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Hobbies—My Games
Gruff Goats

Gruff Goats is a children's game for two to four players, probably at least four years old. A game takes five to twenty minutes. Besides these rules, players need 2 decks of playing cards and printed copies of the playing board and tokens.

Because of a White Elephant Gift Exchange my sister- and brother-in-law acquired a copy of The Power Puff Girls Card Game, which to the best of my knowledge introduced the concept of using the same deck of cards to both bid for suit-specific gizmos and also to use the gizmos once you control them. However, that game had negligible strategy and too much luck for my preferences. So I invented Gruff Goats for kids and Walls and Stairways for adults, to use a somewhat similar game mechanic in a more interesting and strategic manner. Although the resulting games are very different from The Power Puff Girls, I should give that heroic trio their due.

My goat picture is, in style, a tribute to Antoine de Saint Exupery's The Little Prince. The reference to the "I Hate Orange Club" is another tribute, to college friends.

Gruff Goats is © 2002 by David L. Van Slyke


goat Invisibly, the fairies spied on the goats bickering as they lounged beneath the afternoon sun.

"You young 'uns don't know what it used to be like," drolled the oldest goat. The young goats rolled their eyes, and adjusted themselves as drowsiness threatened.

troll "In my day," rambled the ancient goat, "trolls didn't just stand atop bridges. They hid under them, and you wouldn't know a bridge was unsafe until it was too late!"

A slightly smaller but also old goat quipped sarcastically, "Yea, and then a goat would have to be heroic to save its skin...do something valiant like offer its siblings as potential troll food!"

The oldest goat sniffled in disdain, except that since it was a goat the sniffle came out quite snort-like. It continued, "And that's another thing. In my day there were goats big enough to knock a troll off a bridge!" Some of the youngest goats who had not heard this particular rant looked up incredulously as he continued, "Yessiree Billy, we didn't have to avoid bridges simply because we could see a troll on one."

The young goats snickered at the thought of a goat attacking a troll, but the oldest goat did not notice.

dragon "And another thing," he continued, with increasing wrath, "in my day there weren't these pesky dragons swooping down from the sky and carrying off who-knows-who without a moment's notice!"

The other goats trembled and glanced fearfully about at the mention of the d-word.

"And the grass on this side of the bridges," reminisced the oldest goat, "it was never as green as the grass on the other side, of course, but it was a little something at least. This ground here is so dry it's practically orange! I can't stand orange! If there was an 'I Hate Orange' club I'd join!"

The fairies had seen enough. "Sure you want this crowd, Sparkletoe? Okay, if you say so. Then we all have picked a group of goats. And there's the grassy island, across the bridges from where any of us start. Lunch time is in half an hour; we'll start then. Whoever is the first to get three goats to the grassy island wins, and the losers get rainbow duty!"


photo of game In Goats Gruff you are a fairy in charge of guiding your three goats (big, medium, and little) to the Island of Good Grass. There are four bridges from the Outside Land to the Island. Two trolls move among these four bridges. Play cards to take and use the magic wands: if you have the proper magic wand you can move a certain-sized goat or a troll. Also, if you have just the right combinations of cards you can stir the dragon, who will swoop down to eat one of your rival's goats. Who will be the first to help three goats get to the Island?

This is a children's game because strategy can be neglected for straightforward play and the way in which players compete for the magic wands is childishly simple (I'm taking it... No you're not... Yes I am... No you're not...). Adults would probably enjoy this game as much as children only when tired or inebriated. For a more mature, intellectual, similar game based on the same game mechanic please see my Walls and Stairways.


Each player starts with his or her three goats in the same corner square, diagonally opposite from the other player. The two trolls start on two opposite bridges. The dragon is off the board. The four magic wands are off the board, initially controlled by no one. Shuffle two decks of cards (no jokers) and deal eight cards to each player.

Game Play

The Board

The island in the middle has nice green grass, and is safe. The land around the edge is ugly and barren and occasionally visited by the dragon.

Drawing Cards

Use your cards wisely. You draw 1 card at the end of each of your turns. Many turns you do nothing but draw a card!

When you run out of cards in the draw pile, reshuffle the discard pile. It becomes the new draw pile.

The Magic Wands

Magic wands must be claimed before they can be used.

If you want to claim a magic wand, discard one card of the appropriate suit. (Clubs for trolls, 3 other suits for 3 goat sizes; I draw little card-suit-symbols on the magic wand tokens.) The other person can "block" you if they wish by also discarding one card of the appropriate suit. The magic wand for the dragon is claimed in the same way, but gaining it requires discarding one card of each suit, as does blocking such an attempt.

Thus trying to claim a magic wand involves a child-like arguing. "I'm taking the medium goat wand." "No you're not." "Sure I am." "Not this time!" "How about now?" "Well, okay."

Once you have claimed a magic wand you can discard subsequent cards of its suit to use it. Using the troll wand allows you to move one troll to a different bridge not occupied by the other troll. Using a goat wand allows you to move your goat of that size one square. Moving a goat onto the bridge counts as moving one square, as does moving from the bridge onto the island. A goat that moves onto the island is removed from the board. Its player scores one point (YEA!) and then gets to replace the goat in any corner of the board.


You need 3 points to win. (This can be done by getting the same sized goat to the island multiple times.)

The Dragon and the Trolls

Using the dragon wand (again requiring discarding one card of each suit) allows you to pick up the dragon and fly it down over the board, having it grab any one goat. That goat is eaten. Its player gets to replace it in any corner of the board. Sometimes it is wise to eat your opponent’s goats when they are near or on a bridge. Sometimes you might have the dragon eat your own goats to move them to a better corner.

A goat on the same bridge as a troll is also eaten and replaced in any corner, as chosen by its player.


No good variations have been found. I've experimented with an optional rule: allowing the dragon to eat trolls (the dragon's player chooses which bridge they re-appear upon) but think it is as harmful as helpful.