Posted by: gschloesser | August 10, 2011

Relationship Tightrope

Designed by:  Reiner Knizia
Released by:  UberPlay and ASS
3 – 5 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appeared in Counter Magazine #13

Relationship Tightrope is the re-theming and re-release of Drahtseilakt from Reiner Knizia.  The original game was released by ASS and carried a tightrope theme.  At the time of its release, the game was not widely acclaimed or known, flying under the radar of most gamers.  That was a shame, since it is a fun game that is suitable for both gamers and families.  

I was happy to see the announcement that Uberplay was going to be re-releasing the game, albeit with a new theme:  the struggle between men and women to keep their relationships healthy.  There’s a theme that hasn’t been addressed outside of games you would find at shopping mall Spencer stores. 

My review of Drahtseilakt appeared back in Counter #13, and has been revised somewhat here to discuss the purely cosmetic changes in this new version. 

Drahtseilakt has been around since 1999, but I had never even heard of the game until my good friend Ted Cheatham taught me the game while we were at Mark Jackson’s home for an intensive weekend of gaming back in January of 2000.  I immediately ordered a copy and proceeded to teach the game to others at every opportunity.

In DrahtseilaktRelationship Tightrope, players try to perfectly balance their collection of red and blue rods.  Ideally, you want a perfect balance, which means you will have a net of zero rods.  More of one color than the other will result in negative points.

The game consists of a deck of 50 cards, numbered 1 – 50.  Each player receives a certain number of these cards each turn (nine with five players).  Several cards are out of play (five with five players), which prevents those more mentally astute players from perfectly exercising their card counting abilities.  Further, there are nine ‘balance’ cards numbered 1 – 9.  In the Drahtseilakt version, these cards depict a man trying furiously to balance himself on a tightrope, with the number depicted on the card being shown in both red and blue.  In addition, there are two ‘balance’ cards valued at zero, one each in red and blue.  The Relationship Tightrope version uses different artwork, which I’ll discuss in more detail a bit later.

Each round, one of the ‘balance’ cards is revealed and players, one at a time beginning with the player who played the highest card the previous round, each play cards face-up to the table.  After each player lays a card, the player who played the high card is forced to take a number of blue rods equal to the value on the ‘balance’ card, while the player who played the lowest card must take a corresponding number or red rods.  This process continues until all players have depleted all of their cards.  If a player has collected rods of one color (let’s say blue) and later collects rods of the other color (red), he only keeps the net difference in the rods, returning the remainder to the stack.  For instance, if Willerd collected 8 blue rods on one round, then later collects 5 red rods, he only keeps 3 blue rods and returns the remaining five to the stack.

Play continues in this fashion until the players have played all of their cards.  Points are recorded equal to the number of rods each player has collected, and a new turn is begun.  We usually play four rounds, with the player with the lowest score (closest to zero) being the winner.

The game forces players to cleverly manage their cards so as to avoid taking rods.  Sometimes, however, a player will want to take rods, especially if he had previously collected rods of the opposite color.  However, since there is only one of each number in the ‘balance’ deck, it is impossible to wipe out a set of rods with just one card.  For instance, if you get stuck with five blue rods, it is impossible to get five red rods in just one hand since the ‘five’ balance card is no longer available.  Thus, you have to attempt to win several cards which will have the effect of equaling five (3 red and a 2 red, or a 6 red and a 1 blue, etc.).  So, in addition to managing your cards properly, you also have to remember which cards have already been revealed in a round and battle for the appropriate cards.

The game can be insidious as you attempt to avoid collecting rods and force your opponents to take rods.  Or, as mentioned, many times you find yourself trying to take rods to offset previously collected ones.  This is sometimes easy, but only IF no one else is attempting to collect those same rods.  Further, as each hand is played, you have fewer and fewer cards in your hand, so your choices become increasingly limited.  Hand management is critical. 

But wait … there’s a few more twists.  I mentioned the two zero cards. If one of these surfaces in the ‘balance’ deck, the next card is revealed and the zero card is placed OVER the corresponding side.  So, if the blue zero card is revealed, then it is placed OVER the blue number on the next balance card.  This means the player who plays the highest card in that round will get ZERO blue rods.  This often provides an opportunity for players to dump a high valued card, but it can also wreak havoc on your plans if the zero card covers a number you were counting on acquiring!  Further, it is quite possible that one or both of the zero cards will not surface during a round, so you can’t rely on these appearing when making your plans.

The final twist is really interesting and serves the purpose of keeping everyone in contention, even if they had a previous lousy turn.  If a player manages to score a ‘zero’ in a turn, he can wipe out one of his scores from a previous round.  So, even if you scored a disastrously high number in a previous round, there is always hope that you can erase that score with a perfect zero in a later round.  I’ve seen several folks win the game on the last turn by accomplishing the enviable feat.

As mentioned earlier, the player playing the highest card in a round leads the next round.  Playing first and second is the least desirable positions to be in, as it allows everyone else to attempt to play between these two values if they wish to avoid taking any of the rods that round, or go over or under if they are attempting to grab rods.  So, although you might need to grab those blue rods to offset a previous acquisition, you also must consider the dangers of being forced to lead the following round.  Careful hand management is essential to play well and score low!

Throughout the game, you have those tough little decisions that have to be made.  The natural inclination is to attempt to avoid taking any rods for as long as possible.  However, this may not always be the best strategy, especially if you have a hand with an abundance of high and/or low cards.  You really have to adapt your strategies to the cards you are dealt.

I’ve played this game with a wide variety of folks, from gamers, to spouses and children.  It’s gone over well in all environments.  I was amazed that the game didn’t receive more press, and considered it a true hidden gem.  With the release of Operation Tightrope, perhaps more folks will take notice.

The new version is EXACTLY the same as the original, save for the theme and artwork.  Oh, and instead of having red and blue rods, we now have pink and blue.  Cute. 

Quite a few folks have taken exception with the artwork on the cards.  No, not the quality of the art, which is drawn by Alvin Madden and is quite good, but rather the stereotypical images depicted.  Each card (except the “zeroes”) depicts two drawings, one related to “manly” activities or traits and the other related to “womanly” activities or traits.  Examples of “manly” traits include passing gas at the table or forgetting about his wedding anniversary. “Womanly” traits include watching romance movies and being frightened by spiders.  Personally, I find this depiction rather comical and far, far, far from being offensive.  I’m willing to bet that pretty much all of us have heard these stereotypes before and have even joked about them.  I fully realize that some people can take offense over just about anything, but I’m hard pressed to understand how these innocent, good-natured caricatures can cause any reasonable person to be offended.  The depictions are not racist, nor do they disparage any religious or political beliefs.  They are cute and innocent.  I’ve played this new version in several different settings, including with a housewife and a 13-year old boy.  No one has found the cards offensive in the slightest.  I’m reminded of the tune from the Eagles, whose refrain urges folks to just “Get Over It!”

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Responses

  1. Relationship Tightrope feels like a sub-game that was puffed-up into a standalone title. It’s nifty, but also wispy, and there really isn’t much reason to bring out something this light. Heckuva theme though. (4/10)

  2. This is a neat little game. Try to collect the least blue or red sticks. Since they cancel out, 4 reds and 6 blues = 2 blues. I really like that part of the strategy. You can collect a big number and still get back to zero. 7/10


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