It would be hard to come up with a cuter theme. You're out at the park feeding the ducks. You're not feeding them bread, which you know is bad for them, but food specifically matching the needs and preferences (colour) of each of the four species (colours) of duck in the game.
And it's not just the theme that's cute. When you feed the ducks, they fall neatly into line behind you (they are 'in tow') and so the wooden duck meeples slot satisfyingly into the plastic tow strip fixed behind each of the player character meeples. On the large-format cards and randomisable park tiles, attractive art from Andrew Bosley completes the picture, making a game with an instantly appealing table presence that you'll have no difficulty enticing people to play.
Play itself is simple enough in this game designed by Stephanie Kwok (not Kwak!). You can take up to four actions on your turn: Move from your tile to an adjacent tile, Feed any of the ducks, Draw a duck at random from a bag (you can put it in tow if you want to, provided you spend the matching food; otherwise the duck eventually gets placed out at an unoccupied location) or Drop Off ducks - delivering those in tow to the location on one or more of your cards. Some locations allow other actions, allowing you to acquire more food, new location cards or 'adopt' a duck to place it on one of your completed location cards.
It's perhaps just the last action that hints at the underlying subtlety of this game. Duck in Tow may look and initially play like a super-lite pick up & deliver game but it's actually a rather clever strategic set collection game. Completing a delivery lets you transfer the location card to a tableau where it will contribute to scoring at the end of the game. You actually score at the end for the longest run of each colour duck symbols. That means you're usually not just trying to pick up, deliver and collect cards willy nilly - you want to try to deliver the ducks so that the location cards you collect maximise the length of run. The 'adopt a duck' action allows you to place a duck on your scoring pile so that it adds to a run or, much better, fills a gap to create a longer run. And that's not all. Ducks in Tow also comes with transparent overlays showing different duck 'formations'. If you can match a formation on one of these, you can take the overlay, put it into position on top of your scoring locations, and get a bonus added to your end-game score.
All of this makes Ducks in Tow a game that's easy to play but one that can be surprisingly challenging to play well. The game ends after any player has collected a specified number of location cards (depending on the number of players) so you need always to keep an eye on how your opponent(s) are doing. Do you carefully select the locations you complete so that you quite literally get all your ducks in a row or do you charge ahead and collect cards that will close off the game before a more calculating opponent has had the opportunity to profit from their more cautious acquisitions?
Ducks in Tow takes 2–4 players and is published by First Fish. Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype. The game launches today on Kickstarter. You can check it out and back the game by clicking here.