January Spotlight - Riff-Raff

Every month at For The Win Board Game Cafe we'll be spotlighting a game of our choice. We'll give an in-depth look at either a new release or a game we feel very passionate about. 

The most popular cafe games tend to be dexterity games. People of all ages can participate and enjoy testing their coordination. It's also visually exciting to observe. When customers ask us, "What game are they playing over there?" the answer is almost always Riff Raff.


Riff Raff is a balancing game where players attempt to place various cargo items on a wooden ship which tilts 360 degrees. Each section of the ship is numbered from 1 through 10 to correspond with the deck of cards each player receives at the beginning of the game. Each round players select one card and places it facedown.


Simultaneously, all cards are revealed and the turn order is determined by highest to lowest number. During the player's turn they must attempt to place one of their cargo items on the matching section of the ship as the card they played. If any pieces fall off, they are added to the current player's pile. Any pieces that are caught as they fall off are removed from the game. The first player to successfully clear their collection of cargo is declared the winner!

Overall, it's a very simple game to learn. The strategy of the game doesn't hit until turn 5 or so, when the cards in each player's hand whittle down. Carefully deciding when to attempt a tough number is key to minimizing unwanted collapses. There's enough variety in the cargo that it properly affects each choice the players make. 


The quality of components are of the utmost importance in any balancing game. To ensure a long-lasting and accurate experience, attention must be given to every detail. As much as I love Rhino Hero, it's a rather disposable game when it comes to the durability of its components. Riff Raff spares no expense with each physical part. It may seem like an expensive game to purchase, but when you consider quality it's more than fair value. Riff Raff can stand the test of time.

The crux of the game lies in its counter-balance allowing for accurate swaying movement of the ship. To implement this, the game uses the box to elevate the ship on cardboard platforms that look like ocean waves. Hanging inside and beneath the ship is a metal ball which centers it. It's an intuitive and elegant solution that remains hidden to keep things thematic. 

Each cargo item is shaped and weighted differently. All made of wood and uniquely designed to fit the theme of the game. It's a vast upgrade over games like Bamboleo, Bandu and Jenga; all of which just borrow generic geometric polygons. The deckhand piece is particularly fun as it has the ability to hang, ala Barrel of Monkeys.


At its price-point it can look like an investment. But it's certainly a worthwhile one. Riff Raff has an air of timelessness to it. It will remain relevant for a long time, unlike the similarly named rapper. Few games I would consider to be "perfect" family games. Even things like Ticket to Ride can be a bit too gamey for the elders or too complex for little ones. Riff Raff is among the select few I would safely label as a perfect family game that can be played by all. It carries itself with a level of sophistication that an expensive chess set would hold. It's as much an heirloom as it is a game. And that's what I would consider the highest praise you could give any tabletop game. 

Earl OliverosComment