Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Game Review - Ice Cool

Ice Cool is a fun lightweight game with great table presence. It’s accessible for younger players while still fun and challenging for adults. It quickly gained appeal and won many awards including the Kinderspiel award for 2016 (children’s game of the year in Germany).

Thematically the game is about a bunch of penguins in their icy school. The game is played over several rounds. Each round, one player takes the role of “hall monitor” trying to catch the other players who are rushing around the halls (skipping class *grin*) trying to grab some fish to snack on. The round continues either until the hall monitor has successfully caught each other player or until one student has successfully grabbed all their fish.

This is a dexterity game where each player “flicks” their penguin to move around the school. The penguins are plastic pieces with a rounded, weighted bottom. They reminded me a little of the Weebles toys from the 70s (“weebles wobble but they won’t fall down”). The school is built from numerous boxes that interlock to form several rooms with doorways. A player then flicks their penguin to try and get it to move through doorways around the school. If the student penguin moves through a doorway with one of their fish tokens over the door, they collect a fish card. If the hall monitor penguin touches a student penguin (or if a student runs into the hall monitor) then the student hands the hall monitor their “student id” card. At the end of the round, the hall monitor receives fish cards based on the number of student ids they collected. After each player has had a turn to be the hall monitor, everyone counts the number of fish they’ve collected to determine the winner.

I really enjoyed the dexterity element to this game. The first couple of games I was surprised by a couple of things. First, the penguins are more solid than expected and you can really feel it in your fingertip when you flick them. Second, it is more difficult than expected to get them penguins to go where you want…both in terms of the right power and the direction. Third, there are a lot of possibilities in flicking which can lead to some tricky shots. I’ve seen a penguin curve amazingly through 3 or 4 doors to pick up multiple fish in a single turn. You can also flick the penguin in a way to make it jump up over the wall and into another room which is handy for either escaping the hall monitor or (if you are the hall monitor) to quickly get close to a penguin that’s away from any door.

I do wish the boxes had the opportunity for variety. It would be nice to be able to change around a couple of rooms just to add a little variety to the game. Granted, nobody in our group has perfected any shot such that they can immediately cruise to victory. But it would be fun to move things around.

The biggest gripe with the game is the randomness in terms of scoring. Each player collects fish cards based on their flicking actions as described above. However, the fish cards are in a deck with values of 1, 2 or 3 fish. It’s happened a couple of times where the most adept flipper drew the most cards (by collecting all their fish and capturing the most players as hall monitor) but they ended up losing because they drew mostly 1s while opponents drew mostly 3s. It came down to the luck of the draw rather than their skill with some pretty cool shots. The fun of the game really comes down to the flicking and maneuvering around the school so the scoring is a minor gripe but since it can affect the victory it is worth noting. They do try to circumvent the luck of the draw by letting you take a free turn if you have two “one” cards. That can be helpful but won’t always stem the tide of bad luck with the cards.

Overall this is a fun game that’s great for filling a few minutes of time. After getting a feel for how to flick the penguins the playing field will be even for adults and kids which makes this a great family activity. The kids had lots of fun evading their parents or else catching their parents. It’s good fun all around and is short enough that it can be quickly played when you have a few free minutes.

4 out of 5 stars

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