Buzzworthiness: Hey, That’s My Fish!

It’s Tuesday.  Must be time for a review.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Hey, That’s My Fish! is a 2003 game by designers Günter Cornett and Alvydas Jakeliunas.  Fantasy Flight is the current US publisher, though you may find the previous (and MUCH LARGER) edition from Mayfair Games.  Hey, That’s My Fish! is an abstract game for 2-4 players, where each person controls 2-4 penguins in a race to collect the most fish before losing all of the ice.

The game comes with 60 hexagonal ice floe tiles, each showing 1-3 fish.  These are laid out in alternating rows of 7 and 8.  Each player then takes turns placing their penguins on one of the one-fish floes (2 penguins each in a 4-player game, 3 in a 3-player game, and 4 in a 2-player game).  Once all penguins are placed, players take turns moving one of their penguins.  The penguin can move as far as you like in a straight line, not crossing holes in the ice and other penguins.  You remove the floe you just left and keep it as your score.  This means that holes will begin appearing all over the playing surface, so you have to be careful not to get trapped.  The game ends when no penguin can be moved anymore.  Players count up the fish they have collected, and the player with the most wins.

COMPONENTS: The original English version of Hey, That’s My Fish! was ridiculously large.  It came in a large box, it had large tiles, and it had large (though very nice) penguin minis.  It was kind of overkill, and when Fantasy Flight picked up the game, they miniaturized everything.  The tiles are now tiny, the box is small and square, and the penguins are very small as well.  This makes it much more affordable (you can pick it up for $13 in a game store).  I think the miniaturization serves the game well – it makes it more portable, and is more suited to the lightness of the system.    The only information provided by the tiles is how many fish there are, and this is not hampered by size.  The penguins are pretty cool little plastic guys running around.  The components get a thumbs up.

THEME: This is an abstract game, but this is an example of an abstract that does its theme pretty well.  Penguins are racing around trying to collect the most fish.  You’re leaving a hole in the spot you leave, which you can rationalize by saying that you broke the ice to get the fish.  You are sliding across the ice to your next destination.  You could easily change the theme to something else, but I think it works how it is.  The theme is tied enough to the mechanics that it helps in learning the game and giving you a reason for play.

MECHANICS: The basic mechanism is the point-to-point movement as you slide your penguins across the ice.  More subtle, however, is an area enclosure mechanism where you are trying to lock up large areas of fish that only you can get to.  Or trying to trap your opponents in a very small areas, hopefully together so they can duke it out for just a few fish.  Overall, the mechanics are very simple and very intuitive, and lead to a lot of strategy in the game.

STRATEGY LEVEL:  The only bit of randomness in the game is the layout of tiles at the very beginning.  Tiles are randomly placed in their rows, leading to a variable setup every time.  The fish are distributed with 30 one-fish floes, 20 two-fish floes, and 10 three-fish floes.  This leads to 100 total fish on the board, which can be helpful in determining how many you need to lock up a victory.  You’ll find that the three-fish floes disappear very quickly as people tend to set up their penguins so they can get to a three-fish floe first.  However, if you look at it, there are only 30 fish available on the three-fish floes, and 40 on the two-fish floes.  So it might be worth it to try and lock up a bunch of two-fish floes while others are fighting over those three-fishers.  There are lots of opportunities to trap your opponents, and you have to be careful that you aren’t also falling into a trap.  There is a ton of strategy in the game, much more than you would think.  Personally, I’m terrible at it, but I’m getting better the more I play.

ACCESSIBILITY: This game is probably one of the best gateway abstract games out there.  It’s simple enough that kids can grasp it, but not so light that it will be uninteresting to gamers.  The cute penguins and fish provide aesthetic appeal, and the intuitive rules really help people to get into it.  The random set-up means that no one is going to be able to “solve” the game, and that will help gamers of all levels to stay competitive.  It’s good stuff.

REPLAYABILITY: You can knock out a game of Hey, That’s My Fish! in 15 minutes.  The biggest barrier to just setting it up and playing again is the amount of set-up required.  Still, every game will be different, and players can always find new ways to play.  You can fool around with the layout of the tiles, coming up with new patterns at the start.  This is also a game you can blow up and play a life size version of, with people as penguins.  Lots of replayability.

SCALABILITY: I think Hey, That’s My Fish! plays really well with 2, 3, and 4 players.  BGG users seem to think that 3 is the best, but I’d play it with any number.  You’re not going to get as many fish in the 4-player game, but each tactical decision becomes VERY crucial.  In the 2-player game, you have more penguins to keep track of, and that can make traps very dangerous – you don’t want your penguins too close to each other, or they’re going to get locked up in the same area.  Three player seems to provide a balance between the two, but again, I’d play with any of the player counts.

LEGACY: When I look at an older game, I’m going to start trying to think about the game’s legacy.  I think Hey, That’s My Fish! is a pretty important game in that it came up with an abstract title that could be played by kids without being dumbed down for adults.  I would put it solidly in the gateway category, and I would call it one of the greats.  It’s a model of efficiency in rules that can create great strategic experiences.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  This is one of those games I think everyone should own.  It can be pulled out in any gathering of game players, and will produce a good time with each.  Of course, the game does have its detractors – most calling it dull (not enough explosions) or too fiddly – but I think it’s a great one for the family and for the game group.

Thanks for reading!

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