Design by: Tom Vasel
Published by: Nestor Games
2 – 6 Players, 30 – 40 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
Tom Vasel is by far the most prolific reviewer of games on the internet. Indeed, he has written and aired so many reviews that some have speculated that he is really multiple people, as it seems humanly impossible to be so prolific. Having played so many games, it comes as no surprise that he would eventually be bit by the design bug. The result is Vicious Fishes.
Published by Nestor Games, Vicious Fishes is a tactical tile placement game set in a deadly pond wherein the strong survive and the weak are eaten. Players alternate placing fish tiles, attempting to score points for their secret colors by eating other fish and protecting their own.
The game comes strangely packaged in two cloth tubes loosely tied together. The two-part board is made of compressed foam and could double as a mouse pad. The board depicts an 8×8 grid upon which the fish tiles will be placed. A score track runs along the side. The game includes fifty-four fish tiles in six colors, as well as a half dozen multi-color fish and four rock tiles. The tiles are mixed and each player receives six tiles, which are placed behind their diminutive foam screens. Each player receives a mission tile, which depicts three colors. The object is to score as many points in two of the colors, while minimizing the score in the other. These tiles are, of course, kept secret from the other players. The rock tiles are placed randomly on the board, and the game begins.
Each turn, a player places one tile to the board, records any scores on the track, and draws a new fish tile from the face-down stack. A bag to hold the fish would have been nice. As is, the tiles must be mixed and kept face-down on the table. Fish range in value from 1 – 8, which represents both their attack and defense value. When placed, the fish attacks in the direction it is facing, eating the adjacent fish if its value is less than the newly placed fish. In this case, the attacking fish scores one point, and the marker matching the color of that fish moves forward one space on the score track. If the attacking fish is a shark, the marker moves forward two spaces. In either case, the consumed fish remains on the board and receives a black “bone” disc, indicating that it has been consumed and cannot be eaten again.
The tile mix includes two special types of sea creatures: crabs and octopi. Crabs have two claws and attack any adjacent fish located to their left and right. Thanks to their eight tentacles, an octopus attacks all eight fish adjacent to its location, scoring points for each fish it consumes. This makes octopi potentially dangerous, but in reality they have a fairly weak value and rarely are able to consume more than a fish or two.
There is another way to score points. If a fish becomes completely surrounded on all eight sides by other fish, the edge of the board, and/or rocks – and it survives – the matching color scores one point. If the surviving fish is a weakling with a value of one, then the matching color receives two points. What a feat!
The game continues until the board is completely filled, which will result in players placing all of their fish. At this point, players reveal their secret mission tiles. A player’s score is tallied by adding together the two highest scoring colors on his tile and subtracting the lowest scoring color. The player with the highest total becomes the big fish in the pond and wins the game.
The game is cute, and there are decisions to be made. It seems ideally suited to play with families, and seems easily accessible for even fairly young children. The rules are simple, the artwork is amusing, and the tactics are basic and straightforward. When playing with just two or three players there is an amount of control that is absent when playing with five or six players. Randomness increases dramatically with the number of players, and it becomes virtually impossible to protect fish from turn-to-turn. While this likely won’t be bothersome when playing with families, it will be troublesome to gamers.
The randomness manifests itself in several fashions, all magnified when playing with numerous players. The tile draw can be problematic. While it would seem the odds would insure a player would draw a decent mix of fish that match the colors on their mission tiles, it is not uncommon to regularly possess fish that do not match your colors, or of such a low value that they are not beneficial. A bigger problem seems to lie with the mission tiles. If the colors on a player’s tile are not shared by at least half of the other players, he will be at a significant disadvantage when attempting to score points for those colors. Again, this is magnified when playing with more players. Fortunately, this latter problem can be minimized by playing with four or fewer players.
The production value is adequate, but the packaging is unusual. At the moment, the game is difficult to find, and most online vendors and retailers do not have it available. The price is also an issue. At the Spiel in Essen, the game sold in the neighborhood of 30 euros, which is WAY over-priced for both the quality and quantity of the components. That being said, Vicious Fishes is a nice, light, family game that should be pleasing when played in that venue. Gamers will likely find it too light and random.
Joe Huber’s opinion (1 play): In general, there is an issue with games where multiple players are pulling for the same entry, which I think Aaron Fuegi most clearly pointed out – you can reasonably predict the results by considering each player’s “preference” as a vote, and adding up the votes. To its credit, Vicious Fishes avoids the full impact of this, by having each player required to take a “negative vote” from among their three colors. However, the main effect is still present – some well represented colors will score well, not because the players do anything brilliant, but because lots of players support the action. The ideal mix is thus two colors heavily in common with other players, and one that no one else cares about.
Given that, there still are some things for players to do, and the game does play to a conclusion. But I disagree with Greg – it’s _not_ a nice, light, family game; it’s the antithesis of a good family game, in that it’s just not FUN. Imagine playing with your family, and having a young child be the victim of having different colors. Where’s the fun in that? In the abstract tile placement? A nice, light family game is, in my opinion, one that may have many random elements, but players still get to do something, don’t need to remember lots of corner case rules, and preferably has an engaging theme for children. For some families, I’m sure Vicious Fishes would be enjoyed, but for most there are many better – and less expensive – options available.
Dale Yu’s opinion (1 play): I hate being a “me-too” kind of guy, but I agree with Huber 100% here. I looked at this one as a nice game to play with my boys — at 10 and 8, they tend towards what I would normally consider “family” or “super-light” games. However, there is too much chance that a kid will get screwed from the colors, and there’s no fun in that — so much so that I didn’t want to bring it home and risk that happening. I think it will be a decent game when played with adults who are more emotionally able to handle the screwage, but there still a bit too much randomness for me in it to suggest it to that group.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it.
Neutral. Greg Schloesser
Not for me… ( ) Dale Yu, Joe Huber