Longtime readers will already know that I love flicking games—Catacombs is a particular favorite—and I love checking out new twists on the genre. This year at Gen Con, Z-Man’s Flick ‘Em Up had a new expansion on display, but there was also a little game company from Latvia making a splash with their crazy penguin-flicking game, Ice Cool.
At a glance: Ice Cool is a dexterity game from Brain Games for 2 to 4 players, ages 6 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It retails for $39.95, and is available online from Amazon. It’s family-friendly; as with most dexterity games, because it is skill-based, more experienced players will have a significant advantage over newer players. The theme is about penguins skipping class to find fish—and the hall monitor trying to catch them.
- 5 cardboard rooms
- 4 Penguin pawns
- 16 wooden fish (4 plain, 3 in each of the 4 player colors)
- 4 Penguin ID cards
- 4 Player Color cards
- 45 Fish cards (valued 1, 2, and 3)
The plastic penguins have curved bottoms, so they wobble around but stand back up, like Weebles (for those of you old enough) or those inflatable punching dummies. The wobbling lets you flick them straight, or curved, or even jump over walls—though it takes quite a bit of practice before you start pulling off moves like the ones in the video.
The wooden fish are actually clips, and they work together with the cardboard rooms to create a 5-room school building. That part of the design is really ingenious: when you take the lid off the box, you’ll see five nested boxes, four rectangles and one square. The rooms have open doorways in some of the sides, marked with colors so you can match up the doorways to set up the building properly, and then indications on the edges showing where to clip the plain wooden fish to hold the whole thing together. It’s a great way to create the playing surface with the box, so although the box itself is still mostly empty space (something I would normally complain about), in this case, the box itself is a game component.
The artwork inside the box is great, too—everything has a sort of scratched-up ice look to it, and there are a lot of fun details. It’s supposed to be a high school (ice cool, get it?), and there’s a classroom, a gymnasium, a kitchen, a cafeteria, and a game room. In the game room, there’s even a copy of Ice Cool on the table.
The Penguin ID cards and Player Color cards have little illustrations of the four penguins on them. One nice touch is that they’re double-sided, so you can decide whether you’re playing a boy or a girl penguin no matter which color you pick—my daughters often fight over who gets to be the girl in any particular game, so in this case, everyone gets what they want. (Unless you’re fighting over a color, of course.) The cards are mini-cards, which makes the fish cards a little tough to shuffle, but otherwise they’re just fine.
How to Play
The goal of the game is to score the most points in fish cards by collecting your fish, catching other players, and not getting caught.
Set up the rooms, and then each player takes a penguin, the player color card, and the penguin ID matching their player. Shuffle the Fish cards and set them aside. Clip one of your three fish over each doorway that has the fish icon on it.
Each player will have one round as the Catcher, while the other players are Runners. The idea is that the Catcher is the hall monitor, and the Runners are skipping class to go find fish instead. The round will end when the Catcher catches all the Runners, or when any Runner collects all three of their fish. Then the next player will serve as Catcher, and so on, until each player has had one turn as Catcher.
First, the Catcher places their penguin anywhere in the Kitchen room. Then, in turn order, the Runners will start at the red dot in the classroom and take one flick each, and then the Catcher takes a turn. From then on, each player just continues from their last position, although if you’re close to a wall you are allowed to move into the red line to give you a little more room before flicking.
If the Catcher penguin ever touches a Runner penguin (even due to a Runner’s flick), the Catcher takes that Runner’s ID card. Runners collect fish by passing all the way through a doorway with their fish over it. When you collect a fish, you draw a fish card from the deck, keeping it secret. After your flick, if you have two 1-point fish cards, you may flip them over to take another turn. (The 1-point cards show ice skates, so if you have a pair of skates, you get another free move.) Each pair of skates may only be used once per game.
When a round ends, each player will draw one fish card per ID they have. So if you don’t get caught as a Runner, you’ll get an extra card. If you’re the Catcher and you didn’t catch anyone, you’ll still get one card for your own ID.
That’s basically it! You play as many rounds as there are players, and highest total score wins. Ties go to the player with more fish cards.
There are some slight tweaks in a 2-player game, but otherwise it’s mostly the same.
I had mentioned Ice Cool in our “Getting Excited for Gen Con Super-MEGA Post” prior to the con, and I’m really glad I’d gotten in touch with Brain Games ahead of time: they had copies there for people who pre-ordered and some additional for sale, but by Sunday they had basically sold out entirely and were just taking more orders. I stopped by early on Thursday to pick up my copy, and also looked at one of Brain Games’ other titles, The Game of Trains. This was their first year at Gen Con, but they definitely had a lot of positive buzz going throughout the weekend. It ended up at #15 on the BoardGameGeek leaderboard by the end of the weekend, and for good reason.
Ice Cool is one of those games that’s going to draw a crowd if you play in public because everyone will be shouting and cheering and groaning throughout the game. The big square box is eye-catching, and flicking through doorways and over walls is a lot of fun. When I brought this home and played with my daughters, we had a lot of fun and they wanted to play again immediately as soon as we finished.
I will say that I’m going to need a lot more practice. I’m pretty good at flicking straight, but not at all at getting the curves that they demonstrated at the Gen Con booth. Typically instead I just wobble crazily and run into the wall instead of through a doorway. I did get the hang of jumping over walls, though not consistently—one time I jumped out of the school entirely! I will warn you, though: in order to jump, you do need to flick pretty hard, so it’s not unusual for players to complain about sore fingertips if they’ve been jumping over a lot of walls.
As far as the mechanics are concerned, I do like that there are red lines on the ground so that you know exactly how far you can move it away from the wall before flicking. Any dexterity game will have a little bit of a fudge factor in it, but at least this way you don’t have people moving to the center of a room or something. The ice skates are also a neat touch, offsetting the low score on the 1-point cards. I also like the way that you get fish for ID cards at the end of the round, which rewards you based on your particular goals. The Catcher can earn more fish by catching people before they get their fish, and the Runners can earn more if they don’t ever get caught.
Like I said, though, this is a skill-based game, so better players are generally going to win. There is a bit of luck in the cards you get, so somebody could end up with a bunch of lower-point cards, but the ice skates also mitigate that a little. Win or lose, though, you’ll have a lot of fun with Ice Cool.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this game.