Full disclosure: A review copy of Redcap Ruckus was provided by WizKids.
Dexterity games! I love them, you love them; let’s try them! That’s the dream, anyways. Is that why I got into this whole business? Probably! I’m already thinking about the next dexterity game. That’s kind of the nightmare of the business. There’s always another game. Let’s stay in the moment, though. This game, this is a Wizkids title about fighting gnomes and the mushroom they call home. Why are they fighting? Why can’t they all just get along? Who will end these generations of bloodshed? Not you! Let’s dive in.
In Redcap Ruckus, you wish to control the Great Crystal. So does everyone else. Words have failed you, so violence must prevail. Why? Because you love the drama. You just gnome it. Send forth your champions and conquer the mushroom top in the name of your clan! Many may enter, many will fall, but who among you has the strength and tenacity to claim the Great Crystal for your own?
Not a ton. Just set up the mushroom:
Give each player three twigs:
And give each player a set of Gnome tokens:
You should be ready to start! Each player starts with their Champion Gnome:
This is also going to be a pretty short section. Love it when that happens. I mean, I like writing, but this isn’t necessarily what people are hyped for the review for. I enjoy writing it, but, you know. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyways, on your turn, you’ll push a Gnome onto the mushroom. Few caveats:
- Your first piece must be your Champion. So that’s fun.
- Nothing but game pieces can cross the edge of the Mushroom. No fingers, nothing.
- No shoving or flicking the pieces. You gotta push it on with a single finger.
- Your piece cannot cross the boundary between sections.
- Your piece must also be fully on. No partials. If your Gnome slides off while you’re trying to get the piece fully on, just reset and try to push it on again.
Depending on the Gnome, you may have to do a few things. Grumpy Gnomes are worth negative points, Tenacious Gnomes can be placed back on the mushroom when they’re knocked off, but Vaulter Gnomes allow you to push them on using your three twigs! That’s fun. Your opponents’ Gnomes are worth points when they’re pushed off, so try to do that as well. When you push a Gnome off (as long as it’s not a Tenacious Gnome), you capture it! Even if it’s one of yours, so try not to do that.
The game ends as soon as any player pushes the Crystal off the Mushroom. Then, go to scores:
- Crystal: +6 points
- Champion Gnomes: +5 for an opponent’s; -5 for your own
- Fighter Gnomes: +1 for an opponent’s; -1 for your own
- Twin Gnomes: +6 for a matching pair of opponent’s gnomes (0 otherwise); -3 each for your own
- Grumpy Gnomes: -1, no matter what
- Vaulter Gnomes: +1 for an opponent’s; -1 for your own
The player with the most points wins! If all players have placed all of their Gnomes and the Crystal has not fallen, instead award each player 1 additional point for each Gnome that’s still on the Mushroom. Player with the most points wins!
- Solo Mode: Scatter the Twigs on the Mushroom and, entering from one section only, see how many Twigs you can push off before your first Gnome falls off the Mushroom. You can use more than one color.
- Two Player Ruckus Royale: To play with two players, each player gets two colors of gnomes. You always use your primary Gnomes first, and then use your secondary color once you run out (starting with your secondary Champion).
- Halfsies: Use two complete adjacent sections, allowing players to enter from an entire half of the Mushroom.
- Cross Roads: Instead of using halves, players can enter from two opposite sections.
Player Count Differences
Pretty significant ones. I generally lean towards even numbers in this game, since odd numbers can lead to an unbalanced play area. Players aren’t really coming in from evenly-divided sections of the board; the board is quartered, so in a three-player game you’re essentially leaving one quarter unable to push backwards. That’s fine, but it means you’re more likely to push the Crystal off that way, since there’s no pushback from there. If that happens too quickly, you can end up with games like some of the ones I’ve played where the only player who really scored was the player who pushed the Crystal off, which doesn’t feel amazing. Solo is mostly about pushing twigs off, so, just a very different game. On the even-numbered side, I strongly prefer higher player counts. There are a lot of different ways to play at two, but unless you’re playing the variant that lets you play on two entire halves of the board, you run into the same issues, just with two sections open instead of one. At four, you do run the risk of not pushing the Crystal off at all, but that’s not a huge deal. When that happens, you just score rather than finish up by dunking the Crystal. For a short game, I think the game ends up feeling more fun when that push-and-pull happens for a longer period of time, so I’m inclined to push for games of Redcap Ruckus at four players.
- You don’t actually need to knock the Crystal off to win. This is one of those things you kind of notice after a few plays of the game; everyone has their eyes on the Crystal and want to knock it off, but if you can bust a few Champions and some Twin Gnomes, you may be able to totally exceed the 6 points you get for the Crystal. That said, knocking the Crystal off in addition to doing those things is pretty useful, so, if you can knock the Crystal off, you probably should. Just make sure you don’t set someone else up to win the game by knocking the Crystal off the mushroom when they have more points than you! That’s … not strategically the best move, and I have to recommend against it, here.
- An early-game Vaulter can definitely force your opponent(s) into a defensive position, but it also removes your opportunity to potentially push off multiple pieces at the same time. You can use the Vaulter to essentially slam the Crystal across the board (notably, you likely can’t push the Crystal off with an early-game Vaulter, which is some smart design), which can put your opponents on the defensive since the Crystal will be closer to their side. A later-game Vaulter is handy because you can push a lot of tokens at the same time. It may be worth saving your Vaulter until it’s more strategic to use it, or if you want to shake your opponent early, drop your Vaulter! Try to read the board and see what your options are.
- Try to play the Vaulter as straight as you can; the twigs are basically worthless as they start to pivot. The twigs are super wobbly and they’ll slide as soon as they’re given the option to do so. If you can get them pushed in the right way, you can get them to extend almost across the board entirely! If you don’t, well, you’ll have a pile of sticks next to your Vaulter. It really do be like that, sometimes.
- If you can, putting your Grumpy Gnome as close to the Crystal as possible (especially when it’s about to be pushed off your side) can potentially blunt your opponent’s scoring run. If you can get your opponent to push off your Grumpy Gnome and the Crystal at the same time, you at least lose them a point, making the Crystal worth approximately the same as a Champion, which is good. In general, trying to throw your Grumpy Gnome onto the mushroom right as your opponent is all about letting your opponent be the one to push them off. You specifically want them to go over! Penalties are fun when they happen to other people.
- Being able to knock multiple Tenacious Gnomes off in one move might be what you need to have a power turn and / or end the game. They let you chain actions, since you can add any Tenacious Gnome you knock off back on on the same turn. That’s potentially pretty powerful, as they may let you push two or three other Gnomes off. You may end up getting a ton of points, or just … largely doing nothing. Them’s the breaks, sometimes.
- Do not push your own Champion off. That’s like, negative 5 points. That can sink you. There’s a risk there if you keep pushing in a straight line, since your Champion is the first to go on. Instead, either let someone else do that for you (it sucks, but better they gain 5 than you lose 5), or push enough Gnomes in at other angles that you’re not stuck with just a single-file line.
- I generally try to wait as long as possible to push my second Twin Gnome onto the mushroom. You don’t need to make it easy for your opponents to get both, and I don’t always get all of my Gnomes onto the mushroom before the game ends. Pushing one out early gives you the opportunity to get it close to the center of the mushroom, meaning it’s hard to push your Twin off, but if you never add the second Twin, your opponents can’t get the bonus for pushing both of them off. That said, you don’t always have the option (some games go for a while or end without the Crystal being pushed off), so even then, I’d still push my Twin later, if possible.
- The standard Fighters are handy and I feel nothing about them. They’re not really fancy in any particular way, so, just kinda chuck them onto the mushroom and see what happens. Worst-case, you lose a couple, but they’re only worth 1 point each. They’re your standard foot soldiers, so if you’re not thinking about a specific strategic angle, you might as well push a Fighter on during your turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Aesthetically, I love this game. The mushroom is unbelievably fun. Just, can’t even describe how much fun it is. This game’s also got exactly the right art and color for the game that it is. It’s bright, it’s colorful, and it’s cartoony. Exactly as it should be. I just kind of needed the game to be bold and bright, and I love that it is.
- The gnome tokens are extremely nice, as well! A good weight. They’re about poker chip-weight, which is nice. If they were too light, they wouldn’t be any fun to push, and having them be heavier makes the Vaulter’s three twigs more challenging, which is good. Plus, they come with little boxes! I do love that all of the Champions have unique art, as well. It gives players more to invest in than just the color that they like.
- I really like the Vaulter token’s ability. I think that’s probably my favorite part of the game overall. The Vaulter is one of the most unique abilities in the game! It literally comes with its own components and makes a major change to the game state as soon as it’s added. The other Gnomes have lower-grade effects, which is fine, but there’s something to the Vaulter that just pops. As soon as you’ve used it, it’s a game-changer. Granted, all the roles shouldn’t be game-changers, but there’s something to the energy that the Vaulter adds. The Tenacious Gnomes are probably my second-favorite, just given that they give you potential bonus action. I just … like those kinds of things.
- I like that players lead with the Champion, as well. Gives the game some good stakes. Having such a hefty penalty potentially hanging over your head early in the game can give you a respect and appreciation for …. strategy? At the very least, it’s intense, which is good. It also forces you to not just push forward recklessly, because you risk taking a huge scoring ding if you knock off your own Champion.
- Seems like this game could be expanded with some additional roles, which would be cool. I kind of like a dynamic game, so, having more roles like the Vaulter that really shake things up would be exciting for me. Plus, just, more chaos on the mushroom would be good.
- Plays pretty quickly. It’s a short game! Especially if people are being hasty. As soon as the crystal gets knocked off, the game’s just … over.
- It’s also very easy to reset. It’s just kind of a “clear the mushroom, sort the colors, and start again” kind of game. For quick games, this is pretty ideal. Honestly, it’s ideal for longer games, as well, but it usually doesn’t happen like that. Long games have more bits, usually.
- The box is just … fairly narrow, and that is a very easy way to end up with some extra unwanted shelf space. This is mostly just a “this is how I get irritated when I’m trying to sort shelves, but I think that’s kind of the case with these … half-width boxes? Third-width boxes? I have been seeing a bunch of these lately for expansions and such. I think this is a half-size box. That said, a full-size box would be worse, since it would be fairly empty otherwise. I’m just whining.
- I do also get the Grumpy and Tenacious Gnomes mixed up from time to time. They aren’t quite the same, but they both have big “Yelling Gnome” energy, so I got confused. It happens.
- At fewer than four players, the “balance” of play can be a bit off, as there’s going to be an open section that gnomes aren’t coming from, so the game lacks that push and pull. This is where I got confused when I was covering the rules; I would have expected the game to have different entry points for different player counts, and it doesn’t seem to have anything for 3 players, so one zone isn’t really occupied? This can lead to odd outcomes, especially if one player goes for an early Vaulter. Essentially, that shifts the game’s center of gravity towards that empty zone, and that can make things feel unbalanced. This is a lot of why I prefer the game at four.
- Also, the game can feel unsatisfying if it ends too quickly? Yeah, the game’s quick to play, but sometimes it’s … too quick. I had at least two games that just ended with the Crystal being popped off before any Gnomes fell, which wasn’t exciting. At a higher player count, the four players can essentially keep pushing the Crystal back and forth, and the game can last a while. I actually like that! It’s not so long that the game becomes uninteresting, just long enough for potential shifts to happen.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, though, I ended up a bit split on Redcap Ruckus! I think part of it is that I had high expectations based on the type of game it is. I love dexterity games, right? And there’s a lot I really like about this! The game moves at a good pace, it’s got the right color and art for the type of game it is, and there are some roles that really shake things up! I think our early games colored the experience a bit, though; it fell a bit flat for us at two, and it took a few repeated plays at higher player counts to find a spot where I thought it worked better. I think Redcap Ruckus excels in its presentation, though, and I imagine a few more roles might end up moving things around and bumping my personal taste for this one up. As it stands, though, the game’s a bit too quick, for me. It kind of gets set up, plays a few turns, and then it’s over. While I like that, I feel like it can be hard to feel like I have a ton of agency when I play or feel satisfied with the outcome. At higher player counts, though, that back-and-forth from all the players combined caused the crystal to stay on the board a bit longer, allowing play to transition from tactical to more strategic. And I liked the strategy of that! I think, at some level, the game reminds me a bit more of those arcade machines where you’re trying to push enough tokens to get them to collapse. I do like that, but I would like a bit more action, in that department. More, smaller tokens would be pretty exciting, here, or a speedier component. Those would probably appeal to me more. The core game is interesting, though, so if you’re looking for a slower-paced dexterity game or you just want to have a giant mushroom on the table (who doesn’t?), maybe Redcap Ruckus will be up your alley!
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