The Penguin Ultimatum is a card game for 2-4 players. The goal is to entertain the penguin population by playing entertainer cards. Victory points are awarded for entertaining the most penguins and for entertaining the penguins with the activity or animal that they most enjoy.
Components include several different types of cards: activity cards, entertainer cards, curtain cards, and penguin cards. Each player receives 3 invitation markers, 2 scoring stones, and a set of two scorecards. One scorecard keeps track of the tens digits, and the other keeps track of the ones digits, and the scoring stones are used to mark the appropriate digits on the cards.
To begin, each player takes an activity card at random. This card has a certain activity pictured on it: juggling, dancing, music, or acrobatics. During the game, players will win entertainer cards. If the activity on the entertainer card matches the activity on that player’s activity card, the player gets points at the end of the game.
The setup consists of a curtain card in the middle of the table surrounded by several entertainer cards. The curtain cards are basically just placeholders and do not affect gameplay. The entertainer cards picture one of the activities and one of four animals: sheep, kangaroos, bears, and seals. Apparently, some of the penguins have migrated from Australia and still bear a fondness for the animals that they found there. The entertainer cards have dots randomly placed around the edges; when there is a card at each of these dots, the entertainer begins his show and the players score points.
Each player is dealt four penguin cards. These cards have a point value, a color which corresponds to one of the above animals, an activity, and a cute picture of a penguin. These cards are played next to the entertainer cards. If the animal or the activity matches, the player can score points from that entertainer if there is an invitation marker on that card. Penguins are picky about who attends their parties; you must have an invitation marker on the card to score points. Party crashers who are just hanging about the entertainer will not gain you points. The player who scores the fewest points, but not zero, is awarded the entertainer card, which hopefully will match that player’s activity card so that points will be gained from it at the end of the game. Once the entertainer card is removed from the table, a curtain card is put in that place as a placeholder, and the current player places a new entertainer card. The new entertainer card has to be placed so that a new performance is not started.
A round consists of four steps: Play a penguin card from your hand. Move an invitation marker. Resolve any performing entertainers. Draw a new penguin card.
The playing surface represents the iceberg on which the party is taking place. Play cannot extend beyond this surface, for that would mean that the entertainers and audience were in the ocean, and it would just be absurd for penguins to be throwing a party in the ocean.
The game ends when a player goes to draw a card and finds that stack empty, or when there is no place to play a card. At this time, players are awarded points for their entertainer cards that match the activity card which they received at the beginning of the game. In addition, points are awarded to each player that has the most of any given animal type in their entertainer cards.
This game is easy to learn, yet provides a nice amount of challenging gameplay. The theme and pictures are enjoyable. I played this with two other experienced gamers and we all agreed that this would be worth playing again. A game takes about 45 minutes, so it would make a nice warm-up game while you are waiting for the rest of your gaming group to show up. The box recommends the game for ages 10 and up; I don’t disagree with that recommendation, but I do think some 10-year-olds who aren’t experienced gamers would find it too complex and wouldn’t fully enjoy it. I am not a parent, so take that with a grain of childless salt.