Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

“Filler games” is a term commonly used to describe board games with very simple rulesets that are intended to be completed relatively fast, say around 20 minutes or so. The idea behind that name is that when people get together for a game night, you play these shorter games as “fillers” (such as, maybe, to have something to do while waiting for THAT ONE FUCKWAD WHO IS ALWAYS, ALWAYS TWENTY MINUTES LATE GEORGE, YOU DICK) before locking in for, maybe, a good four-hour session of Lovecraftian warfare in Arkham Horror or a long night of winning a marathon game of Diplomacy at the expense of ensuring all your friends will now consider you a horrible, lying, backstabbing asshole.

However, do not underestimate the strategic magnitude of a filler game. A great example of this is the clever, board-deterioration game that goes by Hey, That’s My Fish! in the United States. (In many other countries, it could go by a similar title in the local language or whatever “penguin” is in local lingo) A game simple enough that it has an ages 8-and-up rating and the parts are compact enough that the entire box takes up less space than a pair of shoes. But don’t be fooled: This game of penguins running around collecting fish is an absolute strategic and statistical minefield. Well, technically, it’s a strategic and statistical ice floe, but you get the point.

So, it’s time to get your penguin on, with Hey, That’s My Fish!

Game: Hey, That’s My Fish!
Players: 2 to 4
Gametime: 15-20 minutes
Designers: Gunter Cornett (Germany) & Aluydas Jakeliunas (Lithuania)
Key Mechanics: Area control, modular board deterioration

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Story: Basically, you’re a group of penguins on an ice floe. An ice floe that seems to be the deluxe frozen foods section of the Antarctic, because there’s fish everywhere underneath the ice. The mission is pretty clear: Get as many of these fish as you can before the ice floe breaks up. And fuck that heartwarming “March of the Penguins” bullshit, you want as many of the fish for your group to the expense of everyone else.

What do you do?: The “board” of Hey, That’s My Fish is 60 hexagonal tiles. 30 of these tiles have an image of one fish, 20 have two fish, and the remaining 10 have three fish. To start the game, these tiles are shuffled around, and the board is built in alternating lines of 7-8-7-8-7-8. The players then take turns placing the penguins of their color (how many penguins you have depends on how many players are playing) on any of the one-fish tiles. Once that’s done, the game begins.

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On your turn, you take one of your penguins and move them in a straight line to another tile. You then take the tile the penguin began the turn on off of the board, thus you claim that tile and whatever number of fish shown on it- while also creating a gap in the ice floe.

It’s important to know that there are limitations on how a penguin can move:

  • Penguins can only move in straight lines
  • Penguins cannot jump over an ice gap created by removing tiles
  • Penguins cannot jump over another penguin in their path

Thus, the conundrum. As tiles get taken off the board, the penguins are going to have less and less space to move around. And that’s the strategy aspect of the game: If you don’t get enough of the valuable multi-fish tiles, you’re fucked, so you want to go for them as much as you can. At the same time, you also have to see where the gaps in the ice floe are coming, because if going for the multi-fish tiles leaves you in a position where you wind up cut off from making moves, you’re still going to be fucked. There’s a lot of risk-reward involved in deciding what penguin to move at what time and to what space.

How to taste sweet, sweet victory: Once everybody has run out of moves to make with their penguins, you count up the total number of fish shown on the tiles you claimed. Whoever has the most fish wins. If that’s a tie, the players with the most tiles wins. If that’s also a tie, well, the game ends a tie. Shit happens.

So, what’s awesome about this game?

  • The randomized board setup means the odds of any two boards turning out exactly the same is incredibly unlikely. Probably in the millions or billions. I’m not interested in doing that math or even Googling if somebody else already has.
  • A very deep level of strategy without having to learn a complicated ruleset.
  • Fun, colorful art. I like pretty colors, sue me.
  • Portability. The latest version produced by Fantasy Flight games here in ‘MURICA measure 5 inches by 5 inches by 1 inch. In a highly-scientific experiment I did JUST FOR THIS WRITE-UP, I succesfully fit the game box into a coat pocket. That means purses and satchels will be a breeze.
  • Affordability. There’s not a lot of cost involved in printing up 60 chipboard hex tiles and a few plastic penguins. You should be able to find this game online or at your FLGS for around $15, maybe less.
  • Fucking Penguins!

Other ways to play: Hey, That’s My Fish! is also playable as an app for iOS and Android. ($2.99 on both platforms).

Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance]

Photos via BoardGameGeek