Thursday, December 28, 2017

GJJ Games Reivew - Ice Cool - By Brain Games

Ice Cool
Designer: Brian Gomez
Publisher: Brain Games
2-4p | 20m | 6+
GJJ Games Reivew - Ice Cool - By Brain Games
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Game Overview:
I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of dexterity games, yet I seem to keep getting dexterity games to review.  For the most part I've had a lot of fun with the dexterity games that I've reviewed.  Maybe it's because I've been pretty picky about the dexterity games I choose to review, or maybe it's because I really do like them somewhere deep inside.  I think it's the former, but it's probably a tiny bit of the latter, too.  While I do prefer games that stretch my brain, there's always room for a wild good time flexing my dexterity skills.  Dexterity games aren't ones that will hit the table regularly, but it seems like I enjoy them when they do.  That said, I do prefer dexterity games that have more strategic decisions than stacking blocks.

Ice Cool came out in 2016 and made a bit of commotion with dexterity game fans.  I remember watching a few reviews thinking it looked fun, but wasn't sure how much actual playtime it would get with my game groups.  This November, however, at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG Fair), Brain Games had about a half dozen tables set up with copies of Ice Cool out to play.  So I tried a quick game with my son and another boy that was visiting the fair.  We found it quite fun in the brief game (with only partial rules) we played, and Brain Games decided to give me a copy to play some more and review for them.

In Ice Cool, two to four players are penguins at school. (Get it? Ice Cool = High School!)  Each round one penguin is the hall monitor and the other penguins are ditching class and looking for fish.  The game will play a number of rounds equal to the number of players (double for two players), with each player taking on the role of hall monitor once (twice with two players).  Players flick penguins around the game board trying to avoid getting caught by the hall monitor while performing amazing feats of flicking skill to maneuver around the board collecting fish.  It's a game for ages six and up, and despite the young base age and silly theme, I don't think there's a top limit.

Components & Packaging:
There aren't too many components in Ice Cool.  12 colored wooden fish correspond to the four penguins' colors.  Four more white fish hold the game board together.  There are four penguin ID cards, four color reminder cards, and 45 fish points cards.

Let's not forget the five rooms that make up the playing area.  These might just be the coolest component of all.  The game box actually becomes the playing area!  Under the cover you'll find a few baggies with the other components, the rulebook, and five boxes, including the main box's bottom.  These all get placed together to form a square of four rectangular rooms with a smaller square room in the middle.  Holes in the sides of the boxes line up for form doorways.  This is really a pretty ingenious system and everyone loves it when they find out that the box is used to make up the play area.
Using the box as part of the game always impresses me!
OK, so the box might not be the coolest component after all.  It's pretty neat, but it's really the four penguins that steal the show, as they should.  Playing with the penguins is virtually irresistible.  Like the classic Weebles toys, they wobble, but don't fall down.  The penguins are weighted at the bottom and rock mesmerisingly back and forth, just begging to be flicked.  Even without the game, they're super fun to play with.
Look at that penguin!  So flickable!
On top of the awesome box/playing board, and great playing pieces, the game's artwork is surprisingly great.  Each box represents a different room in the penguins' school and is outfitted accordingly.  There's a classroom, gymnasium, cafeteria, kitchen, and lounge, each with unique, thematic artwork.  There are plenty of fish posters on the walls, snowballs in the corners, and streaks in the ice floor from ice skates.  There's great attention to detail, and looking at what's in each of the rooms is half the fun!

Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setup only takes a few minutes.  Simply open the box, take out the nesting room boxes, align them each by matching they symbols by the doorways, and clip them together with the white fish.  Then add the colored fish above the indicated doorways and pass out a penguin and matching ID and reminder card to each player.  Shuffle the fish points cards and you're all ready to play!

Players can choose which side of the reminder and ID cards they want to show.  One side has a female penguin and one a male penguin, although a few are pretty androgynous and will work for either boys or girls.

Playing the game is also super simple.  The game can be taught in about two minutes.  The game is completed in rounds equal to the number of players (double for two players), and each round players' penguins will either be Runners or the Catcher.  The Catcher will start by placing the penguin in the kitchen, anywhere inside the red lines.

Then each Runner, in turn, will place their penguin on the red dot in the classroom and take a turn.  A turn consists of flicking your penguin through the rooms, trying to collect fish.  If you flick your penguin through a doorway that has your colored fish above it still, you get to collect that fish and one of the fish points cards.  It's even possible to flick through multiple doors in one shot!
Flick a penguin and watch it skate across the board!

After each Runner has gone, the Catcher gets to take a turn.  Instead of trying to collect fish though, the Catcher is trying to catch the Runners.  If the Catcher penguin bumps into a Runner, the Catcher will collect the Runner's ID card.  If a Runner bumps the Catcher at any time, even not on the Catcher's turn, the Catcher will collect the Runner's ID card.

Fish points cards are kept face-down, however at any time a player may reveal a pair of one point cards in order to take an extra turn.  They can do this as either a Runner or Catcher.  They don't lose the points, just reveal that they have them.
Keep your points hidden, unless you reveal two ones to Skate and take another turn

The round ends after one Runner has collected all three fish or after the Catcher has everyone else's IDs.  Then every player gets a fish points card for each ID they have, meaning the Catcher gets one for their own ID plus one for each ID that was collected in the round, and the Runners only get one if they managed to keep their own ID.  The game ends after everyone has been the Catcher once (twice in a two player game), and then the player with the most points wins!

Score: 9/10 x2

This isn't the deepest game, or the most strategic.  There is a fair amount of luck since points are drawn randomly, but there is also some skill needed.  There are three basic types of flicks of the penguins that you'll want to master.

First is the straight flick.  Gently, but firmly flick the penguin in a straight line by placing your finger directly behind the penguin, near the base, and flicking your finger forward.  This works best if you keep your finger in contact with the penguin the whole time.  I.e. don't start with your finger away from the penguin.  That'll hurt when your moving finger comes in contact with the stationary penguin, and you'll have less control!
Sometimes the kids will perfect the moves faster
than the adults, but it's fun for all ages!

Second is a curved flick.  This is a little more challenging to perfect than the straight flick, but the technique is almost the same.  Instead of putting your finger directly behind the penguin, start with it off to the side a little bit.  The penguin will curve to the same side that you have your finger on.  It'll take some practice to aim a curved shot, but with this shot you'll be able to flick your way through multiple doors, or around a penguin that's blocking your way.

The third type of flick is the jump.  This flick really takes a lot of skill to master, but is pretty cool when executed well.  If you flick the penguin very hard on its head it'll flip right up and over the walls!  This is a great move for getting away from the Catcher, or quickly sending the Catcher to the other side of the school in pursuit of the Runners, but it's a challenge to master and aim well.  Also, if you're a Runner, you don't collect any fish for doorways you jump over, only ones you slide through.

The combination of some awesome flicks as well as utter fails keeps the gameplay exciting and fun.  Games move quickly and analysis paralysis isn't really a problem, so your turn will be back around before you know it.  A four player game takes about 15 minutes to play, so it's great for a quick filler game or a quick wrap-up at the end of the night.  It's also just as much fun for adults as it is for kids, and it's great for adults and kids to play together.  Although I don't drink, I've also heard it makes for a great drinking game.
If your penguin is between the red line and the wall, you can move it out to the red line before you flick it.

So while this won't appear on any heavy games best-of lists, the gameplay is quite fun, fast, and entertaining.  Just don't get too hung up on scores.  With the points cards drawn randomly, there's always the possibility that you'll lose to someone who has fewer points cards than you do, just because they got a few threes when you drew ones.

Score: 8/10 x3

This isn't a game you'll play all night long, but it is one you can easily knock out three or four games of in a row.  It plays so quickly, and it's just so much fun to flick those penguins around the board that you'll immediately want a rematch after the first game.  I think this will likely remain a staple in my game night bag just so we have something quick to play when we wrap up a game at 9:30, but don't want to leave until the game store closes at 10.  It's also a great game that the kids can easily play on their own so the adults can get a heavier game or two in.
Young and old can enjoy the game together!

Score: 8/10 x1

General Fun:
As I said, Ice Cool isn't a game that I'd make the main game of the evening, but it's a ton of fun for a filler or quick family game.  The theme and artwork are great, and flicking penuins is super satisfying.  Dexterity games are usually lower on my list of choices to play, but Ice Cool is always fun and never disappoints.  I think my only frustration with the game is when I play on a larger table.  A smaller table is fine, because you can easily walk around the table to get a good angle for a shot.  But a larger table is a challenge.  We ended up putting it close to a corner and then rotating the board as we needed to make shots from various angles.  Putting the game on a Lazy Susan would be wonderful.
Getting stuck in a doorway doesn't earn you a fish.  You have to make it completely through.

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
The MSRP for Ice Cool is $40, which, despite the great components, seems a little high for a dexterity game like this.  The nesting boxes are pretty cool, but when everything is considered, there really aren't that many components to the game.  I'd expect a MSRPbetween $25 and $35, so $40 is higher than I expected and is one of the factors in me not picking up a copy of the game sooner.  You can find the game on Amazon and other outlets for around $30, and my FLGS has it for $28, so that's pretty reasonable.  If your family or game group enjoys fast playing, fun, dexterity games, then you'll definitely get $30 worth of fun out of Ice Cool.  I just wouldn't recommend paying full retail for the game, unless you're a die hard dexterity game (or penguin) fan.
Brain Games had about a half dozen copies of the game set up for people to play
and they were always busy.  It was a huge hit!

Score: 6/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Once again, I found a dexterity game that I really enjoyed.  I had a suspicion that I'd enjoy the game when I saw the first videos of it come out, but was hesitant about how my game groups would take to the game.  So far everyone I've played with has really enjoyed it.  I saw that one of my game group friends even got his family a copy for Christmas!  No, this isn't a game that will be at the center of a hard core game night, but it's a great warm-up or cool down game, and as a family game it really shines.  If you like dexterity games with a fun theme, definitely consider adding Ice Cool to your collection.  Or maybe two...  I wonder how it would play with more players.  I bet you could combine two sets to make a really big school with two Catchers and six Runners for a great time!
Fast, fun, easy game play will make this
a staple in my game night collection!

Overall Score: 81/100

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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