Board Game Review: Hey That’s My Fish!

 

In the world of abstract games, I find very few that I really enjoy. But Hey That’s My Fish is one of them. True, there is a light theme of penguins grabbing fish on the ice, but it’s so essentially inconsequential. That said, HTMF is one I enjoy. And the simple ruleset allows even younger gamers to join in on the fun.

The Basics. Players begin by creating a hexagonal grid out of randomized tiles. The tiles are arranged in eight rows with alternating rows having seven or eight tiles. Each tile depicts one to three fish.Then, each player gets a set of penguins (the number depending on player count) and place them one at a time on the board any where they like. Players then take turns moving their penguins and eating fish.

On a turn, a player can move their fish as far as they want in a straight line. When they do, they pick up and keep the tile that their penguin moved from. The only restrictions are that you cannot move through another penguin or through any empty spaces (due to having been previously picked up).

That’s it. No special powers, no cards, no dice. Players continue to grab tiles until all of their penguins can no longer move. At that point, the game concludes and you tally how many fish you’ve grabbed. The player with the most fish wins!

More fish always better, right?

The Feel. With such simple rules, you’d think HTMF would have simple or obvious gameplay. But it doesn’t. It isn’t about simply grabbing the tiles with the most fish. It’s also very much about boxing in your opponent so that they get fewer tiles and you have large patches of ice to yourself.

Now, I don’t want to oversell it. HTMF is hardly chess or go. It is not the kind of game that sustains that kind of detailed and critical analysis. But, it doesn’t have to be. It succeeds very much as a rules-light abstract that fosters interesting and impactful player decisions.

Novices and younger players may focus on getting those three fish tiles. After all, three fish are better than one or two, right? While true, they are not always in the most advantageous location. And if you grab a three fish, but your opponent then cuts you off from the rest of the board, then your penguin didn’t do much for you.

Ready to begin fish-grabbing

And that’s the meat of the game. More than grabbing fish, it’s really about positioning. As the game develops, you start to see fractures in the ice with separate little islands beginning to form. You want to make sure you have penguins on larger ones with more fish and your opponent does not. Some of the best moves in the game are when you lock your opponent’s penguin down so that he’ll get few remaining tiles with it.

One of the best parts is that the rules are simple enough that even little kids can play and enjoy it. My four year old really likes it and asks to play it all the time. Of course, he doesn’t always get the strategy, but he knows how to move his penguin and how to grab tiles. And playing with him is always fun for me.

But even though it works for kids, it isn’t a “kids game.” It’s a legitimate title, playable by adults who are looking for a light and interesting experience. It features plenty of interaction and many clever moves. Because the players control multiple penguins – up to four with only two players – there are plenty of ways you can surround or sneak in on an unsuspecting opponent.

These deluxe penguins are just the best

Components: 5 of 5. HTMF has been printed by different publishers in different editions to different qualities. My own copy is the Mayfair Deluxe edition from 2008 with awesome prepainted plastic penguins that look like they are giving “neener, neener” faces to everyone else. Other editions use wooden blocks which, while functional, do lose some of the charm.

Strategy/Luck Balance: N/A of 5. There are no luck elements in HTMF. Sure, the board is randomized at the beginning, but that happens before play even begins. Once play starts, it’s a perfect information game and players are left entirely to strategies of their own making.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. The term “elegant” gets thrown around much too often, but it tends to mean something like a game with simple rules that provides deeper strategy than those rules might indicate. That certainly applies here where real strategy exists from a ruleset explainable in less than 60 seconds. Big gameplay from small rules is always a positive factor.

Replayability: 2.5 of 5. HTMF certainly has its place. It’s entertaining, does no feel repetitive, and opens up options for sneaky play. And, as a sort of double edged sword, the game lasts less than ten minutes. On the one hand, that’s great and makes it easy to take down and play. On the other, it doesn’t have the kind of long term strategy or narrative arc that longer games can foster. Which, ultimately, makes it less likely to come to the table on a game night. But might be perfect for a family night in the evening.

Spite: 1 of 5. There are no “take that” cards or special effects that can target someone else. So spite is relatively low. However, you can trap someone’s penguin on a small island which may feel mean. And there is certainly potential to gang up. But the game is so quick that no hurt feelings can really develop.

A few turns later, the ice has fractured

Overall 3.5 of 5. While it won’t give you the narrative or long term success of multi-hour games, HTMF succeeds fabulously as a short, accessible, player driven affair. It works well with gamers who can try to plan a few turns ahead and trap their opponents. And is enjoyable even with very young children. In all, this is a strong offering when you’re in the mood for something short.

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