I generally shy away from tactical card games nowadays…not because I don’t find them appealing, but because I’m usually too busy to devote many hours to a single game. “Ruckus” breaks with that tradition, offering a tactical card game experience in under forty minutes, max. To sum this bad boy up, you and your opponents will be preparing a goblin army in an attempt to win skirmishes and earn victory points. Before we get started, I’d like to thank Michael Lubbers from Goblin Army Games for providing me with a free press copy. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because they are the same folks who developed “Monolith“.
Cards – There are unit cards, kicker cards, and victory point cards. Unit cards make up the four goblin guilds in the game: fighters (blue), thieves (grey), clerics (yellow), and necromancers (purple). Unit cards have unique abilities reflective of the guild to which they belong. Kicker cards are one-time use cards that are immediately discarded after their special ability is used. Victory cards (green) award players points for earning them and may even provide some type of buff or special effect.
Victory Point Tokens – When a player earns victory point cards, they also earn victory point tokens. Tokens can be saved until the end of the game for their point value (1 by default), OR they can be used for whatever special ability is listed on the reverse side.
Action Markers – These green cubes track damage and skills as they are used by unit cards.
Battle Screens – Players will prepare their army secretly using these screens at the start of a new round.
First Player Token – Determines the order in which players resolve actions during any phase of a particular round.
Setup & Gameplay
Firstly, the victory cards are shuffled and five are dealt face up to form the victory point deck. The rest are removed from the game. The top card will be the card that players will be battling for during that round. The VP tokens are mixed up face down, along with the Kicker cards. The action markers and first player token is placed nearby. The first player is chosen by the drawing of Kicker cards…whoever has the highest number (bottom right hand corner), wins the first player token. From here, players will choose a guild and customize their army via a beginner, advanced, or draft setup. Without going into specifics, players will assign some cards to their own personal draw pile while the rest will be contributed to a central “upgrade” deck from which any player can draw.
The game is played over a series of rounds until all five victory cards have been won. During a typical round, you’ll see the following phases observed:
1) Draw & Formation Phase – Players will draw five cards from their unit deck to form their hand. With their screens up, players will lay out as many cards as they’d like so as long as they conform to the formation rules. To briefly sum that up, a total of three cards can be placed in a player’s “front” row, a total of two cards can be placed in a player’s “middle” row, and one card can be placed in a player’s “back” row. This is known as the 3-2-1 rule, though there are some special exceptions that I’ll opt not to get into here. Once players are done setting up their army, the screens are removed.
2) Activation Phase – Beginning with the first player, each player may resolve one skill OR place one add-on (VP) token on their turn. Effects are immediately resolved as they occur.
3) Declaration Phase – Each player will total their attack damage, beginning with the first player. This includes melee damage from a player’s front row and ranged damage from any row.
4) Resolution Phase – The player with the highest damage total goes first, dealing that much damage to every other player. Players resolve this by applying damage (via the green cubes) to the cards on their own front row, in any order/way they’d like (unless otherwise indicated). When all players are done assigning damage, any units that have been killed (cubes >= health) are discarded into that player’s discard pile. Players will then “fall forward”, that is, move their surviving units forward so as long it conforms to the 3-2-1 rule.
Steps two through four are repeated until there is only one player left standing with units on the table. They win the victory card drawn for that round (a new victory card from the deck takes its place).
5) Upgrade Phase – A player who did not win a victory card MAY remove a card from their discard pile from the game in order to take an upgrade card, placing it on top of their draw pile. The first player token is then passed clockwise.
Once the fifth victory card has been won, players will count the total number of victory points in their possession and whoever has the most wins! The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played. You can find a copy of the PDF rulebook, here:
My mind went through several phases of uncertainty when attempting to assign a difficulty value to this game. On one hand, the game takes about twenty to forty minutes to play. On the other, the manual is over twenty pages long. Normally when I see a game manual consisting of more than eight pages, I know that I should probably buy a pack of Excedrin Migraine and prepare some emergency rations (which may or may not contain chocolate, ice cream, and/or cookies). The game itself isn’t difficult to play, but trying to factor in the card effects and how they might affect the different phases of a round is tricky. Therein lies the appeal factor for most tactical card game enthusiasts: the ability to plan and deploy a perfect army based on the cards you’ve been dealt.
For those of you new to tactical card games, allow me to explain. Chaining is often a huge part of combat and when it comes to “Ruckus”, there is no exception. I’d go as far as to say that chaining is inordinately abundant in this game. Each unit has some type of special effect or skill that does something out of the ordinary. Some units can be sacrificed to deal unblockable damage to an enemy unit before combat begins, for example. Some units, when played or discarded, might resurrect friendly cards or deal damage to enemy units. Couple this with the fact that each of the four goblin guilds have their own play style, you’ll realize just how strategic things can get. On top of that, players have the chance of drawing an enemy unit card from the upgrade deck (I call it the reinforcement deck), giving them abilities they normally wouldn’t see within their own guild. Moral of the story: one action could snowball into a mass slaughtering of cards…hence, chaining.
“Ruckus” is pure, unadulterated chaos. Luckily, it manages to be fun in the process. There’s some importance to playing tactically (especially when assigning unit cards to specific rows), but there’s also that “holy hell, did that really just happen!?” element that happens frequently and often. If you can stomach the initial learning curve (it’s not as bad as say, “Power Grid”), you’ll be able to blow through games as quickly as the box indicates. I recommend reserving an hour or two for your first few games…though I don’t see why you couldn’t simply play for say, three victory cards instead of five in order to shorten play time. The art and overall theme was pleasing to look at and I took no issue with the quality of the cards. Vinnie (13) enjoyed our two player games and I look forward to testing this out with three or four players, as time permits. I’d imagine it would be even more chaotic, given that there are more cards (and by extension, their effects) on the table.
Editor’s Note: At the time of writing (8/23/14), “Ruckus” is not available for purchase as of yet (but will be soon). After checking with the developer, I learned that the game will not be available for purchase through the official website but rather through standard distribution methods like Amazon. I’ll post a link once the game appears there.
Final Verdict: 9/10
You can learn more about “Ruckus” by visiting the following websites: