Dale Yu: Review of Cool Runnings

Cool Runnings

  • Designer: Olivier Mahy
  • Publisher: Ravensburger
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Times: 30 mins
  • Times played, 4 with review copy provided by Ravensburger DE

Cool Runnings was one of my more anticipated games from SPIEL 2018.  I was honestly not sure how good of a game it would be, but the whole conceit of the game was so novel, that I really wanted to see how it worked out.  I first learned about it at my GenCon meeting with Ravensburger – the elevator pitch was “it’s a game where each player gets an ice cube, and the winner is the player whose ice cube isn’t melted”.  Yeah, that was enough to sell me on the game – and though it turns out not to be an entirely accurate description of the game, it’s definitely a sexy way to describe it. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.  Even before the fair started in October 2018, the game won an award from the organizers of the fair for being such an innovative game.

The game is a race to reach the end of the track.  There are five different parts of the gameboard which are laid out in random order to create a track.  The finish line piece is placed at the end of the track. The deck of action cards is shuffled and each player gets a hand of 4 cards.  Each of the cards has two portions; the top area can be used as an attack while the bottom half can be used for movement.

Each player now gets a colored cup in their color, and in this cup, you place a special ice cube.  The mold for the cube is attached under the cup to catch any drippings. All of the ice cubes should be identical in size, made from exactly 6mL of water.  A 3mL pipette is included in the game, so it’s easy to make them the same size. When you use the special mold included in the box, It also guarantees that the ice cube fits exactly into the player cup.   A bowl of regular water is placed near the board as well as a container of salt. It is also helpful to have a towel or two around to keep things dry.

On a player’s turn, he chooses one of the four cards from his hand and plays it.  He must choose whether to use the top half for an attack against another player or to use the lower half for movement.  The winner of the game is the first player to cross the finish line OR the last player left with an ice cube – so either half of the card should move you towards victory.

If you attack, you choose a player to attack.  That player then has the chance to deflect it. If he has a card with the same attack icon on it, the attacked player becomes the new attacker and can now choose any other player to receive the attack (could even by the original player).  This process continues until a valid target is found – that is, a player who does not have a matching attack card.

There are 7 different types of attacks

1] Squeeze – Take the targeted ice cube and hold it in your hand/fist.  The owner of the cube counts “one-ice-cube, two-ice-cube, three-ice-cube…, ten-ice-cube”.  At the end of the count, replace the ice cube in its cup

2] Polish – Take the cup of the attacked cube in your hand. Rub the top of the ice cube with your thumb which your opponent counts to ten-ice-cube.

3] Cold shower – fill the 3mL pipette with water and then you can drip/squirt this over the attacked cube.  If the cup underneath gets full, empty the water into the bowl

4] Hot Breath – make a cup with both hands and put the ice cube inside.  You can blow hot air over the cube while your opponent counts to ten-ice-cube.

5] Salt – take a small pinch of salt and spread it over the attacked cube

6] Guessing Game – Take the attacked cube and then under the table, place it in one of your fists.  The opponent must guess which fist it is in. If he is correct, he gets the ice cube back. If he is wrong, play the game again.

7] Water Bath – Drop the attacked cube into the bowl of water.  The opponent must then use his own cup to fish the cube out of the water.

If you choose to use a card for movement, you are allowed to move any player’s cup.  Some cards have positive movement (towards the finish line) while others have negative movement.  Only one piece can ever be in a space. Occupied spaces are simply not counted when moving.

Depending on where you land, special things may happen.  Some spaces move the cup extra spaces forwards or backwards.  A lava space means that the cup will suffer an unblockable attack.  Flip over the top card of the draw pile, and that attack happens. And ice space means that you are safe from attacks until you move off of that space.

After your turn is over, draw your hand up to four cards.  You will have played one card on your turn, but you may have played other cards trying to deflect attacks.

The game ends when one of two things happens – either one player crosses the finish line and wins immediately OR one player is left with an ice cube.  If your ice cube completely melts, you are out of the game and your piece is removed from the board.

My thoughts on the game

I didn’t know much about Cool Runnings when I got to Essen.  I had seen a few teasers, and I was fairly interested in the concept – but it did seem a bit juvenile to me at first glance.  Then… I was at the Ravensburger press lunch on Friday, and they had a few copies set up on the tables for us to try. And… the amount of laughter from the assembled press folks made me re-think my initial stance on the game.  I ended up requesting a review copy after seeing the game in action, and after a little bit of advance planning to make the ice cubes, we got a few games played here in the castle.

The game is an unconventional mix between a race game and a direct combat game.  I have played in games where the winner has finished the race, and I have also played in games where it seemed like none of the ice cubes got past the second page of the map because the players simply attacked each other at every opportunity.

The game is lighthearted fun, and if you look at the game in that context, it really is a bunch of laughing as you laugh at the misfortunes of your opponent’s ice cubes!  But, this is the sort of game with targeted attacks, and the definite possibility of ganging up on the leader – either in attacks or movement… though usually it’s attacks.

The attacks are all OK, but I think that players need to agree on when they begin and how vigorous they are in those attacks.  The rub with your thumb attack has been a great finishing move as players will often push down quite hard on a small ice cube sliver to break it up and make it disappear through the slats in the plastic cup.  The guessing game attack also can be subjective because if the attacker makes a big show of hiding which hand he is using, he can get a free 5-10 seconds of ice cube melting time while he’s doing it – way more than the hold the cube in the fist attack!  There is also a certain vagueness about the size of the pinch of salt which is used – and obviously, that amount can make a big difference in determining how fast a cube melts or not.

Sure, in the end, it seems silly to bring up these sorts of nit-picky comments about the attacks, but that’s just more to exemplify that this game needs to played as an experience game and not one where you’re really vying to see who wins and loses.  It’s also one where you need to have thick skin (or tell your kids to have thick skin) because at some point, everyone is the target of three straight attacks which take your cube down to nothing.

The components are OK. The plastic coated boards are nice, and the molds for making ice cubes/catching drips and the player cups work well.  However, I do wish that the game came with coated playing cards as well. For a game which is going to have plenty of water drips and wet hands, it would have been nice to also have water resistant cards.  The game includes a basic 3mL plastic pipette, and I do wish it also had come with a small spoon to provide uniform salt measurements as well.

For me, I’m ok with the type of whimsical game that there is here.  It’s innovative, and it’s been fun. The big issue for me will be that it’s not simple to always have ice cubes available.  Thus far, I’ve known that people will want to play the game in our post-Essen fests; so I’ve thought ahead and frozen a bunch of cubes ahead of time.  That supply is now down to its last 4 cubes, and after that – the big problem is likely going to be that you can’t play the game if you don’t have cubes pre-made.  And there will soon come a point where the game isn’t being requested often enough for me to have cubes made ahead of time… and then, when you don’t have the cubes made, you can’t play the game.  This isn’t a game that you can play spontaneously near the end of a game night without prep work, and there are few to no games in my collection that I’m willing to do work for every night, just in case.

Cool Runnings has been fun for now, and I’m glad to have had a chance to try it out, and I can definitely appreciate the innovation in the design.  There hasn’t been a game like this in recent memory, and my first few plays have generated plenty of fun and laughs. However, the same bit which is innovative (the ice cubes) will likely keep this from ever being a perennial classic due to the prepwork involved as well as the direct attacking nature of the game. For all of the innovation here in the game, it ends up being a tweener – not quite simple enough for small kids, but quite possible too mean/take-that for younger gamers that would be more apt to want to play this.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan (1 play): I’ve never had a chance to play Ice Cube, so I was glad to see Ravensburger was making this.  I don’t have too much to add, as Dale covered it well: there’s a lot of laughing and joy to be had if not taken too seriously.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y, James Nathan
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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