Hey! That's my Fish

Reviewer Reviewed On Publisher Designer Published In Rating
January 27, 2006 Mayfair Games & Phalanx Games Gunter Cornett and Alvydas Jakeliunas 2003 7.5
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Every once in a while, I'll play a game that is so simple, yet works so well, that I think to myself, "Why didn't I think of that?" And the answer, of course, is that I'm not a brilliant game designer who can take a very simple idea and make it into a challenging game. Fortunately, a couple of designers were brilliant enough - thus giving us Hey! That's My Fish (Mayfair and Phalanx Games, 2005 - Alvydas Jakeliunas & Guntar Cornett). The theme is that of penguins jumping around a series of ice floes, as they gobble up as many fish as possible.

Yet in all actuality it's simply an abstract game, with players moving their pawns around, trying to cut one another off and score the most points. Yet I've encountered few abstract games such as this one. It's simple enough for my five year old daughter to comprehend and play, yet deep enough that it can be played seriously by gamers. Personally, I think it's more on the light side of abstract games (it should be played fairly lightly, anyway). Still, any abstract game that can be played in less than twenty minutes, hold a decent amount of strategy, and play almost as well with three and four players as it does with two is worth getting in my book.

A random grid of sixty hexagon tiles is set up on the board, in alternating rows of seven and eight tiles each. Each of these tiles (ice floes) shows one, two, or three fish. Starting with one player, each player places one penguin on an ice flow that has only one fish. Players continue to place penguins until they have reached their maximum (two penguins in a four player game, three in a three player game, four in a two player game). The youngest player then goes first, with play proceeding clockwise.

On a player's turn, they simply move one of their penguins in a straight line as far as they want to. Penguins cannot jump empty spaces or other penguins, nor change direction. After a penguin has moved, the owner removes the ice flow that the penguin started it on, and adds it to their stash. Play then passes to the next player. If a player cannot move any of their penguins on their turn, they must remove all penguins along with the ice flows on which they reside, and they must wait until the other players finish. After all players are finished with the game, they count the total number of fish on their ice flows, with the player who has obtained the most fish winning the game!

Some short comments on this short, simple game…

1.) Components: The game could have been more abstract, but the arctic theme makes sense and gives us a chance to have a cute, interesting layout when playing. The penguin wooden pieces (peneeples?) are great and much more interesting to move around than simple wooden pawns, and the artwork on the tiles is well done. All the pieces fit in a smallish box, but one that is still quite a bit bigger than is needed. The game requires very little space - just a pile of tiles and some penguins.

2.) Rules: The rules are on four pages, and that's almost exaggerating, since they are so simple and easy. It's one of the easiest games I've ever taught; everyone who played, from my five year old daughter to my normal gaming group quickly understood it. Even my three year old daughter almost grasped the concepts! Nothing hard about this one.

3.) Strategy: In our first game, which I played with my daughter, we both simply moved our penguins as best we could to the three fish floes. My daughter won, which made me take a deeper look at the game. In subsequent games (many of them), I quickly realized that if a player was able to cut off a section of the main ice floe with only one of their penguins on it, they could score big! In fact, taking charge of these valuable islets is the key to victory. Each game is a careful dance of penguins, as players attempt to maneuver them around, forcing other penguins into areas from which they can't move, and seclude their own penguins on lucrative sections. However, since a person only has a few penguins and only a certain amount of spaces to move them on, choices shouldn't be that difficult. Yet if a player loses, it's because of their penguin movement, not luck. The only luck in the game is the initial setup of the ice floes, and that simply changes the nuances of the game - nothing else.

4.) Players and Fun Factor: A two player game can be a tense affair, with players trying to use one or more of their penguins to battle it out. It can be great for a player if they manage to strand one of their penguins on a small island but terrible if two ore more are stuck on that same island. Adding more players into the mix changes the dynamics of the games quite a bit. Players must realize that the board will change more between moves, and it's a little easier for two players to shut a third out of the game. For this reason, I prefer the game most with two players, but I didn't mind the game with more. For one thing, it's tremendously fast, which allows players to play again, and it just gives one a very satisfied feeling. Even if you lose, you still managed to get SOME fish.

Hey! That's My Fish! is a bit of a rarity - a fast playing abstract game that offers a satisfying experience and isn't just considered a light bit of frivolity. Sure, now I can easily beat my daughter, because I have a better ability to look several moves in advance. But I was able to teach her sound tactical moves with this game, and we were able to compete on a semi-competitive level; and that's better than most abstract games. And better yet, a group of "heavy" gamers can play the same game and have a tense, taut experience. One game that can do all that in a short time frame is almost a must-have for a collection.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"