Like Jenga? Then you’ll love these!
Everyone’s heard of Jenga. Your grandparents, your hipster pals, and that stuffy colleague that poo-poos everything. It’s a game of removing – and then re-stacking – wooden pieces in a manner so they remain balanced. The rules are simple, and anyone can pick it up and play. No wonder Jenga has been entertaining young and old alike since the 1980s! Your local pub will have a beer-stained copy of it knocking about, somewhere.
Jenga has the reputation for being a ‘classic’ dexterity game. The good news is that board games have come on leaps and bounds since Jenga’s release in 1983. Many of them are in the same family as the tower-stacking game. Physical pieces, stacking and balancing, simple rules, and hours of fun.
Are you looking for the ‘new Jenga’ to play with children and adults alike? Or are you looking to buy the ideal gift for the Jenga-nut in your life? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve whittled down six amazing alternatives to Jenga, and all scratch the same itch. They’re all guaranteed to make you fall back in love with tumbling towers. If you like Jenga, you’ll love these…
I’ll forgive you for mistaking Catch The Moon as a surreal Salvador Dalí exhibit. Intertwining ladders lead to nowhere, while the moon looks on, weeping. Is this a dexterity game, or a work of modern art? The theme here is about as Lewis Carroll as it gets. Players compete to stack ladders up to reach the moon, who cries when the structure tumbles!
Catch The Moon by Bombyx is a stacking game with wooden components. The pieces, as mentioned, are ladders fashioned out of a material like balsa wood. Each ladder is about five-six inches long, and some are wonky. Some have missing or ‘incomplete’ rungs.
Two ladders start wedged into a plastic base, leading up. On your turn, you roll a die and obey the instruction. Place a ladder so it touches one previous-placed ladder; place a ladder that touches two different ladders; or place a ladder that becomes the new highest ladder. If your turn results in a ladder falling off or touching the base, the moon ‘cries’ and you have to take a tear token. If you take the final teardrop, you lose the game! Thus, the tension cranks up in the latter third of the game.
You can get creative with how you place ladders. (They come in varying widths.) It’s satisfying to discover different ways to ‘lock’ certain rungs together. The game evolves in a fascinating manner as it contorts and sprawls out. If snapping photos for Instagram is your thing, Catch The Moon is as aesthetic as it is charming.
If UNO and Jenga had a board game baby, Rhino Hero would be the result. This is a card game by HABA, who publish excellent games for children. However, trust me when I say that Rhino Hero is a kids’ game the same way that Shrek is a kids’ movie. The design has layers (like an onion) so that it appeals to both young’uns and adults alike.
In Rhino Hero, players aim to get rid of their hand of cards. Each card has an action on it that impacts the proceeding player, like UNO. Reverse turn-order, miss a go, pick up a card… All standard stuff. Rhino Hero is not about simple card shedding, though. Your cards represent a visual rooftop. On your turn you have to contribute towards building a tower block using cards!
Each roof card, alongside its action, states the structural foundations for the next player to obey. They’ll start by taking wall cards, which are foldable (yes! They have proper creases and everything!) and bending them into shape. First up, they have to sit these as stated, at 90°, on top of the previous roof card. Then they’ll place their own roof tile on top of it, flat.
Some roof cards state that Rhino Hero himself has to climb the tower. The game comes with a wooden meeple in the form of a spandex-clad rhinoceros. If you thought the art of placing cards was tense, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You’ll know pressure when you have to remove and relocate a small wooden item among a house of cards!
Rhino Hero is a perfect party game for adults. A couple of drinks, playing around a coffee table, collective holding of breath followed by cheers or commiserations… And for under a tenner, it’s also an ideal stocking filler or Secret Santa gift.
For a larger game, with more epic proportions, why not try Rhino Hero: Super Battle? This is a different beast where the tower layout will be unique each time. Each player has their own hero meeple, all aiming to climb the highest. If two heroes end their turn on the same floor of the structure, battle commences!
Another offering from HABA! Animal Upon Animal is another dexterity game whose initial audience were children. Forget that, though. I love playing this with adults – it’s such a guilty pleasure. Animal Upon Animal is the game among this list that is the closest resemblance to Jenga. The game lasts about five to ten minutes and is about stacking chunky wooden animal shapes on top of each other.
Every player begins with one of each animal type, such as a hedgehog, a toucan, a snake, and so on. These creatures are all different shapes and sizes – some are easier to place than others. The aim is to be the first player to get rid of all your animals.
The crocodile piece is the starting base. Like Catch The Moon, Animal Upon Animal is very as simple – you roll a die on your turn and obey the action. Place one of your creatures somewhere on the structure, or make a rival player place a piece. If ever animals fall off the ever-growing menagerie, you have to take up to two of them back. (Any excess go back into the box.)
It’s short, silly, simple… But it’s the kind of game that adults will love – especially after a drink or two. If you’re a fan of stacking games like Jenga because of their blocky wooden components and unstable tension, you’ll adore Animal Upon Animal.
Odds are you’re reading this because you enjoy the thrill Jenga provides. Because building something precarious that could crumble at any moment is exciting. Tokyo Highway provides that feeling, and then some. Here you build an overlapping series of motorways (like the ‘Spaghetti Junction’, near Birmingham, UK).
The highways themselves are like wooden lollypop sticks. Each player also gets wooden cylinders, and wooden cars of their colour. The aim? Be the first to place all your cars out on your highway.
On your turn you have to extend your highway by placing cylinders and balancing a highway piece. You’re always looking to place a road that ascends or descends by one level each time. If you cross over or under another player’s highway, you get to place a car on your road. Like a Japanese series of intertwined motorways, the layout soon becomes a delicate matter! This game even comes with tweezers, so you can place your cars with delicacy.
Tokyo Highway is not so much about building a tower. But, like Jenga, it still requires a deft touch and nerves of steel. If you knock parts of the highway over, you have to give opponents items from your own supply. If you run out of supplies, you’re eliminated!
Like Catch The Moon, Tokyo Highway is the kind of game that looks superb on the table. It’s guaranteed to have a unique layout every time. As a result, it can get strategic, fast.
Daring balancing acts are staple ingredients of any circus act. In Meeple Circus, players each run their own Big Top. The crowds are demanding, and they want to see something breathtaking! In this case, that’ll be you trying to balance Carcassonne-sized meeples on top of one another…
Meeple Circus takes place over three rounds. Players aim to build and balance wooden shapes in specific layouts to earn points. There’s drafting, where players take turns to select which circus employees they’ll use as part of their act. These could be barrels, balance beams, or blue, yellow or red acrobat meeples (acrobeeples?).
Then, simultaneous, players then have to balance their pieces in a limited timeframe. Each round, four cards show specific set-ups (a seal balancing a ball, or two meeples holding a beam, and so on). Each are worth points, if you can complete said acts before the time runs out. There are bonus points for placing different coloured starter meeples in set ways. You also score points for how tall your act is!
The timer mechanism works with a smartphone app (or visiting the website), which plays classic circus music. Pub quiz fact time: that well-known musical number is [i]Entry of the Gladiators[/i]. You’ll know it when you hear it! It’s silly, yet ratchets up the tension. Everyone rushes to place their pieces to the beat of the slapstick riffs pulsating in the background!
Meeple Circus is not complicated, per se. Collect meeples, then try to balance them in certain ways before the time runs out. Take note though, that it has more going on in comparison to the previous games I’ve mentioned in this list. But if you thrive on the intricacies of placing wooden bits on top of one another, then Meeple Circus is for you.
Junk Art, published by Pretzel Games, offers a similar experience to Jenga. The pieces vary in size and you stack them to produce a tower. There is a wooden version, and a cheaper, plastic equivalent. Before long, a game of Junk Art ends up resembling something that Damien Hirst might have created for The Tate Modern.
There are 12 different ‘round’ variants in Junk Art. Pick three of them, each providing different rules for that round. (Pick three of your favourites, or at random.) Most involve a deck of cards. Sometimes you’ll have a hand of them that state specific-shaped pieces must get added to a structure. (In some rounds there’s a communal tower, like Jenga, or everyone has their own structure.) Then you pass the hand of cards over, leaving your opponent with the dregs!
Often, Junk Art is a case of the last person standing earns the most points for that round. Add up the points across the three rounds to find the winner! And, like all games that involve dexterity, balance and nerves of steel, banging the table when it’s not your turn