Designed by Torsten Landsvogt, with appealing art from Ari Wong, Pick-a-Seal and Pick-a-Polar Bear are two standalone 1-5 player games from Jolly Thinkers that can be combined to create a 6-8 player game. Both are reimplementations of the similar but not compatible Pick-a-Dog game and the designer's original 2008 game Formissimo (Schmidt Spiele) which used geometric shapes.
Each game comprises a deck of cards featuring the eponymous Seal or Polar Bear. You lay out 30 cards face up in a grid (49 if you combine the decks for a 6-8 player game) and each player is dealt a starting card. The cards all show the Seal/Polar Bear large or small, against a winter or autumn background, with or without a raised arm, with or without goggles and with or without a can of tuna. You need to search the grid to take a card that is either identical to your starting card (and subsequently the top card in your pile) or which differs from it by just a single characteristic.
There are no turns: players are grabbing cards in real time until a player declares there are no more valid picks available to them. This halts the game. All the players check their piles: they’ll score all the cards they took provided they made no mistakes but they lose the entire pile if any of the cards they took differ from their previous card in more than one characteristic. If the player who called stop made no mistakes, they take another card as a bonus – but only provided they were correct not just in all the cards they collected but also in their declaration that none of the remaining cards were a valid pick (again, if they’re wrong, they lose their pile). The grid is replenished and the game continues for further rounds until the deck is exhausted.
Pick-a-Seal and Pick-a-Polar Bear both make excellent children’s and family games. They give an adrenaline rush because they are speed games played in real time where two players may very well be going for the same card at the same time. The pattern recognition element – distinguishing just one different characteristic - can be challenging for the very youngest children but adults and older kids, and those playing the game’s solitaire variant, will be scanning the grid to plan ahead so that when they have the choice of multiple qualifying cards, the card they take opens up options for their next pick…
It’s worth mentioning that the Pick-a-Polar Bear game incorporates a couple of minor game variants that aren’t in Pick-a-Seal. One is a catch-up mechanism: the player who won the most cards in a round takes a card that prohibits them from picking a card that’s an exact match. The other is a ‘bonus round’ speed mini-game where players race to be the first to call out the number of cards in the grid that meet the criteria shown on the bonus card. If the first to call out gets it right, they win the card (worth 2 points); if they get it wrong, they take a 2 point penalty. These extras (particularly the catch-up mechanic) make Pick-a-Polar Bear the better choice if you’re buying just one of these and have no other reason to prefer the Seal version. If you’re buying both to set these up as a 6-8 player party game then the extra Pick-a-Polar Bear content can be readily incorporated in the combined game.