Essen Preview: Fresh Fish

Fresh Fish

Designed by Friedemann Friese; new edition to be published by 2F Spiele


Once upon a time, the biggest source for German games in the United States was Adam Spielt, a German online store that was happy to ship internationally – and packaged games well enough to withstand that travel.  And the first game I acquired through Adam Spielt – albeit via another gamer’s order – was Frisch Fisch.  The game was incredibly clever, and quickly grew to be a favorite of mine; the simple rules belied a complex and difficult to visualize reality.  This was long before 2F published in large quantities, however, and only 300 copies were produced.

Plenary Games republished the game in 2003, and it enjoyed some surge in popularity as a result.  Whether due to a number of intentional and unintentional rule changes, or because of the complexity of the game, it was not a huge hit.  Soon after Plenary closed shop, and the game again faded out of print and into obscurity.

Friedemann suggested that we play the game at the Gathering of Friends this year, and I gladly signed up – but little did I know that he had a surprise up his sleeve.  Rather than Fresh Fish, what we played was a that I immediately dubbed Fresher Fish.  I’m always happy to try one of Friedemann’s designs, so one based upon one of my favorite games of all time was an absolute must.

So just what is the game about?  Whether the original or the revised version, the objective of the game is the same – there are four delivery spaces, and each player has to build a market stall of each type to bring the products to, with the market stalls auctioned.  Each turn a player either reserves an empty space, or draws a tile.  If a flea market is drawn, the drawing player must place it on one of her reserved plots, and her turn is over.  But if a stall tile is drawn, it is auctioned, and the winner gets to place it; unless the player who drew the tile wins the auction, her turn continues, with either turn option available.  At the end of the game each player’s score is equal to the sum of the distances from her stalls to the delivery spaces, minus any leftover cash.  The lowest score wins.

Picture - Scoring_example

The heart of the game, then, is the method by which the routes are built.  In the original, routes were built based upon a brilliant, but hard to visualize, expropriation rule.  Each unbuilt space, delivery space, and stall must have road access, and all roads must be part of a single network.  This simple, logical rule works brilliantly, but has two significant drawbacks.  First, there is enough opportunity in choosing plots of land and forcing streets to be built as to create strong incentive for very low bidding in the auctions, in my experience; as a result, I’ve always played with cash as a tiebreaker, rather than having it subtracted from scores.  Second, and more importantly, the visualization of the expropriation rule is very difficult for many, creating a significant impediment to playing the game even with many experienced gamers.

With Fresher Fish, Friedemann has aimed to address primarily the issue of accessibility – but in the process has also encouraged more competitive auctions.  The only major change to the rules is the way in which roads are built.  Instead of the expropriation rule, the board is made up of a number of sections, with a limit of one or two buildings (stalls or flea markets) per section.  Once the limit for a section is reached, the rest of the section is filled with roads.  This might look bizarre to those familiar with the original game – but it works; the feel of the original game is well maintained by this simpler rule set.  There are three other notable differences in rules of the game.  First, the game board is built from a selection of sub-boards, each with two or three sections; this adds a nice variability to the game.  Second, there is a road around the edge of the board – but one costing twice as much to travel along.  This helps to avoid frustration, as the board can get very boxed in.  Finally, the last stall tile of each type is placed aside, to be given out when the stack of tiles is empty, which prevents a fortunate earlier draw of the final stall of one type.

Picture - Placement_of_Paths_2

There are two additional noteworthy changes in the game.  First, the components are a big step up from the original.  Frisch Fisch was released long before Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, the first 2F game to receive a spiffier production, and even the Plenary edition was not up to today’s standards.  The other change isn’t a physical change, but a result of two of the rule changes.  The way the sections are created, it’s more difficult to ensure a safe location in the new game; the relegation of the final stalls to after the other tiles have been placed emphasizes the importance of securing a stall early.  Between these two changes, there is a far greater need to spend one’s money during the auctions.

So, taking it all together, is the new edition of Fresh Fish worth trying?  If you like the original, then yes – it’s worth buying, for the changes and the components.  That’s not to say it’s necessarily better; after three plays, I still have a slight preference for the original.  But – I expect to be able to play the new editions many times when the original wouldn’t be possible.  If you like the idea of the original, but were frustrated by the visualization required (either because of the ability of others in your game group or yourself to understand when roads were to be built), then the new edition is a must to try.  If you liked the original, but disliked the components, the new edition should resolve your issues.  But if the idea of the original really didn’t appeal – then I’m afraid the new edition is unlikely to change your view.  For me, I’m planning to pick up a copy just as soon as it’s available – and I’m expecting to soon have played it even more than the original.

Update: Thanks to Henning @2F, I’ve just received a copy of the game, and the components are great – a tremendous improvement over the Plenary edition, or even my beloved original 2F edition.  From the prototype and pictures, I knew they would be a significant step up, but they actually exceeded my expectations.  I taught the new edition to someone who had never played the original, and between the components and the rule changes there were no difficulties for her in picking up the game.  She even expressed interest after we finished in trying the original rules…

Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Yu – I have owned both the 2F and the Plenary version of this game, and it’s a game that I enjoyed in the past.  I would certainly appreciate a new version of the game with improved graphics.  The earlier versions of the game are… somewhat graphic-designer limited.  I never had an issue with the original expropriation rule, but it is something that would trip up new players.  I also think the modular boards will make the game a little more dynamic.  Hopefully the combination of the updated graphics as well as the slightly easier way to understand the rules about roads will get the game to the table a bit more often!

Dan Blum – Definitely worth trying if you haven’t had a chance to play the original version of the game. And if you like the original rules better than the new ones, you can play with those rules using the other sides of the boards; you can’t make a board exactly the same shape as the original, but close enough.

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3 Responses to Essen Preview: Fresh Fish

  1. Ah Adam Spielt, they are very much missed. Also, I am looking forward to trying FF.

  2. Thanks so much for this! It was exactly what I was looking for.

  3. I sold my Plenary copy years ago due to other players not “grokking” expropriation… this could easily rejoin my collection with these changes.

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