Posted by: gschloesser | August 2, 2011

Fresh Fish

Plenary Games
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes
Designed by:  Friedemann Friese
Reviewed by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Way back in 1997 at my very first Gathering of Friends, Brent Carter introduced me to this mind-bending tile-laying game from Friedemann Friese.  I struggled to understand the placement rules and visualize how the board would develop, but still rather enjoyed the experience.  Unfortunately, the game was produced in very limited quantities, so copies were difficult to obtain.  I never searched too hard for the game, however, content to move on to other titles. 

Late last year, Angela Gaalema announced the formation of Plenary Games, promoting the fact that she would make efforts to re-print titles that were in demand by gamers.  Fresh Fish was her first coup and this news was received with much excitement and anticipation by many gamers.  Initial photographs and images of the game didn’t diminish this enthusiasm as it certainly appeared the production quality would be top-notch. 

Now that the game has finally made it to full production and release, the expectations have been met.  The production quality meets or exceeds that of most German game companies.  Over 100 thick, sturdy tiles, dozens of wooden tokens and cubes and a spacious game board comprise the components.  The rulebook is nicely illustrated, but not without a few gaffes, including an incomplete paragraph explaining a critical part of the rules.  Still, from the examples and other sections, the nature and intent of the missing section are able to be discerned.  In light of the rather confusing nature of the game’s mechanics, the rules do a reasonably adequate job explaining the mechanics to the players.  Still, the game requires a level of “visualization” that is difficult to put into print. 

The theme of the game is one involving the economical establishment of markets in close proximity to the appropriate supply centers.  The closer you are to a supply center, the faster you can receive goods.  The less you have to pay to acquire these choice markets, the more money you will save.  As the rules state:  Better, Faster, Cheaper. 

Two to five players can compete, with the 10×10 board size being reduced if playing with less than the full compliment of five players.  The four supply centers begin the game on the board, with the harbor being placed in one corner and the other three (oil, nuclear plant and game factory) either being placed one in each corner or placed randomly on the board.  Players each begin the game with 15 coins, which will be used in bidding on markets when they surface, as well as eight tiny cubes that are used to reserve plots of land. 

The group of tiles is separated into two stacks – one containing all street tiles and the other stack containing the remaining tiles.  These tiles consist of: 

Retail outlets:  Fish markets, Nuclear waste depots, Gas stations and Game shops.  When these surface, an auction is held, with the high bidder gaining control of the outlet and placing it onto one of his previously reserved land plots. 

Other buildings:  These consist of apartments, offices and parks, but the distinction is cosmetic only.  These buildings all serve the same function, which is to either block the path of your opponents or help facilitate a shorter route for yourself.  When one of these is revealed, it is not auctioned. Rather, the player revealing it must place it onto the board on one of his reserved plots of land.

The Sequence of Play is quite simple.  On a turn, a player may either (a) Reserve a plot of land, or (b) Build on one of his previously reserved plots of land. 

a)      Reserve a plot of land:  Simply place one of your cubes onto the board.  After the first round, all cubes placed onto the board must be placed adjacent (not diagonal) to a previously placed cube, whether it is your own cube or another player’s cube.  A player may only have six reserved locations on the board at any one time. 

b)      Building on a reserved plot:  A tile is revealed from the stack.  If it is an apartment, park or office, the player must place this building on one of his previously reserved plots.  This ends his turn. 

If, however, the building is a retail outlet, it is auctioned.  All players who do not currently own that particular outlet are eligible to bid.  Bidding is done in a “closed fist” manner, with players secretly placing a number of coins into their hand and simultaneously revealing them.  The player who bid the most wins the outlet and must place it onto the board on one of his reserved plots.  

According to this new version, ties are resolved in favor of the player sitting closest to the player – in a clockwise fashion — who revealed the tile.  This means the player who drew the tile cannot win the auction if he ties in the bidding.  The original rules broke ties in favor of the player revealing the tile.  I’ve played both ways and much prefer the original tie-breaking rule. 

As mentioned, when a player already owns a particular outlet, he cannot bid on any future auctions involving the same type of outlet.  Thus, the final player who does not own a particular outlet will get it for free, but his placement location for that outlet may well be less than desirable. 

When winning an outlet, the idea is to place the outlet as close as possible to the corresponding supply center.  The shorter the route, the better.  However,  the path MUST cross at least one street tile, so placing the outlet immediately adjacent to an outlet may not be the wisest course of action. 

A few placement rules must be observed: 

1)      All retail outlets and supply centers MUST have street access.  Thus, these buildings may not be completely surrounded by other buildings.  

2)      All streets and un-built plots MUST be connected.  In other words, you can’t create a situation wherein two separate streets will form or one section of streets or un-built plots would be completely cut-off from the rest of the board.  

After each building is placed on the board, the overall board situation must be assessed to insure that both of these rules have been adhered to.  It is this facet of the game that causes the most difficulty.  I consider it a ‘visualization’ problem.  It can often be difficult to visualize whether certain plots on the board are eligible to have buildings erected, or whether they MUST be reserved as a street.  This will come easy to some players, while other players will struggle with the concept in perpetuity.  

Such visualization is also required in order to make wise placements of the outlets and buildings you must place.  What often appears to be a choice location can quickly devolve into a nightmarish one with the subsequent placement of another building.  I’ve suffered tremendously when placing a building, only to discover to my horror that it forced the street to move in a direction I had not intended, thereby prolonging my path to the supply center.  The Beatles song “The Long and Winding Road” takes on new meaning in this game!

This ‘visualization’ aspect does result in considerable confusion and has been evidenced by an abundance of discussion on various internet discussion forums.  The debate as to when a street tile must be placed is ongoing.  The rules that a street tile is only placed when a space cannot be building, meaning situations can exist wherein reserved plots become illegal to build on, but are not yet expropriated by streets.  This can create some very strange board situations that are difficult to resolve.  The best solution we’ve found is that whenever a plot cannot be built on, it immediately becomes a street and a tile is placed.  Indeed, this now seems to be the official ruling on the matter. 

The game ends when all plots on the board have been developed.  At that point, each player tallies the distance (in street tiles) of each of his outlets from their corresponding supply source.  From this total, he subtracts his remaining money.  The player with the smallest total is the most efficient and is declared the winner. 

To add a bit more spice, there are also two types of optional tiles included in the game: 

Construction Zones:  When revealed, these are placed on top of an existing apartment, office or park.  Any player may then build on this construction zone as opposed to one of his reserved plots.  

Anti-Nuclear Demonstrations:  When revealed, these are placed onto a previously reserved plot.  It acts as a street tile and any path to a supply center that crosses one of these demonstration tiles adds three to the total of that route.  Ouch. 

I’ve played the game numerous times and find it to be quite fascinating.  Although I think I have a grasp on the ‘visualization’ aspect, my results seem to suggest otherwise.  I’ve been totally crushed in the games I’ve played and, what’s worse, is that my pitiful showing has been the result of some bone-head placements that I did myself!  So, apparently, I’ve still not experienced the revelation that is so critical in this game. 

So, is this game for everyone?  No … most certainly not.  I can’t imagine my wife or casual gaming friends grasping this one.  Many gamers will also likely experience difficulty.  However, others will latch onto it and find the game fascinating.  Even though I haven’t “latched on” just yet, I still find the game intriguing and am eager for more playings.  So, even though the market for this one might prove a bit small, I applaud this first effort from Plenary Games.  Bravo, Angela … and to designer Friedemann as well!

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Responses

  1. Can you say BRAIN BURNER? This game seems so simple but it is not. I will take you several playings to “see” most of the options that you and your opponents will have. The problem is that you will not see all of the options and may not realize the after effects of the ones you do see. Very challenging game. I give it a high rating but like Greg says, it is not for everyone. 8/10


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