It’s Game Review Monday – where we take an in-depth look at a game and analyze it, particularly focusing on the game mechanics and design. Specifically, we attempt to reverse engineer the game and see what design lessons we can learn from it, and how it can influence our own designs. So, without further ado, let’s get on to today’s game.
Hey, That's My Fish!
I wanted to start Game Review Mondays off with a simple game to give everyone a feel for how these reviews will work. Hey, That’s My Fish! was published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2003, and was designed by Günter Cornett and Alvydas Jakeliunas. In the game players control penguin pawns attempting to gather as many fish as possible on an ever-shrinking ice floe. The game-board is formed from a supply of hex tiles each depicting one, two, or three fish. On a player’s turn he may move one of his penguin pawns in a straight line to any other unoccupied tile (without skipping over other penguins or missing tiles), and then they remove the tile their penguin moved from and place it in their scoring area. As the game progresses and tiles are removed penguins become isolated on ice-islands and are unable to move. Once no further moves are possible from any penguin the game ends. The player who has captured the most fish on their scoring tiles wins.
The core mechanic of Hey, That’s My Fish! is tile removal which seems to be an underused mechanic. I could only recall three other games that make extensive use of this mechanic (if you know of a game I’m forgetting let me know in the comments). Isolation (1978) is probably the closest as it also involves trapping pawns by removing surrounding tiles. Galaxy Trucker (2007) uses tile removal to show damage to your ship. Survive: Escape from Atlantis (1982) is the last, and uses tile removal both as a card drawing / random event trigger mechanism as well as a means of hindering opposing pawns.
As a mechanic tile removing has the unusual requirement of advance setup. The mechanic can only be employed if there are tiles already placed on the gameboard, either through earlier gameplay or via game setup. As a result Hey, That’s My Fish! and the other two tile removal games mentioned above all require a bit of time spent setting up the tiles before the game can begin. Tile removal can also lead to frustration as it is easy to bump and displace remaining tiles. This seems to occur more regularly than during tile placement since players need to get their fingers under the tile to lift it off the playing surface. Both of these drawbacks are at a meta-game level however and can be made insignificant by creative use of components or when playing a digital version of the game.
Tile removal is a great at modeling crumbling, deteriorating, or destruction – and all the above mentioned games use it in that capacity to some extent. Other thematic uses along this vein might include an Indiana Jones style escape from a collapsing temple; destruction of buildings / lands during a flood, wildfire, or other disaster; or even the destabilization of a cell or complex molecule. Mechanically, tile removal can be used as an attrition (catch-up) mechanic by wearing away at player built structures (Galaxy Trucker). It can also serve as a means of introducing hidden information by placing gameplay elements on the underside of the tile (as in Survive) or beneath the tile (on a gameboard or a second stacked tile).
According to Sid Meier (of Civilization fame) you make a good game by creating a series of interesting decisions for the players. How does Hey, That’s My Fish! stack up?
- Acquisition of Fish (points) – The designers chose to attach victory point acquisition to the tiles in the game, and this decision is the chief separation between Hey, That’s My Fish! and Isolation. It is possible to win by snatching up the 3-fish tiles even if your penguins are quickly trapped. Having tiles of multiple point values gives players meaningful reasons to move more than one tile at the onset of the game and gives the game much more variety than if all tiles counted for the same value.
- Multiple Pawns – Another key difference from Isolation is the use of additional pawns beyond the first (each player gets 2-4 penguins). This allows players to remain in the game longer, as when your first pawn is trapped you still have at least one additional pawn you can move. Multiple pawns also allow players to focus on moving the one that best benefits them instead of being forced to move a piece that may place them in a bad position.
- Penguin Movement – Penguins are allowed to move in a straight line as far as their player would like, but may not pass over another penguin or a missing tile. This adds a much more interesting depth of choice than only permitting movement to an adjacent square. The inability to move through another penguin allows players to strategically place their penguins to block opponents.
Obviously, Hey, That’s My Fish! isn’t going to win any awards for strategic depth of decision making. However, for the level and scope of the game it presents moderately interesting decisions for the players.
Theme, Style, & Marketing
Beyond the game mechanics an important part of game development is selecting the theme and artistic style. Hey, That’s My Fish! could easily have been themeless with wooden pawns and and numbers on the tiles instead of fish. While the addition of the theme does nothing to effect gameplay it does provide the opportunity to market the game with a catchy and cartoony style. This quickly communicates a lighter easier game to anyone who picks up the box and therefore is a good thematic choice. This game could be re-themed with barbarian hordes moving about the countryside razing villages and cities – but this theme wouldn’t convey the same experience to the casual inspector.
Because this game was produced by a major publisher there are not a large number of marketing decisions to analyze. However, in the future as we look at some games produced by smaller publishers and indie designers we will examine specific stylistic and marketing choices (both good and bad) that affected the outcome of the game.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first of these “Monday Reviews”. Check back next Monday as we examine another game. This was my first game review (ever!) so I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions on how I can make these reviews more interesting and relevant to you.