Riff Raff is a game of rigorous self-assessment, strategic cunning, and Kung-Fu-like dexterity. OK, maybe not so rigorous or cunning. And more of the white-belt level, Kung-Fu-wise. But, for a rocking-boat-in-the-water balancing-type game, surprisingly, shall we say, deep.
Stage one: the setting-up
There are two large cardboard “waves” that bend into three sections. These are placed together on to the parts compartment in the box, so as to form the base for the ship. A wooden collar is then placed over the opening where the two wave-pieces meet. Into this, you “place the joint of the ball-bar on the wooden ring in such a way that the boat sinks into the whole and the two retaining rods come to lie in the troughs of the ring.” Thus assuring something like 360-degree rockability. And then on goes the hull, and the mast goes into the hole in the hull, and a small round bar is placed into the bottommost mast-hole upon which is placed the lower yardarm. And, oh, you know, you get a boat, cunningly counterweighted, tantalizingly tippable, with three yardarms, that have numbers on each end.
Each player (2-4) gets a set of 8 different pieces- wooden, of course, as is the boat and all its parts, except for the metal ball counter-weight, and a deck of ten cards, numbered from one, to, let me see, yes, ten.
Stage two: the up-setting
Each player selects one of her cards. Simultaneously, all players reveal their chosen number. The player with the highest number is captain, and starts the game. The player who has the second highest card goes next, etc. Once a card is played, it gets thrown into somewhere retrievable for the next game. Now here’s the thing about the cards. It’s not just about seeing who gets to go when. It’s also about where you have to put a piece of your cargo. Note the numbers on the ship. Note the corresponding number on the card you played. Ten gets to go first. But then again, that means the player who played a ten has to put a piece of the very top yardarm in the “ten” section.
So, when you select your card, you have to anticipate (predict, potentially; guess, actually) what card the other players might also choose. Which, of course, entails considerations about what card they think you’re likely to choose. Hence the whole strategic cunning part. And the Kung-Fu-like hand-steadiness. And, of course, the rigorous self-assessment (I mean, can I actually get the monkey to hang on the 10 side of the yardarm, given how the whole ship is tilting 1o-wardly?).
The game is surprisingly easy to understand. Consistently engaging. Frequently funny. And probably one of the strategically deepest dexterity games we’ve yet encountered. Major, we say, fun.