Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Hey, That's My Fish! A Sub-Zero Game of Fishy Strategy

A few days ago we decided to try and make the Christmas shopping of some of you lovely folk a little bit easier with a short gamers' gift guide.  One of the games featured was Fantasy Flight's Hey, That's My Fish! by Alvydas Jakeliunas and Gunter Cornett.  At the time of that article we had played a couple of games but hadn't had the time to write a full review, so we're here now to rectify this issue and bring you our full thoughts on the game!
Hey, That's My Fish! is a strategy game for 2-4 players, the aim of which is to gather more fish than your opponents.
There were two things about Hey, That's My Fish! (we'll abbreviate it to HTMF! for the remainder of the review!) which instantly appealed to us.  The first was the title/box art, which struck a chord with our daft sense of humour, and the two penguins on the box were soon given the permanent nicknames of Smug Penguin and Shatner Penguin.  The second was the price (which we'll address at the end of the review as always), which made it too good to pass up.
Upon opening the box, we were greeted by a noticeable lack of gaming board, which might seem a severe oversight for a board game at first glance.  Whilst we do still consider HTMF! to be a board game, the playing area is actually made up from a series of modular hexagonal Ice Floe Tiles, 60 of which are contained in the box.
These tiles are each illustrated with 1-3 fish which form the overall object of the game.  The only other elements in the box aside from these tiles are the playing pieces...
While it's nice to support smaller, indie games, the nice thing about buying products from larger companies such as Fantasy Flight is the quality of the overall product.  We were overjoyed the first time we opened the HTMF! box and saw that there were no wooden pawns or anything of that nature, but actual models of both Smug Penguin and Shatner Penguin for us to use during our games.  There are four colours to choose from, and four penguins of each colour.  During 2 player games each player will use all four of their penguins, for 3 players they will each use three, and in 4 player mode only two of each are used.
This summarises the box contents in their entirety!  Simple?  Of course.  Does this mean it's a poor and unchallenging game?  You should know better than to ask us that by now!  Let's take a look at the gameplay...
Before HTMF! can start, the gaming area must first be laid out.  The Ice Floe Tiles are shuffled up and placed in a grid as demonstrated above, with alternating rows of seven and eight tiles.  The rules dictate that the tiles should be placed face-down to assist randomisation, and then flipped face-up afterwards.  This seemed to us like an unnecessarily fiddly and time-consuming addition to the set up process, and we found that by simply selecting the tiles blindly from the box whilst constructing the grid meant that they could just be arranged face-up from the outset.
This is a little bit of a slow process, and if playing on a smooth surface it can get quite frustrating as the slightest knock to a single tile can upset the entire layout.  We'd thoroughly recommend trying to find a nice, high-friction surface to play on - the rubberised back of a card-gaming mat has saved us a lot of aggro during our games.
With the gaming area set up, players must squabble amongst themselves over their favourite colour of penguins, and then they're ready for their initial placement...
At the beginning of the game each player must place their penguins on Ice Floe Tiles containing only a single fish.  Players alternate, placing one penguin at a time until all of them are on the board, and then the game is ready to start!
As mentioned earlier, the aim of HTMF! is to gather more fish than your opponents.  Each player takes it in turn moving a single penguin.  Penguins can move as many spaces as they want in a single turn, but must move in a straight line, and cannot move through other penguins.  When the penguin has completed its move, the player collects the Ice Floe Tile on which it started its move, and adds it to their pile.  The next player then moves one of their penguins in a similar fashion, and the process repeats.
As Ice Floe Tiles are collected, the playing area begins to shrink around the penguins, limiting the players' movement options.  When a player can no longer move any of their penguins they are out of the game, removing their pieces from the grid and collecting the tiles they finished the game on.
This is where the strategic element of HTMF! comes into play.  The first instinct of any player is to start collecting as many fish as possible, but by cutting off your opponents' penguins you can cunningly find that you have the entire board to yourself!  In the picture above the blue penguin has isolated the red penguin in the corner.  Seeing as penguins can't move through eachother the red penguin has no movement options, and once the blue penguin moves away his Ice Floe Tile will disappear, stranding the red penguin on a little tile island until the end of the game.  The term "deceptively strategic" did get thrown around a lot during our review sessions, and it is an excellent way of describing the game.
HTMF! doesn't actually end when only one player remains in the game, but continues until that player no longer has any legal movement options.  This means that the key to victory is often outmanoeuvring your opponents, isolating and eliminating their penguins, and allowing you to slowly hop around the board collecting as many of the remaining tiles as is legally possible without backing yourself into a corner.
Although a group of strategically-minded players can give a game of HTMF! a very chess-like edge, the simple game mechanic and colourful, friendly game pieces make this an ideal family game, and for specialist gamers who want to introduce their young ones to the hobby then it's an ideal platform.  Whilst the temperamental nature of the tiles on a smooth surface can cause frustration, HTMF! is an excellent game in all other areas, being easily accessible, quick to play, deceptively strategic (we had to say it again), and fantastic value for money.
The Good Points
  • Visually, Hey, That's My Fish! is a very fun game.  Amusing and colourful game pieces and a nice cover make it appealing from the start.
  • The modular board keeps games nicely randomised, so that no two grids will ever be the same.
  • The simple mechanic makes it accessible to players of all ages, whilst at the same time a group of adults can delve into deeper tactical thinking to make the game more of a challenge.
  • Unlike many board games, HTMF! takes up a refreshingly small amount of space on the table, making it nice and easy to crack open for a quick game.
  • A game of HTMF! doesn't take too long to play, making it a good wind-down game.
  • It's such good value for money!!!
The Bad Points
  • The modular board is very prone to being knocked during set up or whilst collecting tiles.  We can't stress highly enough the benefits of playing on a surface with a little grip.
  • Hardcore "serious" gamers probably won't enjoy this game due to it's colourful and family-friendly theme.
Recommended Number of Players: 3
HTMF! can be played with 2-4 players, and frankly it works just as well with any number!  The number of penguins for each player decreases with the number of players, and so the gameplay runs just as smoothly.  2 player games can be a little bit more tactical as players only have to out-think one opponent, whereas 4 player games become more chaotic as the moves of three other people become harder to predict.  Our personal preference is for 3 players as it gives a higher penguin count (9, as opposed to 8 in 2/4 player games) and thus makes the grid seem a little busier.
Average Game Time: 15 minutes
HTMF! is a short game, running for around 15 minutes (20 when you include set up time).  This makes it good for younger players with short attention spans, and also for games nights when players just want a simple game to break up the evening.
Replay Value: Medium
The modular grid helps to keep HTMF! fresh across multiple games, and the simple nature of the game means that it's easy to introduce new players as well.  The difficulty of the game always boils down to the strategic skill of your opponent, so unless you're evenly matched or can provide a stream of new opponents it will probably start to lose its shine after a while.
The Future: n/a
HTMF! is a self-contained game, but let's be honest, there's nowhere it could really go with expansions.  Apart from the possibility of more tiles to expand the grid, and thus adding the option of a fifth or sixth player, HTMF! is very much it's own thing.
Price: £10
That's right!  We hinted at it being a bargain, and HTMF! will set you back a measly £10!  This actually makes it the cheapest game we've ever got our hands on at Games & Tea (technically Felinia and Sedition Wars cost us the same, but they were bought on clearence rather than having a low RRP), and we can't see why anyone wouldn't want to take a chance on it at that price.
Tea consumed during this review: PG tips with milk and 2 sweeteners.  Brew rating 6/10 (too much milk).

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