Rattlebones is a dice game for two to four players ages 14 and up from Rio Grande Games designed by Stephen Glenn.
What sets Rattlebones apart is that players can change the faces of their dice throughout the game.
How it works:
Players have three monkeys they can move around a board, which has cards every other space, so the board always changes. They also have three dice, which being with the numbers 2 through 6, and a Rattlebones symbol standing in for the 1.
When a player moves a monkey to a space, the player can take a die face of the matching symbol and place it on the die just rolled.
Those die faces give players the chance to do helpful actions when they’re rolled: gold lets players roll extra dice; stars are collected and sold for points; the train lets the train move around a track, which also gives point; gambling often, but not always gives points; the thief steals gold and stars; and so on.
The Rattlebones token starts at or near the end of the scoring track, depending on the number of players. Players’ scoring tokens, mice, start at the beginning of the scoring track. So as players score, they move toward Rattlebones. When they roll a Rattlebones, his token moves toward them. The first player to meet or pass the Rattlebones token wins.
Why you might buy Rattlebones:
Building your own dice is a fascinating exercise. Eventually, if the die gives you an unwanted roll, you have only yourself to blame.
For a game with dice, this leads to a surprising amount of strategy, although it’s not difficult to figure out. This is a great game for beginners.
Players don’t do much with each other, which also means they don’t beat up on each other. The thief action is the only exception, and it can be left out of the game.
I’m not sure why the box says the game is for ages 14 and up, but I’d guess it has something to do with safety regulations. If you think your child can handle lots of tiny pieces without putting them in their mouths or pop out sides of their die without flicking them into their eyes, this game should work well for the whole family.
The art in this game is exceptional. The colors are bright and cheery, the symbols are easy to tell apart, and the pictures are evocative.
If you like rolling dice, but rolling numbers bores you, give Rattlebones a look. Because you have three monkeys to choose from, you can position them strategically each time you roll a number.
The game is also short, 15 minutes to a half-hour depending on the number of players.
Why you might not want to buy Rattlebones:
If you’re looking for a game where the theme of the game matters, Rattlebones doesn’t deliver. The back of the box is the only time the theme is really mentioned, and the gameplay doesn’t make you feel like you’re at a carnival looking for Rattlebones.
The art, though well done, does have a bit of a creepy carnival feel.
Rattlebones does offer some interesting strategic decisions, but the game has lots of randomness — you’re rolling dice after all. If you want a pure strategy game, this won’t fit the bill.
If you don’t like lots of tiny little pieces, you should skip this one. There are 180 dice sides.
Turns are short, so you don’t always feel like you’re doing a lot. This can give the game an automated sort of feel, especially toward the end when you’ve already built the dice the way you want them.
I have mixed feelings about this game. I loved customizing my dice. It’s fascinating to determine your own destiny with a combination of randomness.
But I wanted the game to do more. The turns were so fast that I felt like something essential was missing.
That said, I think this would be a perfect family game, despite the age label, and a great game to introduce people to strategy games. It takes familiar elements — rolling dice and moving around a board — and lets players shape the experience for themselves.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Rattlebones from Rio Grande Games. I was not required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.