Dale Yu: Two Zoch Games Reviewed – Banana Matcho and Riff Raff

Banana Matcho was the game getting the biggest promotional push at Essen from Zoch (or at least that’s how I perceived it).  All week, Spiel-goers could stop by the Zoch booth and have a complimentary banana or two while they tested the new games.  I brought a copy home with me from Essen, and my family has had a great time playing it thus far.

Banana Matcho
Designer: Thilo Hutzler
Publisher: Zoch
Players: 2-6
Ages: 6+
Time: 20 minutes

Times Played: 4 with review copy provided by Zoch

Banana Matcho

Banana Matcho is a light family dice game released at Spiel 2012.  Players compete to get to the top of the tree on the scoreboard.  On any given turn, two players are active in the game – one is the main player who is trying to roll the six fruit dice to get a high-scoring combination.  The other is the player to the left who takes on the role of Banana Matcho, a monkey who is trying to stop the active player from scoring points.  There is a squeaky plastic banana (think: dog toy) in between these two players…

The players start rolling dice at the same time.  The active player, who has the 6 fruit dice, can re-roll any dice as often as he wants.  The fruit dice are identical to each other, each having one face for each of the six different fruits.  The scoring combinations that this player is looking for include:

  • 3 of a kind – 2pt
  • 4 of a kind – 4pt
  • 5 of a kind – 8pt
  • 6 of a kind – 10pt
  • 4 of a kind, pair of another – 7pt
  • two 3 of a kinds – 6pt
  • three pairs – 5 pt
  • one of each of the six fruits – 12 pt

The active player can stop the round at any point by squeaking the plastic banana.  If he does this, the round ends and the active player scores points for whatever combination he currently has showing.

The other player is Banana Matcho.  He has three dice which have 5 blank sides and one Monkey side.  The goal of this player is to have all 3 dice Monkey side up.  The Banana Matcho player simply re-rolls all blank dice until he gets all Monkeys – at which point, he squeaks the banana.  If he is able to do this before the active player stops play – then the turn is over and the Banana Matcho player scores a single point.
For the next turn, all the equipment rotates one player around the board and the game continues on until someone has reached the top of the tree – 30 points.

Banana Matcho board

My thoughts on the game

This is a nice light family game.  The race between the active player and the Banana Matcho player leads to laughing and hilarity.  My kids have enjoyed this one a lot, and they have already requested that it be kept in their game closet so they can play it whenever they like.

Admittedly, there isn’t a great deal of strategy in the game – you pretty much roll the dice as fast as you can.  I usually just go for the combinations which involve only a single type of fruit – if I try to figure out how to make 3 pairs or any of the other complicated sets, I end up spending a lot of time staring at the dice trying to figure out how to get there, and the Banana Matcho guy gets his 3 Monkeys before I get close!

If you’re about “fairness” in games, then make sure you are first in player order.  The reason for this is that there is no rule about equal turns, so those who get to play earlier get more chances to roll the dice.  But, for a game like this, no one ever seems to care – it’s all about laughing and watching people get all flustered trying to beat the other player to the banana!

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:

Luke Hedgren: This game is random. Really random. And this is coming from someone who enjoys things like Epic Spell Wars and Love Letter. I’m sure you can see that from the rules, though. My issue is really, for a supposed push-your-luck game, the timer goes really fast. In my one game, the 3 monkeys seemed to some up very quickly, so I only got a few rolls in, which just makes the game about who gets lucky in those couple rolls. I ended up resorting to tactics such as “accidentally” knocking the monkey dice on the floor, or the ole’ “hey, look over there!” before beginning my turn. Those got quickly pooh-poohed. Ah, well.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it!
I like it. Dale Yu
Neutral. Luke Hedgren, Ted Alspach
Not for me…

Riff Raff
Designer: Christoph Cantzler
Publisher: Zoch Games
Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Time: 20-30 minutes

riffraffbox

Times played: 3 with review copy provided by Zoch
This is an older title that was released earlier in 2012, but I did not get my hands on it until Essen…  This is a balancing/dexterity game has a wooden ship which has three masts.  This entire contraption is then balanced on a cardboard cone which sits inside the game box – in addition, a heavy metal counterweight is attached to the bottom of the ship and makes the whole thing wobble back and forth.  It’s more complicated to explain it in text – and seeing a couple of pictures will make it easier to visualize the game…

courtesy of duchamp on BGG

courtesy of duchamp on BGG

courtesy of duchamp on BGG

courtesy of duchamp on BGG

Each player starts the game with an identical set of 8 wooden pieces.  Additionally, players get a set of cards numbered 1-10, which correspond to the 10 possible locations that you can put stuff on the ship (4 on the deck, and on each side of the three masts).  Someone is appointed the captain to start the game – whichever player is the current captain breaks any ties that might come up in the game.

In each round of the game, players secretly and simultaneously choose one of their cards and then they are revealed.  The player who played the highest number card is the new captain (and also gets to go first).  That player then chooses any of the wood pieces he has in front of him and places it on the matching numbered space of the ship.  He may not use his hands to manipulate the ship or anything currently on the ship, but he may use the wood piece he is trying to place to move things about.  If he is able to place it on the ship without anything falling off – then his turn is over.  If any wood bits fall off the ship, the player has to add them to his personal supply – UNLESS he is able to catch the falling pieces; any caught pieces are removed from the game.  The round continues in reverse order of card played.

There is one other rule about placing the wooden bits. If you choose a ship section which already has at least one wooden piece on it, you can declare that you are going to place two wood pieces in that section.  You have to make this decision before you put the first piece on the ship, and once you’ve decided, you can’t back out.

The game continues until someone has placed their final wood piece from their supply.  If no one has done this by the end of the tenth round (when the last card has been chosen), the player(s) with the fewest wood pieces remaining are the winners.

My thoughts on the game

This is a wonderfully produced game, and the huge wooden ship is a definite conversation piece.  Anytime I saw this game in play at Essen, there was always a crowd of gawkers who were watching.  The game is delicately balanced which leads to a pretty challenging game as the weight of the wooden pieces is often enough to cause the ship to sway a great deal.

courtesy of duchamp on BGG

courtesy of duchamp on BGG

However, for me, this delicate balance was also the largest negative of the game.  A great deal of care must be taken in the construction of the ship in setup.  The cardboard cone must be setup such that the top is perfectly flat – if not, the ship will list to one direction, even when completely empty.  The mast must also be carefully placed at a right angle to the ship or else it will also list to the side when empty.  Oh, and make sure you’re playing on a level surface in a room which is also level. If not…  (In our house, we ended up having to play on my billiard table as our usual gaming table is apparently not quite level).  Obviously, if this happens, the game is essentially unplayable because it’s hard to balance stuff on a ship that lists 30 degrees off center to start with!

It is certainly possible to set the game up properly, but once the setup actually took longer than the game itself as we fought to get everything balanced!  It also makes the game a lot harder for the kids to play on their own as there is essentially zero chance that they can get things balanced from the start.
But, once you get past the setup issues, the game is quite challenging.  The ship definitely moves a great deal and things are always falling off.  When I was just screwing around with the game, I couldn’t get more than about 12 things to ever be on the ship at once – the darn thing moves so much…  Essentially, you always have to be prepared for things to be falling off the ship – and hopefully you’re able to catch them so that you can remove them from the game instead of adding them to your own supply.  Also, be careful not to be too vigorous in your attempt to catch falling pieces, because if you bump the ship or the table, I guarantee you that just about everything else on the ship will go flying as well!

This is apparently the design of the game though… someone at the Zoch booth explained the title of the game to me.  “Riff” = reef and “Raff”= to grab, so obviously the game is as much about grabbing the falling things as it is placing them on the ship!

I have certainly enjoyed the games once we’ve been able to get it set up correctly, but not more than Kapitan Wackelpudding or Hamsterrolle – and those games are out of the box and being played in under 2 minutes.  I would love this game if it came in a fully constructed set which needed no setup because it is a blast to play when the ship is balanced right.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:

Tom Rosen: I’ve played Riff Raff twice and enjoyed it very much.  I can’t help but compare it to Tier auf Tier, the quintessential stacking game.  If you haven’t played Tier auf Tier then: (a) my comments won’t make much sense; and (b) what’s wrong with you?! get thee to a Tier auf Tier game stat.  So while Riff Raff is great and all, the problem seemed to be that the instability of the boat (as compared to the traditional alligator, or is it a crocodile?) means that items don’t have as much time to build up in interesting and unusual ways.  This may simply be a function of inexperience, but as Dale notes, the game could instead be about grabbing things as they fall, rather than really a true stacking game.  Riff Raff is very nicely produced and would be a tempting purchase, but with plenty of large dexterity games already occupying significant and limited shelf space (e.g., Bamboleo, Bausack), I think I’ll have to pass on Riff Raff.

Nathan Beeler: In my handful of plays of Riff Raff I never had to set up the game (though I did quickly shim one corner when people felt the table was a little out of level).  So I can’t really speak to Dale’s concerns about that.  I do know that we move the yardarms every which way and the boat would always return to center.  The game play itself is a lot of fun, and I saw many people at Sasquatch having a great time with it.  The ship simply begs to be set in motion, which it does quite easily and often.  The rocking motion very much resembles the swaying of a ship on the high seas in a storm (though hopefully real ships are better than Riff Raff players at tying down their monkies so they don’t go flying off).  One hilarious effect of the game’s dynamics is that a player must go from the steady handed delicate work of placing a piece on the boat to quickly snatching out of the air those same pieces that have now been sent flying.  It amazes me how people are unprepared for that switch often, even though that is pretty much all the game is.  Add in a dash of double think with level choosing, and you’ve got one dynamite dexterity game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it! Nathan Beeler
I like it.  Ted Cheatham, Jennifer Geske, Tom Rosen, Ted Alspach, Lorna
Neutral. Dale Yu, Larry Levy, Andrea Ligabue
Not for me…

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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One Response to Dale Yu: Two Zoch Games Reviewed – Banana Matcho and Riff Raff

  1. Doug says:

    I love Riff Raff, but the tolerances are so fine in the ship that you have to be very careful setting it up. It’s a great challenge to play it, and it’s easy to miss the fact that stacking is only half the game. I’ve experimented (successfully) a little by adding metal washers to the counterweight to make it a little more forgiving.

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