Hurlyburly: Why the board game is so engrossing

January 17, 2020 15:25
In the Hurlyburly game, every player's goal is to build a tower of a certain height, and have it last one full round undamaged. Whoever achieves this first wins the game. Photo: Hiew Chok Sien

Hurlyburly is a children's game. Or a drinking game, some might argue.That sounds rather extreme, but I'm sure it works in both situations. It is a dexterity game about building towers and using catapults to destroy them. Your goal is to build a tower of a certain height, and have it last one full round undamaged. Whoever achieves this first wins the game. 

Every turn, you get to pick one action out of a number of options. And there are two ways to go about in building the tower. The steady approach is building one storey using two wall pieces (cards folded into an L-shape) and one floor/roof piece (card placed horizontally). The other approach - the fast approach - is building two stories each using one wall piece and one floor piece.

If you choose to build, you may build defenses instead of the tower itself. When building defenses, you add three pieces in any combination of walls and floors. Defenses are built around your tower and must not touch the tower itself. They protect but do not support your tower.

Another action type you may select is to collect rocks. They are the ammunition for your catapult. When you perform the collect rock action, you take one rock per storey of your tower. The higher your tower, the more efficient this action becomes.

The most fun action is, of course, attacking! When you choose to attack, you may spend as many of your rocks as you like, and you may attack as many of your opponents as many times as you like. You are only limited by the number of rocks you hold. For each opponent you successfully attack, i.e. you knock down at least one floor card, you steal one wall piece and one floor piece from him to build one floor at your own tower. If you manage to hit three opponents, you will build three storeys at one go! This is "no pain, no gain" - others' pain becoming your gain.

If you are out of rocks, you may still pick the attack action. You get one free rock (a pity rock), so you can still launch one attack.

The catapult card is thin and cannot launch the rock very far. One of the actions you can perform is to upgrade your catapult. You do this by adding a thin card to your catapult. This gives your catapult a bit more power.

With four players, your goal is to reach 4 stories. Once your tower reaches the 4th floor, and it lasts one full round without getting knocked down, you win.

The Play

The most joyful aspect of Hurlyburly is demolishing your opponent's towers with one well-aimed shot. You can get so much fun from this that someone eventually winning the game feels anticlimactic. Hurlyburly feels like a game of skill. After all you are the one taking aim and unleashing the rock at your opponent's tower. However, I am not exactly sure how much control you really have. The catapult may not be a very precise instrument in the first place. I may be overthinking this. It's a kid's game (or a drunk buddies game) for goodness' sake. It doesn't really matter whether the catapult is a precise instrument.

One thing you can control is timing. I find this very important. When your opponents have many rocks in stock, you should not try to build too fast. It would attract attention and you would become public enemy number one. Instead bide your time and wait for when your opponents are low on ammo.

If your tower reaches the required height at such a time, it is much more likely to survive one full round. This is very much the competitive and calculative veteran boardgamer in me talking. Kids may not think this way, and would still have a blast playing the game.

When playing with like-minded old farts, the game becomes a game of chicken. Let's see who dares to sprint ahead. Whoever does so will be beaten back by the rest. The next guy who tries it will be targeted by everyone too. There may be some ebb and flow as people patiently collect rocks and build their towers, and then the towers get smashed. The number of walls and floors are limited so when they run out, you are forced to attack others and steal their walls and floors. Eventually there will be a time when everyone is low on rocks, and whoever seizes the right timing will build, and with some luck last the full round, and win.

The Thoughts

Hurlyburly is a simple and straightforward game. You get the exhilaration of smashing your opponents' towers, and the anxiety of becoming the victim yourself. You may think it's just child's play, but when your painstakingly built tower gets pulverized, you will want revenge on the player who did it to you, and you won't care if you are being childish. That's what the game is about. That's why hurling wooden cubes at cardboard towers can be so engrossing.

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Hurlyburly is a dexterity game about building towers and using catapults to destroy them. Photo: Hiew Chok Sien
An attack in the Hurlyburly game. A player can get others' floors and walls with a successful attack. Photo: Hiew Chok Sien

A boardgame enthusiast and blogger ( based in Kuala Lumpur.