I really like this game and have been playing it for a while now. This idea came to my mind the other day and makes me think the game acquires a GIPF feel.
This may already be a variant mentioned elsewhere, but I thought this would be an interesting idea. Make placement the first phase of the game. Place the hex tiles in a dice bag.
1. Pull out a hex and place it on the table. Pass the bag and the next player does the same.
*The player can create a new island or add the piece to an adjacent hex of an already existing island. If deciding to create a new island, it is considered to be 1 hex away from other islands.
2. Place hexes until all pieces are on the table.
3. Place penguins on 1 fish hexes.
4. Continue play as normal.
I plan on trying it out soon to see if it is worth while.
It is currently a pure abstract game, I am not sure how adding a random element would turn it into a more appealing game, and it would certainly increase the length. Battlesheep does do this but in a slightly different way.
This is really funny. Although setup usually is one or two minutes, sometimes this duration is critizized as much too long. The proposal expands it to about ten minutes or so, let people make thinking about how to place a tile, although it doesn't had an calculable influence on their moves. Maybe just the few last tiles if you like to do it very brainy.
So here I just give an advice for a faster setup:
1. place 8 or tiles in one row
2. In case of two players let each player place 26 tiles at one side.
In case of three or four player the line gives a base for a faszer setup, too.
To do setup variation, which makes sense:
Built commonly an area with already holes in it.
Then choose by random a beginner.
With such setup it may make sense to reduce the numbers of penguins for each player to 3 (two layers) or 2 (three players as well as four players).