Review – Riff Raff

2-4 Players, Aged 8+ with a 30 minute playing time 

A review copy of Riff Raff , designed by Christoph Cantzler, was kindly provided by our friends at Zoch Verlag.
Riff Raff - The box artwork
This is a tactile game of dexterity with quality components set loosely around a pirate theme. In the game blurb we learn that for some bizarre reason Captain Bullseye has decided that he should stow his cargo high up in the ships rigging, “so no peg-leg can get it”. Given the possibilities of losing the cargo to the pitching and rolling of a ship at sea, let alone the able bodied crew the last thing I would have thought the captain would worry about is those crew members with peg legs! As with so many games don’t worry too much about the theme, it is only loosely held together and doesn't stand up to close inspection. That said we think this is a real gem of a game so read on.

What follows is an overview of the game broken down into 5 sections: The Game Components, Setting Up The Game, How To Play The Game, What Did We Think? and finally Who Do We Think Will Like It?. So if you don't want to read the whole review scan down to the heading that interests you.

The Game Components 
1 wooden ship, consisting of the ships hull, 1 weighted “keel”, 1 mast, 6 elements with which to construct 3 yardarms and various other components that allow the ship to move
Riff Raff - The ship components before it is constructed
2 wave stands on which the ship is balanced
Riff Raff - One set of player cards plus cargo
4 sets of player cards (numbered 1 to 10) in blue, red, grey, purple plus 8 wooden cargo tokens; a light blue chest, an orange barrel, a blue member of the crew (initially thought by some players to be a monkey!), a canoe, a green box (maybe this is supposed to be a tea chest), a black plank, a large red vial and a grey mouse rat!
Riff Raff - The box base
The plastic setting found in the box

Setting Up The Game
Riff Raff - The ship is now ready for the gamePlace the two wave stands into the plastic box in such a way as to create what looks like towering waves.

Build your ship and place it so it is suspended on top of the waves with the weighted keel hung in the “tower”

Each player takes a set of cards and 1 set of 8 cargo items (these are not colour coded per player) that must be clearly visible in front of you. The numbers on the cards correspond to the numbered areas on the ship and yardarms.

Elect a starting player. It is suggested this should be the oldest player. 

How To Play The Game
At the beginning of each round, each player selects one of his own cards and lays it down on the table face down in front of them. All players then simultaneously reveal their cards at the same time.

The player who has played the highest card immediately becomes the new captain. If several players have played the highest number, the current captain decides which player becomes the new captain. When playing with adults, rather than children, in a social / after dinner situations the tie break was decided in all cases based on relationship / loved one!
Riff Raff - The ship as seen from below
The new captain begins the round by selecting one of their cargo objects and attempting to place it on the part of the ship where the number corresponds to the number on their card. Once the ships captain has completed their go, play passes to the person who played the second highest number and so on. If several players have played the same number, the captain decides in which order these players take their turns (see earlier comment about loved ones).
If the area is on the yardarms (areas 5-10) and already has one item on it then the player may elect to place two items. However once they have decided on two then they have to follow through on this. Unlike some other dexterity based games you can change the piece of cargo you are attempting to place on the ship if after initial attempts you feel a different object might be more appropriate. However placing two objects was not something I have yet seen successfully done!
The round ends after each player has taken their turn. The cards played remain face up on the table and are not available for the remainder of the game.

In placing the cargo the following rules need to e observed:

• Each piece cargo may be laid or hung on the ship with either one hand or both hands.

• Cargo may protrude beyond the ship‘s edge but not into other ship areas. It was this rule that sadly stopped us laying the monkey or is it a crew member flat on the rigging with one arm round the mast.

• In the process of placing the cargo onto the ship existing cargo already safely (!!!) stowed may not be physically touched by the player, but can be moved with the help of the piece of cargo the player is endeavouring to place.

When cargo falls off the ship, as it inevitably will, your turn ends and you may not place the second piece of cargo if you had indicated that this was your intent.
Riff Raff - The ship settles without the cargo falling and Ben relaxes!
As the cargo falls from the ship the active player should try to catch as many of the falling pieces as possible. Those pieces caught are removed from the game whilst those that are not caught by the active player are added to those pieces they still have in front of them waiting to be loaded on the ship.

The winner of the game is the first person to have no cargo left in front of them or the least number of cargo items in front of them once all the cards have been played.

What Did We Think?
The ship is of solid construction, although you feel nervous about inserting the mast into its hole in the deck and the risk of breaking the dowels that act as stoppers for the three yardarms. The metal weight is heavy and created a very sensitive ship that if you blow from a few feet will move! Essentially everything from the box to the cargo is of the highest quality, not a plastic piece in sight.

For players who like Zoch games the card mechanism will be very familiar as it has appeared in Niagara and more recently Kalimambo. Ultimately this mechanism gives each player the same set of choices and the knowledge that they will have to use all the numbers whether they want to or not. This differs from the typical games available on the high street in the UK where the players use dice and have no control over what numbers they have to use and can profit or suffer to a much greater degree at the hands of lady luck.
Riff Raff - More cargo is added
The game suggests that the first captain is the oldest player and this is presumably to allow an adult to try and direct the early play. As the game progresses the ability as captain to decide who goes in what order when players reveal the same number allows some small tactical play amongst those monitoring the growing or diminishing selection of cargo in front of their fellow players. This to some degree can have a levelling effect that helps those who are not doing so well whilst potentially hampering those that are doing better. Younger players may obviously miss these opportunities and or succumb to the tensions of sibling rivalries, where logic goes out the window.

The game is simple to understand and, whilst subject to the vagaries of what cards your opponents play, offers choices on both which cards to play as well as which cargo items to attempt. When adults play though Riff Raff is a game of outguessing the other players, were everybody is trying to guess what their fellow players might do and so adjust their card choice accordingly. Whatever position you go in there are rarely easy options for the placement of cargo.
Riff Raff - Gwen sucssefully gets another piece of cargo onto the yardarms
If you can live with a degree of luck, a level that is not uncommon in family games and games that appeal to social gamers, then there is a lot of laughs and fun to be had in this game. A game that is nevertheless tense at times as you struggle to concentrate on placing your cargo safely on the ship. I certainly found myself having to take a deep breath as I sat back, on some occasions, having succeeded in the challenge.

Inevitably some players will be better at the dexterity and assessment of the weights and possibilities than others. However, as occurred on one occasion when a player lost in grand style(blaming his lack of success on believing that the game was a “set collection game”) he had laughed all the way through and gave every indications of having thoroughly enjoyed himself. On another occasion a player did equally badly but was immediately up for a second game having enjoyed losing at the first one so much!

A number of the players felt Riff Raff had similarities to Jenga and Buckaroo (games that families in the UK would be more familiar with), but scored Riff Raff more highly - immediately asking where they could buy it (see the recommended retailers on the right hand side of my blog).
Riff Raff - Martin celebrates having hung his blue crew member of the hull of the ship. A joint win with me!

Who Do We Think Will Like It?
Obviously families and in particular those who are looking for something more challenging / interesting than Jenga or Buckeroo.

Those volunteers and professionals working with children and others that are looking to help develop fine motor control and an understanding of shapes and weights.

Social Gamers in particular those who have enjoyed Zoch’s previous games with a strong dexterity dynamic, most particularly Bausack, Bamboleo and Hamesterroll.

Gamers looking for something as filler that is very different from the normal card and board games – see the positive comments from Paul Lister (BoardGameGuru), in his weekly newsletter.

Adults after a few drinks!
Riff Raff - My supply of cargo just keeps getting bigger

If you liked this review then other games I have reviewed can be seen here


  1. Great review. I am awaiting this ones arrival to the states. It looks pretty sweet.

  2. whoa. this game is a good idea for a small gathering. maybe for those who are a bit bored in their houses can play this game or for those who are in their sem-breaks

    Crescens Lockesly