decisions are limited mostly to what order you’re going to get rid of what you’ve got, rather than some sort of strategic interplay. Its virtues are almost all the same too – it’s a game kids can engage with that’s still fun for older players.
Really, as a game, Rhino Hero Super Battle is just Rhino Hero: Moreso, and it’s really up to you if that’s worth the extra thirty bucks.
Get it if:
- You want something kid-friendly that’s still difficult and challenging
- You want something you can share with younger friends or relatives
Avoid it if:
- You’ve got shaky hands
- You find dexterity games unpleasant
You need a lot of systems to keep you engaged with a game