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Rhino Hero won our hearts as the adorable yet brawny protagonist of the cardboard stacking game of the same name. This reverse-Jenga dexterity title has players alternate placing wall and floor sections, hoping to keep the skyscraper alive. It’s a simple game with a natural tension.
The appeal is so wide that it can be played by a group containing your buddy Jim who plays Twilight Imperium with you every Friday night (in this fantasy time grows on trees), Trix your four year old who is named after a cereal not a stripper, and Betty your 95 year old Grandma who starred in the television series Golden Girls. Well, the box lists ages 5-99 so Blanche only has four more years to let loose.
But I’m not here to extol the virtues of Rhino Hero. That little ditty was ground into bits of cardboard dust when I tossed the enormous Super Battle box on top of it. RIP Rhino Hero, you had your time but a new collection of caped animals has taken up the mantle.
Super Battle is the sequel that bests its predecessor in every way. It’s bolder, more physically impressive, and more directly aggressive.
Now we’re building a much wider construction; one that will be crammed with little open gaps and loose nooks waiting for you to snag a clumsy finger. Much like the craftsmanship of Rhino Hero’s construction workers, this world makes no sense and is all over the place. But we love it for its quirkiness and embracing of the absurd.
You take a turn choosing an elongated floor card and then go to work with your hard hat and delicate surgeon fingers. The floor will dictate whether you place one or two wall sections as well as their height. The new tall brick walls are fantastic as they add depth to the field and produce some rickety constructions that are waiting patiently to fulfill their destiny and collapse.
After placement, you roll a special die hoping to move up a few levels of the structure. You’ll carefully place upon the swaying cardboard your little wooden giraffe or batguin hero — that’s a bat-penguin hybrid encountered by Dante Alighieri on one of his trips. Sometimes the die is a buzzkill and forces you to drop a level. Either way, you’re hoping to ascend to the crest of the structure and claim the medal and your title as the superest of animorphs.
If you’re lucky you’ll land on a level with another player’s token. Then you get to figuratively beat the crap out of each other via rolling dice. It’s a simple high roll takes it with the other “hero” being knocked down to the level below. So you toss a six-sider and your batguin kicks Kevin’s masked elephant to the curb. These moments elicit much trash talk, such as “you’re on garbage duty dumbo” or “your mother’s got a fat trunk.” My four year old can be downright brutal.
Super Battle is immediately more impressive due to all these winding conjoined floors. It’s as if two or three skyscrapers had their innards blown apart and then fused structurally with their neighbors. The physical space the design occupies will draw bystanders in and a crowd will form. Everyone wants to see the child nightmare version of Nakatomi plaza grow to become a monster.
The inclusion of player owned characters and in your face battles was ingenious. A sense of story and narrative takes place within the game as well as above the table. The direct conflict creates moments of drama and really hooks the participants.
One of the most spectacular aspects of these two designs is their acute sense of pacing. You start from nothing and a gangly teenager quickly sprouts to unseen heights. You poke and prod as they awkwardly stumble about, tripping on their own loose ends and falling like a stack of bricks.
Super Battle leaves nothing on the table and little reason to ever go back to its diminutive sibling. While it holds a more complicated turn structure and a dose of additional rules, it chucks out the complexities of the UNO-like card play and reduces the analysis overhead considerably. A small child may not understand the entire structure of a turn but you can walk them through the motions with ease. Their eyes will form gigantic saucers as the mutant-building storms towards its zenith. They’ll immediately recognize the impact of hoof on trunk pugilism and eat up the new options this sequel affords.
Dexterity games are as much about the spectacle as they are about player agency. Rhino Hero: Super Battle doubles down on both. It simultaneously blows up its presence while giving you more sweet morsels to chew on. This is the Christopher Nolan reboot we didn’t even know we wanted.
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Cover Image: HABA USA
Image Credits: Charlie Theel
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Ars Technica, Miniature Market’s The Review Corner, and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on Twitter @CharlieTheel