This is a light, versatile hand management memory card game that has attracted 'cancel culture' controversy during its current Kickstarter campaign. This is not so much the elephant in the room as the frog in the lake: the KS campaign initially used a picture of a frog that was drawn with the amphibian equivalent of its index finger touching its thumb. The picture was rendered from a photo showing the frog in the exact same position but eagle-eyed observers in the US, some well-known game designers among them, condemned the finger/thumb conjunction as a White Supremacist symbol, albeit that it was being delivered by a green frog. The publishers TGG Games initially made light of the matter but this further infuriated the complainants. The image has since been replaced but the controversy rumbles on in the background with many in the gaming community split into factions, each accusing the other of confected rage and trolling. We're attempting merely to describe this dispute rather unravel or resolve it. This is the offending illustration with the publishers' allegedly flippant response, so you can form your own opinion, including of whether or not you think it places this game beyond the pale.
But what of the game itself? It's described as a deck builder, and certainly that's one of this card game's core mechanics, tho' you'll probably be more conscious of the hand management and push-your-luck elements. It's a versatile package because it can be played solitaire and as a fully co-operative game, but the competitive game is for 2-4 players. Each starts with a similar individual 10-card deck to which they add a randomly drawn boat and fishing pole card. They each shuffle their individual deck and draw a hand of six cards.
The game is played over 13 rounds, each denoted by an hourly time card running from 6am to 6pm. Players are competing to have the heaviest total catch of fish at the 6pm final weigh in. A face-down Lake Deck, comprising assorted fish and some 'event' cards, is divvied up into piles to create 5-10 'lake spots' (depending on the number of players), each of which has a Location card attached. The Locations apply a condition or modifier for fishing at that spot.
On your turn, if you have in your hand a 'search' card (your boat), you can play it to draw extra cards or to 'scan' a Location (peek at the top card). Provided you have a Lure card, you can then cast for fish. This involves peeking at the top card at a location and, if the symbol on your Lure matches at least one on the fish, you can attempt to catch it. You can add further cards to add to your strength, because that has to at least match the strength indicated on the fish card. Meanwhile the time card in play and whatever weather card is drawn for the round both affect players' fishing prospects.
But Greg Mahler's game isn't just about hand management and memorising what fish are where. To reel a fish in you have to fight it. We said Tournament Fishing was a versatile game and that's amply demonstrated in this reel phase. The published game will come with custom six-sided fight dice and a deck of fight cards. You choose in advance which you want to play with. The fish cards indicate on them which dice are rolled or how many fight cards are drawn. To reel the fish in, you need to discard cards from your hand with icons matching those on the dice/cards. If you can't do this, or if you roll or draw a 'pop' symbol, then the fish escapes. You may also lose your Lure: a 'pop' places it out of play. It's the fight dice and cards that twist a lucky dip element into the game. You can be lucky and draw or roll blanks, and so manage to reel in a fish with no cards left in your hand, or you can be unlucky and be unable to match the required symbols even tho' you've held back several cards in the hope of matching the symbols. You get a sense of elation when you successfully reel in a fish but there's no denying the frustration of seeing that whopper get away! Just like fishing in the real world.
Our preview copy of Tournament Fishing was sadly missing its dice so we've so far only been able to play at Board's Eye View using the fight cards. We always like to roll dice but the cards work well enough as an alternative. Icons indicate when the fight card deck needs reshuffling, so you can't cheat fate by card counting :-)
But where's the deck builder? There's a thick deck of additional cards which represent the stock in the Bait Shop. Cards left unplayed in your hand after you've finished fishing can be used to buy additional cards from among the five displayed in the Bait Shop supply row. In addition, Livebait that's used in fishing is added to the shop's bait bucket, from where it can be bought. If you don't spend your leftover cards buying cards from the supply row and/or bait bucket (starting cards all have a value of $1) then they remain in your hand when you draw back up to six cards at the end of your turn. Unusually for a deck builder, cards you buy go straight into your hand rather than to your discard pile. The supply row is refilled at the end of a player's turn but there doesn't seem to be provision in the rules for wiping and replacing the supply row. We had some plays where the Bait Shop supply got rather stale, to the point where we started experimenting with house rules for replacing the stock.
If Frog-gate hasn't dampened your enthusiasm, then Tournament Fishing is a light easy-to-learn pastime that can be played and enjoyed as a family game as well as by seasoned gamers, tho' gamers may prefer to take out some of the timer cards so that they can play Tournament Fishing as a filler. We fell for it hook, line and sinker. And the solo option, against the Angler AI, provides a good challenge too!
The Tournament Fishing campaign is currently live on Kickstarter. Click here to reel it in.