I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled out Ranking. It’s a game that is published by Rio Grande, which usually means it’s going to be a Euro style resource management game. However, my game acquisition team was telling me it was party game… maybe… They seemed extremely unsure, but were certain it wasn’t a resource management game. So off I went tromping into the relatively unknown to learn Ranking.
The first thing I noticed when opening the box was the artwork. It’s fun, colorful, cartooned, and whimsical. There is also a whole lot of it! The game comes with lots and lots of tiles, each with a different picture of an item on one side, 5 colorful ‘king’ markers, and a cartooned castle score track. All and all the game looked really good, but largely like something I would expect to see children playing, rather than a group of adults.
But as I read through the rules, it started to become clear that the strategy and bluffing in this game is subtle enough that most kids would never have a clue. You see, each round there is a question, such as “What is a mail man most likely to see on his route?”, and players submit a tile from their hand that they think fits that answer the best. All of these tiles are shuffled together and lined up next to the number “3” right in the middle of the tower. Each turn a player is going to pick two items that are in the same row and argue that one is more fitting than the other. For example, if a basketball and a canoe are on the same row a player might argue, “A basketball is going to be much more common than a canoe. We are in Indiana! Basketball goals are in every driveway. But a canoe is usually stored in a garage, and is therefore out of sight of the mailman”. That player would then move the Basketball token up to the number “4” on the tower, and the canoe would be moved down to number “2” on the tower.
Now it’s time for the real question in the game, do you think that you know what token that player contributed? Players always want their tile to rise higher on the tower, because the height on the tower is the number of points a player receives at the end of the round. Those points are counter balanced by other players correct guesses. If you think the Basketball, from our previous example, belonged to that player you would put your chip of their color on that tile. At the end of the round the player scores the height of their token on the tower, minus the number of correct tokens on that tile.
One complaint that I heard was about when you were allowed to make guesses. If the blue player just moved tiles, then you can only make a guess about who blue is. If you aren’t sure, you can hold on to your blue chip and wait till the next time it comes back around to blue’s turn and then make a guess. But what if the round ends before it gets back to blue? You are stuck with tokens you didn’t play. There isn’t any sort of a penalty for this, just the loss of an opportunity. My players suggested the house rule that “At the end of the round, players may place any remaining colored tokens they have”.
Apparently, I am awful at bluffing. I would move several tiles around and no one would place a chip, but as soon as I went to touch my tile, everyone dropped their chip on it. It was as if I had, “Yes, my tile is the ping pong table.” written across my forehead in permanent marker. Needless to say, I had a couple of rounds where I didn’t get any points at all.
One thing that was pretty nice about this game was that it wasn’t super long. I would estimate that the game took us about a half hour to get through, which felt about right. If it was any shorter, it wouldn’t be satisfying, but any longer, and I could see my players getting restless. The half hour playing time is exactly what was estimated on the box, which I am so grateful when that is relatively accurate.
After each game, I always ask my players for opinions, and what I got surprised me. They all felt pretty lukewarm about this one. It was okay, I had certainly brought them worse to play, but nothing about this game really got them excited. I on the other hand really enjoyed the bluffing elements, as well as the creative elements required in coming up with reasons for your decisions. So certainly some differing of opinions.
When I probed my players further they described the game as “A more structured Apples to Apples”, which is a unique look at the game. This game certainly has some mechanics that are similar: You have a hand of cards (or tiles in this case). You submit one secretly into a pile that is shuffled and read aloud by a starting player. You replace your played tile from a draw pile. You do argue that one answer is better, or more worthy, than another. Certainly some similarities I had never thought about.
So this week is a split decision. I would recommend this game, but my gaming group probably wouldn’t. I’m sure I will beg them to play this game with me again, and given that they didn’t absolutely hate it, they probably will. But I don’t expect to see any of them requesting that this one be pulled back out.
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