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Subject: Review of Ice Cream rss

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Larry Levy
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It may not rank up there with pirates, but one common theme of some recently released games is food – specifically, comfort food. Sole Mio (pizza), UFOs Fritten Aus Dem All (hamburgers), and The Nacho Incident (fairly obvious, I’d say) are some examples of this trend. But when it comes to comfort food, it’s hard to top ice cream, which happens to be the title of this filler from Face2Face Games.

Okay, here’s the scoop: Ice Cream is the creation of Joe Huber, whose comments have appeared in these pages before. It’s his second published design; the first was Scream Machine, a 2003 Jolly Rogers release. Some have said that the game is a spin-off of Coloretto, but other than some surface similarities, I find the two designs to have quite a different feel. In any event, I prefer Ice Cream to the Schacht design.

The game’s theme is that the players own ice cream emporiums and are trying to attract customers. Your goal is to influence customers into enjoying the kinds of ice cream that you provide and then selling them scoops of their favorites.

The game is played with three types of cards. There are 30 Ice Cream cards, each of which show a gallon of ice cream. There are six flavors of ice cream in the game. The 30 Scoop cards are half-sized and each shows a scoop of one of the flavors of the frosty treat. There are equal numbers of each of the ice cream flavors for both the Ice Cream and Scoop cards. Finally, there are 12 Cone cards, showing an empty ice cream cone. The Cone cards aren’t strictly necessary, since they’re just identifying locations on the playing area, but they do make the game easier to play and add to the theme. In addition to the cards, cardboard scoring counters are provided.

To start play, the 12 Cone cards are arranged in the center of the table and each player is dealt an Ice Cream card face-up. The game consists of four turns and each one has the same structure. First, each player is dealt a face down Ice Cream card. A player can refuse the card if he wishes, whereupon it is replaced by another face down card that he must accept. The main reason for rejecting a card is that it matches one of the player’s face up cards. Then, each player in turn takes a Scoop card and places it on one of the cones. Scoops can be stacked on top of earlier played scoops, but no cone can hold more than four scoops (due, no doubt, to those troublesome laws of gravity). Other than that, a player can place his scoop on any cone he wishes. This process continues multiple times until the scoop deck is exhausted.

The different cones represent the favored flavor combinations of the ice cream lovers in the area. In the next phase, the players try to lure those customers into their shops. First, each player reveals their face down gallon of ice cream. Then, in turn, they compare their gallons to the cones. There are three possibilities. If there is at least one cone which consists of scoops that can be serviced by the player’s ice cream gallons (in other words, she can completely satisfy that customer’s request), she must claim one of those cones. So, for example, if the player’s gallons are chocolate and strawberry and one of the cones has two chocolate scoops and one strawberry scoop, she would either have to claim that cone or another cone with matching scoops. The second possibility is that there are no cones with matching scoops, but there are some in which all but one scoop matches. In this case, the player has the option of claiming one of these near misses. If she doesn’t claim one of these cones, she gets a new face-up gallon from the Ice Cream deck. Finally, if all of the cones have at least two scoops which don’t match the player’s gallons, she must take a new Ice Cream card. When a player claims a cone, she takes the scoops and places them on the appropriate gallon cards in front of her. When claiming a near miss, the non-matching scoop is discarded.

This continues in turn order, with each player either claiming a cone or taking a new Ice Cream card. There’s no limit to the number of scoops a single gallon can service. Eventually, the players will receive enough new gallons that every cone will be claimed. At this point, the turn is scored. First, each player discards every gallon that has scoops on top of it (the customers in our town may be willing to compromise on their favorite flavors, but they do require that the ice cream be fresh!). Next, each player receives a Victory Point (via the scoring counters) for each scoop they claimed. Finally, players discard any duplicate gallons they may currently have and get 1 VP for each one as compensation. The players begin the next turn with their remaining gallons, with the player with the fewest VPs going first. The scoops are gathered up and shuffled for the new turn. Continue for four turns and the highest VP total wins.

On the surface, Ice Cream looks to be a pretty straightforward game determined mostly by luck. But like many of Knizia’s early designs, there’s more here than first meets the eye. Most of the skill comes when building the ice cream cones. Players can choose to try to set themselves up for scoring or try to stop their opponents (if you’re lucky, you might be able to do both simultaneously). Thanks to the claiming procedures, these goals can be met in a number of ways. For example, to stop an opponent, you could pile what you think is a flavor he doesn’t have on top of a cone that it looks like he will be able to claim. But it might be easier to try to force him to take another cone. For example, if he has Pistachio revealed and you suspect his hidden flavor is Vanilla, there might be a cone with two Vanilla, a Pistachio, and a Black Raspberry that he will obviously want to take. One way to stop this would be to start a cone with a single scoop of Pistachio. If this cone goes unchanged for the rest of the scoop laying phase, your opponent will have to take the single scoop cone first (or another cone he can completely service), since he doesn’t have Black Raspberry. This might give you time to claim that big four-scoop cone for yourself! There are similar considerations when trying to improve your own scoring chances; it can be just as effective to put non-matching scoops on single scoops of one of your flavors as it can be to pile on scoops you can service. Much of this depends on where in the turn order you go and all of it depends on what flavor scoop you draw. Some draws just aren’t helpful, but you’re still bound to have at least a couple of interesting scoop laying decisions each turn.

The decisions when claiming cones are more straightforward, but still require some thought. Usually, you try to maximize your VP count, but exceptions aren’t uncommon. Maybe you’re better off taking one less scoop if it can keep an opponent from claiming a sky-high cone. You may also want to avoid a particular cone if it means there will only be one scoop on your gallon at the end of the turn – you’ll probably be better off with the extra gallon during the next turn than the extra VP this one. This issue is even more significant when you are given the option of taking an all-but-one cone or drawing a card; sometimes it’s best to delay instant gratification to improve your scoring chances for next turn. All of these decisions require good judgment, rather than heavy calculation, so the game retains a nice light touch and is unlikely to give you an Ice Cream headache.

Many super-short fillers recommend that you play several hands during a session, guidance that is often ignored (after all, one of the charms of a game like For Sale is that you can play it in ten minutes). In Ice Cream, however, playing the full four hands definitely improves the game. That’s because this can be a game of feast or famine – making a big score for one hand usually means that you’ll begin the next hand with a small number of gallons. Managing this ebb and flow is reasonably challenging and both adds variety to the gameplay and gives the design a bit of a story arc which is quite unusual for a filler. Even with four hands, you shouldn’t have any trouble finishing the game within 30 minutes.

Face2Face did their usual fine job with the components. The box art is particularly attractive and distinctive. The cards and counters are sturdy and the card art is realistic and quite yummy looking. The only problem I have is that it can be hard to distinguish the vanilla and chocolate chip flavors from across the table, at least to these forty-something eyes. Once the players are made aware of this, it isn’t a huge issue, but I imagine they would have been better served by going with the butter brickle!

Overall, Ice Cream is an enjoyable little filler that should play well with a large variety of groups. I think the game is particularly suitable for families, since the theme will obviously appeal to kids, who can have fun making the obvious plays, while their parents should find enough to think about to keep them interested. Most of the hardcore gamers I’ve played the game with have also enjoyed it. It plays equally well with three, four, or five players, which is a nice plus. Just like its subject matter, the game is light on the surface, but turns out to be surprisingly filling. Ice Cream: it’s not just for breakfast anymore!
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Mike Berg
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An excellent review. I, too agree that there is more there than first meets the eye. My 9 and 10 year olds like to play it, and they are pretty good at figuring out how to set up the cones to maximize their points.

I would caution that when you first play the game it is a little long, but once you get the rules down, it plays rather quickly.
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