Full disclosure: A review copy of Jungle Joust was provided by IDW Games.
So, uh, games with weird themes and how I’m all about them. We’ve talked about it before, and here I am again, with another game with a weird theme (and, incidentally, the second game about rhinos I’m reviewing today; what fun). While I normally shy away from anything medieval (there are just … a lot of them, no offense, but I’ll play them every now and then), the idea of jousting rhinos in a jungle somewhere is potentially fun enough to catch my eye (though a discerning gamer will note that there’s no gameplay difference between these rhinos and if they had been horses).
Anyways. It’s jousting time! While you’re not jousting, yourself, you are betting on the big match and you do not want to go home empty-handed. Will your smart bets prove lucrative?
Setup is decently straightforward. You’ll want to assemble the riders, first:
And then the fence:
Put those pieces on the board:
The riders will hang off the edge of the board, a bit; the rhino’s nose should be at the front.
You should set out the Betting Chits, too:
There are two each of the 10 chits: a 3-point chit and a 2-point chit. Set them out such that the 3-point chit is on top. Next, place the money somewhere nearby:
Players don’t get any money to start the game, humorously. If you want to make yourself even more nervous about that idea, place the Debt tokens nearby, as well:
You don’t want those. Set the Favor tokens near the board:
Shuffle the cards, placing two next to the deck to form the tableau. Then, give each player two, as well:
Finally, give each player Allegiance Tokens:
These represent who you want to win the match. They’re distributed based on player count, as follows:
- 2 players: One player gets a black crest; the other player gets a red crest. They’ll keep these face-up, and for betting purposes, each player will also get a face-down crest.
- 3 – 4 players: Shuffle two red and two black crests face-down; deal each player one. In a three player game, set aside the unused one without revealing it.
- 5 – 6 players: Shuffle three red and three black crests face-down; deal each player one. In a five player game, set aside the unused one without revealing it.
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!
The gameplay is pretty simple (with one exception), so I’ll just walk you through a sample turn.
At the beginning of your turn, you must play at least one card to either rider’s column. That’s referred to as the “tilt”, so I’ll call it that as well. You may only play a card to a column if at least one symbol on the card matches a symbol on the line below it. For the first cards played, that line is four symbols of that color, so, you’re generally good, but it will become harder to match as more cards are played (maybe). If you cannot play a card, you must reveal your hand to all players to prove it. Otherwise, you must play a card. Symbols must be present on the card and be of the same color to be considered “matching”.
Once you do that, advance the rider forward one space for each card you played. If this puts the rider on the same horizontal line as the other rider, the round immediately ends and you move on to scoring. If not, then, check for a few other things, for instance, Favor token qualification.
A rider qualifies for a Favor token if their tilt has three of the same symbol consecutively (with no Favor tokens in between, either). If they do, place a Favor token on the frontmost symbol and take a free Favor action, depending on which one activates:
- Movement (Arrow): No action. Also, don’t place a Favor token here.
- Strength (Gauntlet): Move the other rider back one space and discard the topmost card of their tilt.
- Defense (Shield): Draw an extra card and set it aside without looking at it. It will be added to your hand at the end of the round.
- Accuracy (Target): You may immediately take a card from the tableau and use it to bet. I’ll explain betting in a bit, so just wait on that.
If you end up moving across the center line, you gain an extra Favor token if you cross any of the starred spaces! Add the Favor token to one of Strength, Defense, or Accuracy in the first row of the tilt. (It’s odd, because the rulebook says you gain one, two, or three tokens, but that’s 6 tokens total, and there … aren’t enough Favor tokens for that, so I’m assuming that’s not the case).
If the round hasn’t ended yet, you can move on to betting!
So, when you bet you may take a Betting Chit and / or bet on the victor. I’ll explain both.
Taking a Betting Chit lets you take one of the 20 Betting Chits and add them in front of you. They pay out if they win based on their point value, and if you’re wrong, you lose a point. It takes a while to explain how they win, so please check Scoring for that. You always take the topmost Chit, and you may only take one per turn. You may take Chits for both / either knight, even if they’re mutually exclusive (betting on Black Movement and Red Movement). Sometimes you gotta hedge your bets, right?
Betting on the Victor lets you play one or more of the cards in your hand on either side of your face-down Allegiance Token. Once the Victor is determined (different than determining if a Betting Chit wins), you score for the cards you bet, here:
- For each symbol of the Victor’s color on the Victor’s side, you gain a point.
- For each symbol of the Loser’s color on the Loser’s side, you lose a point. This is a great way to lose points quickly, if you get messed up.
This is also the Free Action you get from the Accuracy Favor, but you use a card from the Tableau rather than from your hand. If you do, refill the Tableau immediately.
You may draw cards, at this point. You may either draw 2 cards from the Deck or take 1 card from the Tableau. If you do, refill the Tableau immediately. If you have more than 3 cards in your hand after doing this, discard cards of your choice until you only have three cards in hand.
As mentioned previously, if the two Rhinos ever meet, a Clash occurs! Move on to Scoring instead of finishing the turn.
So, for Scoring, the first thing we need to do is determine the Victor. The Victor is whichever player has the most “points”, calculated as follows:
- Black scores 2 points for each Black Favor token on its side and 1 point for each Black Favor on Red’s side.
- Red scores 2 points for each Red Favor token on its side and 1 point for each Red Favor on Black’s side.
- If either player has advanced past the center line, they score one point for each space they’ve advanced.
Now, for dramatic effect, have each player reveal their Allegiances. In a 3- or 5-player game, this means that one rider will have fewer people on their team. To help them out, double their score.
Now, pay out both Riders’ scores to their allied players. The Victor is mostly useful for certain bets.
Speaking of which; let’s pay those bets out.
Strength / Defense / Accuracy Bets
These pay out similarly to calculating the Victor (though not the same) — you calculate it as follows, for each type:
- Black scores 2 points for each Black Favor token on its side of the given type and 1 point for each Red Favor on its side of the given type.
- Red scores 2 points for each Red Favor token on its side of the given type and 1 point for each Black Favor on its side of the given type.
Whichever one has the most points, that color’s betting chits pay out (for that specific type). It’s possible for Black to be the Victor but Red wins on Defense and Accuracy, or something.
Movement is pretty simple. Whichever color has more Movement arrow symbols on the Victor’s side pays out, for this one.
This is the easiest. The Victor’s color pays out.
Betting on the Victor
Now, check your hidden bets. Remember:
- For each symbol of the Victor’s color on the Victor’s side, you gain a point.
- For each symbol of the Loser’s color on the Loser’s side, you lose a point.
If at any point you go below 0 money, you take a Debt token. It’s worth -1 money at the end of the game.
Now, you can start another round! Set it up like the last one, but you keep your money. At the end of three rounds, the player with the most money wins!
Player Count Differences
I can’t say I’m overwhelmingly enthused about the “double the lower Rider’s score” mechanic in odd-numbered games since it’s just very different from the even-numbered games, but, I mean, it does work effectively. I’m not sure what about it I don’t like, but it’s definitely something.
Either way, at two, the game is kind of known. It comes down mostly to which player has gotten better cards, and that’s just random drawing luck. There’s not a whole lot of good reason to play to your opponent’s tilt unless you can REALLY make it difficult for them to play, but even then … you might as well play to your own tilt, if you can. The randomness of higher player counts and trying to synergize off of your “team’s” plays without helping other people on your team too much, lest they outstrip you is pretty amusing. It also means that just having good cards isn’t enough; you have to set up good combos if you want your Rider to be the Victor. I think this game functions best when it’s played quickly and without much thought, so I tend to prefer it at higher player counts.
- Bet high, if you’re confident. Betting on the Victor is one of the surest ways to score (or lose) a lot of points very quickly, and often you’ll need that if you want to come out ahead in a round. Just remember that that really good card you just played for betting could have all-but-guaranteed your Rider the victory if you had just played it to the tilt instead, which might be a bummer if you think about it too much. So, don’t!
- There aren’t a lot of good times to play to your adversary’s tilt. Sure, you might be able to connect a Favor in your color, but you’re also advancing their Rider, which is sorta generically useful. Sometimes you won’t have a choice, but you should try to maximize your options.
- Pulling from the Tableau doesn’t seem that useful. It might be useful in hindsight if you have a really bad draw, but generally getting two cards and dumping them both on the tilt isn’t bad — it’s a great way to surge your Rider forward, and forward can get you points and Favor tokens, so you should kind of just always … surge.
- Out of the Favors, Strength, then Accuracy, then Defense, if we’re organizing from most to least useful. Strength can knock out Favors, and combos well if you have another teammate following you who can play to their tilt and wipe out a potential three-of-a-kind (one of the few times I would recommend playing to an opponent’s tilt). Accuracy is more personally useful than team useful, since you can bet, which is nice, but Defense is only really great if you get a good card draw, which can happen but also can … not happen.
- You should kind of just take a Betting Chit every turn. I mean, worst case, you lose a point, so they’re potentially free money. The one reason why you might not is to not signal your intentions if you want to keep those hidden, sure, but if you just placed a Favor of some type, you might as well pick up that Betting Chit no matter who you’re favoring.
- I’m not sure there’s much of a point to keeping your Allegiance hidden. I know you have to from a gameplay perspective (and it might be useful in odd-number-player games since that means it’s harder to figure out whose score is getting doubled) but it’ll become pretty clear pretty quickly who is playing to benefit which Rider. It’s like BANG! The Dice Game, in that regard.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style is nice and whimsical. It’s befitting a bunch of people betting on knights jousting on rhinos in some jungle, somewhere. It feels like it would feel off somehow if it were super serious.
- The tokens are nice. They’re all a nice, thick quality, which is good! In general, IDW’s got a nice sense of production value, which I’ve really appreciated with all the games I’ve reviewed for them.
- The Rhino Riders are endearing. They’re full-armor medieval knights riding big rhinos! What’s not to like?
- Nice table presence. I get a bit miffed about this later because a lot of the stuff isn’t strictly necessary and is mostly there for flavor, but the actual game on the table does look very good. I imagine it would be an eye-catcher at conventions or something. I’d certainly comment on it as I passed by if I saw it, or at least stop for a closer look.
- Rulebook is a bit unclear, again. I put it as a Meh because I’m not sure if the rulebook is having trouble explaining complicated rules or if the rulebook has some editing issues. Either way, I wish the rules were a bit clearer, especially around Betting on the Victor and Scoring.
- I’ve never seen anyone take Debt. And it doesn’t really affect anything, since it’s only -1 point at the end of the game. It’s not debt as much as it is a Deferred Payment token. If it were worth -2 points, then Debt would be a Thing To Avoid; currently it’s more of a “oh, yeah, I’ll pay it off later”. That said, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone bet so unfortunately that they needed to acquire Debt, but I suppose that can happen in high-player-count games where very few Favor tokens are acquired by either side and a lot of betting is done, instead. Plus, it’s good that you cannot bet a lot and then have no negative consequences.
- Multi-round games with no change in state between them frustrate me. I complain about this so much that I think it might be My Thing, but it feels like an arbitrary way to pad the game length, which generally … isn’t necessary? I feel like people will just play the game as many rounds as they’d like to. Cursed Court is a three-round game but we will often play 5 consecutive rounds in one sitting because we really enjoy it. I get that one round might be random, but, I mean, these are games; sometimes they’re random. I would call three rounds three games instead of one game of three rounds. I have similar issues with games like Maskmen, Startups, Spyfall, and other such experiences.
- The whole Jousting setup is kind of hilariously unnecessary and fairly unrelated to the gameplay. I mean, you’re playing cards in columns and once the card columns meet you score. The Rhinos are kind of just there for show, which bums me out, as I thought they’d be a bigger part of the overall gameplay. It makes the theme feel a bit pasted on.
- A lot of the game is just “how situationally useful are the cards you drew”. Given that it’s tough to save cards between turns (and playing conservatively just gives your opponents opportunities to run you down), you kind of need to just draw the right cards for your play as you play them, which makes this feel a bit close to just … random card draws. Sure, you have a choice about the ordering, but more of the game depends on what cards you pull and who you’re sitting next to than I would normally like.
- The scoring is kind of hilariously overcomplicated. One thing scores via the number of tokens of its color, one scores via the number of tokens on its side, one scores via the number of symbols on its side, and then one scores via the number of symbols on cards on the side of an unrelated token. This is not something players are going to really be able to internalize in their first round of play (or at least they haven’t in my games and I think my game groups are reasonably good at getting games). It feels like there was a missed opportunity for some streamlining, here, because the rest of the game is fairly straightforward, but this is a bit … more bumpy.
Overall: 5.5 / 10
Overall, Jungle Joust is fine! I think that despite playing it several times I don’t really have a good grip on what the “best” way to play is, since it doesn’t quite play fast enough for it to feel like a light filler game (and there are many great options there anyways, so it’s up against tough competition) and I’ve not felt that it’s quite strategic enough to really make the strategy side of my brain light up either (too many random things in the game for the Victor of any round to be predictable, much less figuring out who will win and trying to stop them). I think, however, that this might be super appealing to younger players, as the gameplay is pretty straightforward (even if the scoring is not always). It may behoove you to simplify or ignore some of the scoring rules if you’re playing with much younger players, but in either case I think there’s opportunity to play this with a family gaming crowd, even if it might not appeal to your hardcore strategy gamer friends. If that sounds like it’s a good fit for you or your group, Jungle Joust might be worth checking out!