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If Wishes Were Fishes!» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Card-drafting with a twist, plus whimsy rss

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Anni Foasberg
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If Wishes were Fishes is a light card drafting game with a fishing theme. It accommodates 2-5 players and takes 30 to 45 minutes to play. I first played it in the Board Room during Origins 2007; in fact, Jay Tummelson demoed it to me and mentioned that this was the new game he was most excited about at the time. I liked it too—certainly, I believe that it is underrated here on the ‘Geek. But I am getting ahead of myself.

COMPONENTS & ART

First, some love for the components. The big news about this game was the purple foam rubber worms, which are wonderfully fun to play with and add a lot of visual and tactile appeal to the game. They come in several different shapes and are all a suitably wormlike texture. The drawback is that they are so much fun to handle that they can start getting worn out with several plays. I still think they’re pretty cool. Less compellingly, there are some standard meeples of various sizes and some fish-meeples (one of the orange ones with a Goldfish-like mouth ).

There is also a colorful board depicting several markets, one for each type of fish in the game, with an arrow to show which way meeples can move along it, and a rather cleverly designed trash heap which manages to look like a trash heap while still serving the function of keeping track of the discarded fish. And, there is a deck of cards, the heart of the game. Each card includes a picture of a fish and a thought bubble with some iconography depicting a wish (more about this later), or else a picture of two fish of the same type.

The art for this game is in a cartoon-like style that I find quite appealing. Each of the fish is a visual pun (the swordfish carries a sword, the angelfish wears a halo, and so forth), which makes it easy to distinguish among them and creates a humorous, lighthearted feel to the game. It is striking, attractive and functional and I like it very much. The drawback, though, is that some of the people I play with feel that it must be a children’s game just because the art is cute and this makes it more difficult to get it to the table. I tend to see this as a problem with them and not a problem with the game, but fair warning is warranted here.

GAMEPLAY

Gameplay is intuitive but more complex than the art might lead you to assume. Each turn, you either catch a fish or sell one. However, good players will usually avoid the “sell” action if possible, preferring to unload their fish through other means. Selling simply means that once you have a card in your boat, you can spend your turn to discard that card, place a fish-meeple in the appropriate stall, and give yourself some money (points). Each fish has its own stall where the base price is $2, but there are also some roaming meeples on the board. The biggest meeple will add $3 to the value of a fish, each of the two medium meeples adds $2, and each of the two small meeples adds $1. More than one meeple can occupy a stall at a time, so the maximum value for a single fish is $11 (I have never seen this happen). However, only one fish at a time can be sold this way, so it is not the most efficient way to make money.

So, how do you get fish to sell? Four cards from the deck will be available every turn, arranged in a line next to the deck. The one farthest from the deck is considered to occupy “shallow” water; the one closest to the deck is in “deep” water. Catching the fish in the shallowest water is easy—you can just take the card. The deeper the water is, though, the more bait you will need to attract the fish you want. This is where the worms come in. To take a card, you must place a worm on each of the cards before it. That is, you can get the first one without spending any worms, the second by putting one on the “shallower” fish, and so forth. A player who claims a fish also claims the worms left on it. I think this is a pretty clever way of balancing the luck of the draw; an undesirable fish may start to look a lot better once it has one or two worms on it to give you a better chance at getting a valuable fish later.

When catching a fish, you have a choice. You can either put it in your boat to sell on a later turn, or you can release it and allow it to grant you a wish. Most of these wishes help you to sell fish more efficiently, for instance by moving the meeples around the board, allowing you to disguise your fish as a different kind of fish, and so forth. Many of the ones that do this also allow you to sell multiple fish at the same time, and any wish that allows you to sell a fish will allow you to sell a double as two instead of one. There is also a wish that can give you another boat (your initial boat holds only 2 fish cards), and one that gives you a dollar for every worm you have, though you must then give one worm away to every other player in the game.

As the game wears on, the fish-meeples will begin to accumulate in the various stalls. When this happens, the stalls will eventually start to close. The first stall closes when there are four fish in it, the next when there are five, and so on up to seven. When a stall closes, the players who have sold the most and second most fish there get bonuses. This gives players an incentive to sell a lot of the same type of fish and adds some complexity to the value of each fish one might consider catching. Do you want to go for the short-term benefit of selling where the meeples are, or do you want to make sure that a stall where you have the most fish closes before the end of the game? Do you really want to catch and sell that valuable fish if it might help your opponent close out a stall? What makes things even more interesting is that once a market has closed, all fish sold there go to the garbage heap. The game ends either when the fourth market closes, or when the garbage heap is full, and if the garbage heap is full, the players with the first and second most fish in it lose money. So, a fish in a closed market may be valuable, but it is risky to sell too many fish there.

STRATEGY/TACTICS

Because of the way the cards come out, it is difficult to form a long-term strategy in the game. Still, having taken certain actions encourages you to behave in particular ways in the future—if other players have left you a lot of worms, for instance, you’ll be looking out for the profitable worm card, and if you have a lot of fish in a market you may want go out of your way to make sure it closes. This has the effect of varying the value of each card by player, and you do need to consider what you are leaving for the person on your left. At the same time, the cards—like any cards—can be unpredictable at times and this does lower the level of control a little.

OPINIONS

If Wishes were Fishes is an underrated, fun filler that I enjoy a lot. Both the worms and the market mechanic offer interesting twists to the basic card-drafting elements, and, while the game is light, it’s not too light to make me think. It has a little bit of area control, a little bit of resource management, and a lot of watching what your opponents are doing. Further, while there is certainly luck in the game, it’s not overwhelming—in fact, I would say it is just the right amount of luck to make the game exciting. This is a good solid game based on the mechanics, and I like the whimsy of the art even if some people don’t.

It works much better as a 30 minute game than as a 45 minute game--occasionally it does go on slightly longer than I would like, but it doesn’t usually overstay its welcome. There are also a few oddities with the theme (points are referred to as money, but they don’t actually act like money, and selling fish in closed markets seems like an odd thing to do), but given the overall humorous nature of the theme, that doesn’t really bother me.

I rate it an 8/10 and would recommend it for anyone who is interested in a light filler with some thought involved and who doesn’t have a problem with cuteness.
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Scott Obear
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North Beach
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it can be a 2-player game, as well!
 
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Anni Foasberg
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You're right--fixed!
 
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