Take a Trip Down Big Fish River

Big Fish River

Red Castle Games, a local game store, is running a campaign for their first board game, Big Fish River (designed by one of their regulars, Cris Kelly). Evan Halbert, one of the owners of Red Castle Games, gave me a quick demo of this fun little game with a blend of luck and outsmarting your fellow anglers.

I’ll warn you first: I’m not a huge fan of their Kickstarter page. The pitch video is a mini-movie that is fairly silly (but does tell you how the game actually works, if you get to about the 3:30 mark), and the only artwork so far is the board pictured above and a sketch of the cover (to be completed once they know which backer’s face to put on the drawing). However, having played the game I think it’s a nice catch.

How it works:

You can read about how the game works on the Kickstarter page, but here’s my rundown. The goal of the game is to have the best haul, of course. The fish have different values (yellow=1, blue=2, and red=3), plus you get big bonuses for having pairs or triplets of the same color. The big fish—the black ones in the picture above—are only worth 1 point but they give you an in-game bonus while you’re fishing.

When the game starts, you place all the fish tokens on the board as shown, and each player takes a 12-sided die and the three fishing tokens in their color: upriver, midriver, and downriver. On each turn, every player secretly chooses a section of river (by picking  token) and their fishing speed (by setting the die to a face of their choice). Higher numbers get to fish first, but it’s harder to catch the fish. If you pick the same number and river section as another player, then your lines are tangled and neither of you gets to fish this round.

For each section of river, the players go in descending speed order. You roll your die, and try to match or beat the speed you picked—plus 1 if you’re fishing midriver or 2 if you’re fishing downriver. Succeed, and you take the first fish in that section—if there are any left.

After everyone has had a chance to fish, all the remaining fish swim one space upriver. (The fish that swims off the board then goes back to the first space downriver.) The game continues until all of the fish have been caught.

The verdict:

I played a few rounds of Big Fish River with Evan, using a prototype that just had some wooden cubes and an even simpler-looking board, but it was pretty fun. Because of the way the big fish are placed, you often have to make tough choices about where to fish and whether you want to compete with the other players for a valuable catch. Or, sometimes you’ll want to keep somebody from completing a pair or triplet, even if it’s not the idea fish for you.

Because of the way the fishing works, I think it’s best with more players. We played a couple of two-player games and three-player games. With two, I think there may need to be some rules tweaks to make it more interesting, but even with three we started having a lot of bidding wars for the same fish, and a lot more line-tangling. I could definitely see that going up to 6 players would make for a lot more jockeying for position. If you can predict where other people will be fishing, maybe you can catch a big fish that’s further down the line.

Of course, there’s still luck involved, too—you get to pick your fishing speed, but even bidding low doesn’t guarantee that you’ll catch anything. I can’t tel you how many times I set my speed at 4 (reasonable enough on a 12-sided die, right?) and then rolled 2 when trying to fish. No amount of strategy can counteract a string of really bad luck—but I guess that’s just another day on the river.

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The game is pretty quick and easy to teach. The recommended age is 8 and up, but Evan said he has played with younger kids who have done just fine, although they may not get the finer points of picking the speed and location.

If you’re looking for a quick casual game, Big Fish River is worth checking out. You can get a copy of the game for just $20 (or $15 if there are still early bird slots open). The expected delivery date is May 2014, though since Red Castle Games is a first-timer at Kickstarter and publishing, I’d probably allow room for some delays there.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.