FRESH FISH was a1997 boardgame from the imaginative mind of the green haired god of gaming Friedemann Friese. Over the years this has become a classic German/European boardgame for so many core boardgame players who enjoy the style that is so different to the classic UK and American boardgame that many of us grew up with - Monopoly, Cluedo (Clue), Careers etc.
£29.99 from Leisure Games in London
Now, 17 years later, Friedemann has taken his respected game and revised it so that it still has everything that the classic game had - mainly because the boards are double-sided and the rules from the original are included as a variant - alongside the rules for this all-new family friendly edition. Both versions are gamer-friendly for 2-5 players aged 13+ (personally I think boardgames families with children from 10+ will easily be able to play and enjoy FRESH FISH to its fullest flavour).
FRESH FISH puts the players in the role of market entrepreneurs owning four market stall businesses selling Fish, Cheese, Soda Pop and Ice-Cream. The Towns they set up their Stalls in have variously shaped and sized market square areas - these are created by using a predetermined (depending on the number of players) number of the seven game boards provided (I wouldn't be at all surprised to see new boards becoming available in due course, thus keeping the game as fresh as the fish on sale). The market Stalls are supplied by delivery trucks, one truck for each of the businesses, so all player Stalls are provided by the same trucks. There is, especially during the first time of playing, slight confusion with the trucks because, apart from the Pink truck, the other colours could conceivably be thought to be associated with the colours of the Stalls, when in fact the association is by the illustrated stickers. My own view is that the trucks could have all been the same colour, either black or white, defined simply by the stickers, then there would be no colour confusion, but that's only my opinion based on describing the game to new players and hearing their comments.
Each of the boards is rectangular or square so that when you lay out the playing area the spaces can butt up together and form a contiguous Market Area. Boards do not have to be placed so as to form any particular formation or shape but care should be taken to ensure that there is more than one way to travel from board to board - that is you cannot place a board so that only one or two spaces are adjacent to the next board. This is because it would be too easy to completely block off the board for all players. In actualy fact what I have said there is true to keep the game flowing but if you want an extremely tactical game then you can build it with one or few adjacent spaces between boards and then you are setting up players, some or all, for a probable high score. The game is strategic enough without making the overall Market Area virtually unplayable - it's not against the rules to do so but it's not advisable.
On the back side of the boards there are simply squares with lightened round spaces to place playing pieces. This means that players have to mentally envisage the way the roads are going to run whereas on the upper side the squares are set into different areas roped off and marked with a flag showing either a one or a two. It is advisable when creating your Market Area to ensure that there are at least four flags marked with a one on the outer edges and these should be reasonably well spread apart. This is because at the beginning of the game the Trucks are randomly placed on edge spaces with a "one" and the game is more fun if they are not too close to each other or clustered on one or two edges.
Play begins with the players placing markers to claim spaces. The idea is to be the player whose Stalls are the closest to all four Trucks - each player adds together all the roads between their 4 Stalls and the 4 Trucks and the player whose overall road usage is the least is the winner. The premise being, the closer to the Trucks the fresher the produce. A player Turn is to either place a marker or turn over a flea market tile. Flea Markets are the bane of the stall holders as they block spaces in the roped areas where Stalls would often be better situated. The flags in the roped areas denote how many Stalls and/or flea market stands can occupy the area. Once that number is reached then all other spaces, even those with player markers on, are covered with road tiles. Player Stalls may never be placed directly adjacent to a Truck unless they can also follow a road round to another side of the Truck tile - the lowest road score between Truck and Stall is one.
On their turn the players may place a marker on the board, the rules for this being that it must be placed next to a road, another marker or a Stall, whoever owns the stall or marker has no say in the placement. Once placed a Road, Stall or flea market stand remains in position for the duration of the game; only markers get removed and that is when their owning player turns over a flea market tile as their turn; (they cannot turn over a tile unless they have a free marker on the board). The flea market tiles will reveal either a blank side or it will reveal one of the four Truck businesses. If it is a blank area then the player has to put it on a space they own (marked) and then put a flea market stall (component) on the tile; this counts as one of the Stalls allowed in the area - possibly the only one allowed. If a business is shown then it is put face up on the table and the players have a blind bid for it (hold coins 0-15) in your hand and all open at the same time - highest bid wins. Money is paid into the bank by the winner only - there is no way ever to get any money back and players all start with 15 coins. The winner of the tile places it under one of their owned spaces (they cannot bid for the tile if they have nowhere to place it or they already have that business on the board) and puts their (wooden) stall on it. At the end of the game you count the number of road tiles between the stall and the Truck showing the same sticker (business).
There are other ways of positioning your Stalls but this means placing them outside of the Market Area and thus scoring the maximum points (this depends on the number of players) or you can place it on an edge where there is no clear path to the business and build face down road tiles along the outer edge of the Market Area - these score 2 points per tile but are often a better proposition than having to count the maximum points.
There is a little luck in the drawing of the tiles - there is a set of business tiles for each player less one in the flea market draw pile - so 3 sets in a four player game - with the final set being left out, shuffled and placed face up by the board; these are given freely to the players who need them and they are placed either on the board if possible or off-market just to complete the game. Although money is scarce, waiting for the free tiles is nearly always going to score you maximum points. There are several tactics that can be brought into play by the players but it is usually the cleverest most savvy player who gains the upper hand and wins the game. Placing markers close to a Truck always seems like a good idea but unless you can draw and win the correct business tile when it comes up, and then only if someone else hasn't added flea markets to the area, it is not such a simple winning position as it may first seem. FRESH FISH is a very thoughtful and deceitful game despite and because the mechanics being so few and so simple. Because of this and the ever changing possibilities of the Market Area layout, the game is unlikely to become stale (probably a good idea as it's all about freshness) and always likely to offer similar but different propositions to the players. The only thing that has happened regularly when we have played is that my wife, Fran, keeps winning, not that this is a new occurrence during our game sessions but she really seems to latch onto a different but winning tactic each time we play.
Last word - I have yet to play a game where someone, usually a new player, doesn't look at the Cheese illustration and say "SpongeBob".