A Fistful of Penguins
Designer: Jonathan Franklin
Play Time: 15-30 minutes
A Fistful of Penguins is a dice rolling game with set collection and penguins thrown in (from our own OG’er Jonathan Franklin!). The basic game play is to roll your dice then do one of the following: stop rolling and score, spend a penguin, or cash in penguin dice for more penguins. The penguins are these super cute light purple and yellow (gold) acrylic shapes. Purple are worth 1 each and yellow are worth 5 each. The penguins are the heart of the game – they allow players to re-roll dice or buy (and roll) a spare die from the bank.
The game is played over three rounds. There are 9 dice in the game. In the basic game, players will roll 4 dice in the first round, 5 dice in the second round, and 6 dice in the third round (the rest of the dice will be in the bank). Players are trying to earn the most money by the end of the game. Money is earned by collecting animals shown on the dice. Penguins are worth $1 each at the end of the game. There are 6 animals shown on each die (one per side): penguin, squirrel, kangaroo, lion, camel, and moose. Each has a special “power” when collected.
Each squirrel allows the active player to take money from the other players, starting with $1, with each additional squirrel adding $1 to the amount from the next player going clockwise around the table starting with the player on the left. For example, if a player rolled two squirrels, she would take one dollar from the player on her left and two dollars from the next player after him going clockwise. Squirrels are the only animals that take money from players, the rest take money from the bank.
Moose are worth $9 each but only if paired with a squirrel (squirrels still score separately). Camels are worth $5 each.
Lions are worth $7 each but you may only score lions and penguins – all other animals do not score (sadly, they are eaten by the lions).
Kangaroos allow a player to take money as the square of the number rolled. For example, 2 kangaroos earn a player $4, 5 kangaroos earn a player $25. If a player scores at least one kangaroo, the player also takes a kangaroo chip (single kangaroo side) if he does not have one, or flips his chip to the double kangaroo side if he already has one. Kangaroo chips allow a player to flip one or two dice to the kangaroo side when scoring. Don’t forget, kangaroos do not score if lions are scored (including those flipped with chips).
Example: if a player rolls two lions, three camels, one moose, and one squirrel, she may either score $14 for the lions or score $25 for the rest of the animals (camels $15 + squirrel/moose $9 + squirrel $1, bank pays $24, player on the left pays $1).
The advanced game is more interesting for multiple players since it allows the other players to participate during an active player’s turn. Each player gets a black penguin chip for pricing and takes a die. Whenever the active player rolls, each player with a die rolls it behind her hand and sets a price using her money and/or the penguin chip flipped to the 1 or 2 side. This is the asking price for the die. Players reveal their prices and dice simultaneously. The active player may choose to purchase any or all of the dice, in addition to spending penguins as usual. The dice received from the other players remain on the sides originally rolled unless the active player spends a penguin to re-roll dice. Each time the active player re-rolls any dice, the players with a die still un-purchased may re-roll as well (and re-price).
I’ve played this game about 3 or 4 times and enjoyed it every time. At about 20 minutes per game, it’s a great filler. It’s also a wonderful family game. The components are high quality and the penguins are nicely done (oh so cute!). The rules are well written and illustrative. The box is perfectly sized as well so it doesn’t take up extra shelf space (thank you very much! – I hate boxes with lots of unnecessary air space). I highly recommend this game!
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers
Jeff Allers: After making the rounds and meeting all kinds of people at the SPIEL convention in Essen, I decided to finally try to get in a few games. Unfortunately, the game of Drum Roll I began was going much too slow with the AP-prone players who sat down with me. I then tried Ab in die Tonne, which was fun, but too short. If I’m starting to sound like Goldilocks, then let me extend the metaphor to A Fistful of Penguins: it was just right. Unfortunately, I was not alone in my opinion, as the 200 available copies of the game had long since sold out. Still, the international group of gamers that sat down together with me at the table for a demo game enjoyed it, even though we only played the basic game. The components are very attractive, the rules for all the different ways to score points seemed a bit much at the beginning, but the animal theme and player aid helped me learn the game quickly. As with the best dice games, there was much cheering and groaning, and I would have bought a copy on the spot if there had been more available.
I actually had no idea that there was a more advanced version, and now I want my own copy of the game even more. The interactive element sounds intriguing, although I wonder if it could slow the game down. Still, with all the new dice games trying to deal with the “nothing to do when it’s not my turn” problem (Knizia addresses this with his Ingenious dice game, as does Rosenberg with his Bohnanza dice game), Franklin’s solution is very original and I cannot wait to try it.
Patrick Brennan: You basically get three shots at rolling the dice, making as many points as you can by getting various combinations. The neat aspect is the penguin system, where you can spend penguins to re-roll dice or introduce more dice. But of course you only have so many penguins to last you over the 3 rolls. So do I use them now or later? And if you roll penguins on the dice, do you kill those dice to get more penguins or just re-roll them for points instead? It’s massively over-produced for a simple dice game, but the decisions on what to keep, buy and re-roll make it a pleasant way of passing 15 minutes.
Fraser McHarg: It’s a dice game for sure, but as Patrick mentioned the options with penguins add some decisions to the game. As an Australian I feel the best strategy is to roll lots of kangaroos, but my dice rolling skills are not often up to it. The penguins are very cute.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!… Mary Prasad, Erik Arneson, Ted Alspach
I like it… Joe Huber, Brian Leet, Jeff Allers, Patrick Brennan, Fraser McHarg
Not for me…