Friday, 25 September 2009

Fresh Fish

Date: Sat 19 Sep 2009
Venue: Carcasean boardgame cafe

Fresh Fish is an old (1997) quirky Friedemann Friese game that I have been interested in trying for some time. Friedemann Friese is well known for unusual themes in his games, and I'm usually at least interested to try them out. Not many of his games turn out to be big hits for me though, despite the initial interest. I don't know why.

Fresh Fish is definitely another unusual game. At least I have not seen any other games like this. You reserve plots and construct buildings on a grid. The game board starts with 4 factories. During the course of the game, outlets corresponding to the 4 types of goods produced by the 4 factories will be built. Each player must build one of each type of outlet, and the objective of the game is to make sure your outlets are as close to their respective supplying factories as possible. You also want to make sure you conserve your money, which is used for bidding for outlets when they turn up.

On your turn, you have two options - you can reserve a plot of land, or you can draw a building tile randomly. In the second situation, if you draw a normal building, you must build it on one of your own reserved plots. If you draw an outlet, it is auctioned (blind bidding), and all players who have yet to build that type of outlet can bid for it.

The most important, and unique, and possibly confusing part of the game is expropriation (this is a word I have just learnt, because of this game). This is when all players check the game board, and find that some spaces must be converted to streets due to the expropriation rules. Such streets must be built immediately, even if it means some reserved plots will be used. The player cubes used for reserving these plots are returned to their owners. The expropriation rules state that all factories and outlets must have street access, and all street squares must be connected. This can be difficult to grasp from just reading the rules, but once you see it in action, it's not that difficult to understand.

Han, Chong Sean and I didn't have much idea how to reserve plots and how to bid for outlets, so we just played from our guts and learned along the way. I was most aggressive in bidding for outlets, and got many of my outlets established early. Unfortunately physically near did not necessarily mean short delivery route. One of my outlets was blocked by a building, and had to use a very long, round-about delivery route. That, together with having no money left, gave me a score of 16pts (high is bad) and I came last. Score is total distance of delivery routes minus remaining money. Han played well and was the one who forced the long delivery route on my outlet. Unfortunately he had one distant outlet too because early in the game he drew that outlet, when he didn't have any reserved plot near the corresponding factory. Since he was the active player, and tied auctions go to the active player, both Chong Sean and I bid $0, thus forcing him to take the outlet. Chong Sean also played well, and conserved his money well too. He won the game with 7pts, to Han's 9pts.

Early in the game, before any streets were built. The three yellow-background buildings are factories, and the harbour in a corner at the top is the fourth "factory". Spaces with cubes are reserved plots.

Some streets have been built. My toy shop (green roof, only two spaces south of the toy factory) was screwed. It was near the factory, but was forced to take a long delivery route. Notice that with 3P, we only play a 8x8 area. We use extra tiles to mark off the border.

The only thing that is not so good is the production values and graphic design. The game looks rather bland, and the small cubes are not helpful. Colour scheme is not very good either.

I find Fresh Fish quite enjoyable. It isn't as confusing as I had expected, from reading other people's remarks before I played the game. It certainly is quite different. Being different or quirky does not necessary mean a game will be liked, but in this case I like this game. It also plays quite fast, as your actions every turn are simple. Two things discourage me from buying this game. First, it doesn't seem to work well with just 2 players, which is the player number I usually have. Secondly, it's out of print.

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