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FISH EAT FISH

Reviewed by Herb Levy

FISH EAT FISH (Out of the Box Games, 2-5 players, ages 8 to adult, 20-30 minutes; $19.99)

 

Inspiration is found in many places. In Fish Eat Fish, Reiner Knizia takes a little bit of Sid Sackson’s Focus (featured as our Game Classic this issue) and adds a twist or two to create something light and fluffy.

Fish Eat Fish comes square boxed with a mounted board, 35 stackable fish (15 purple and 5 each in blue, green, red and yellow), five color-coded sets of Challenge Cards, a starfish token and four pages of rules. The object of the game is simple: players try to “eat” the other fish in the game!

Each player starts with a set of five fish in one color and a deck of 11 Challenge Cards. The board is basically a five by five grid of interconnecting circles. The starting player (determined in any way acceptable) gets the starfish token (indicating start player) and starts “seeding” the board by placing one of his fish on any of the 25 game board circles. The player to the left then places one of his fish. This continues until all circles are filled. (With fewer than five players, some circles will remain unclaimed. These circles are then occupied with purple, neutral, fish. Purple fish not needed are removed from play.) With the board filled, play begins.fisheatfishGameLG

On a turn, a player must use one of his fish to do one of three actions: attack a fish on an adjacent circle, move a fish to a circle adjacent to another fish and attack that fish or move a fish to a circle where IT could be attacked on a later turn.

Attacking is the key to the game and it works like this. Each of the two players involved in the attack selects one Challenge Card from his hand and places it, face down. The cards are then exposed simultaneously. (If attacking a purple fish, no cards are needed. The purple fish always loses!) Several card results are possible.

Each Challenge Card deck consists of one Shark card, two Octopus cards and eight Fish cards. If both players play Fish cards, the number of the Fish card is added to the number of fish in each player’s stack. High number wins. A win results in the winner placing his fish on TOP of the losing fish. If the number is a tie, then BOTH stacks of fish are eliminated and removed form the game! A played Shark card automatically defeats a played Fish card but if both players play a Shark, both stacks of fish are eliminated. If an Octopus is played by one or both players, the attack is nullified and neither stack of fish is affected. Once cards are played, they are discarded and removed from play.

As mentioned, when taking over a fish (or stack of fish), the winning fish are placed on top of the conquered pieces. Should a stack exceed a height of five fish, all excess fish are removed from the board and become part of that player’s “catch”. When only one player has fish remaining on the board, the fish in his stack are added to his catch. (He is also awarded the starfish token.) Now we score. Each fish in a player’s catch is worth 1 point. The player with the most points wins! (If a tie, the player with the starfish token wins. If a tie between players without the starfish token, the player with the most Challenge Cards left earns the victory.)

Fish Eat Fish owes a debt to Sid Sackson’s legendary game, Focus (Game of the Year in 1981). The use of stacking pieces, control of stacks and movement similarities can be traced to the earlier game. However, Knizia adds an element of bluff and card management with the use of Challenge Cards which can only be used once. Here, timing and knowing your enemy is important. Shoot your load too early and you’ll end up as fish food at the bottom of the ocean. And the plastic fish work well with their “menacing” teeth and solid construction. Credit John Kovalic and Cathleen Quinn-Kinney for the pleasing illustrations and graphic design. But don’t confuse this game with some of Knizia’s meatier offerings. Multiple scoring options, for example, a trademark of Knizia designs, are missing. This is most definitely a “light and fluffy” design from the master.

Fish Eat Fish is from a designer known for being able to create games covering the whole spectrum of complexity, from those of great depth to those as light as air. Fish Eat Fish is in the latter category. It won’t be the next “Game of the Year” but it is an amusing diversion for family play. – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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