Review: A Fistful of Penguins

Posted by James (admin) on September 21st, 2012

A Fistful of Penguins consists of lots of very cute, clear plastic penguins and some dice which have different animals on each face.  On their turn, a player starts by rolling 4-6 dice (depending on which of the 3 rounds it is).  After their roll, a player can either (a) stop rolling and cash in their roll, or (b) they can spend one of their penguin pieces to either re-roll any of their rolled dice, or they can roll 1 new dice and add it to their rolled result.  Players start with 6 penguins so these options are open to them from the start of the game.  Players can keep adding dice and/or re-rolling if they have the penguins to pay for it.

When a player decides to stop rolling, the receive an income based on the various animals they have rolled: Penguins, Lions, Camels, Kangaroos, Squirrels and Moose (1 of each animal on each dice).

  • Penguin results earn penguin pieces – you can even cash in dice with penguins on during your turn; however, the more penguins cashed in together, the more penguins the player receives.
  • Squirrels mean other players have to give you money in turn order and more squirrels means more money.
  • Moose are worth $9 each if they are paired with a squirrel (instead of the normal squirrel effect).
  • Kangaroos are worth their total number squared in dollars.  If you score kangaroos in the first and/or second round, you get to turn one or two of your dice into kangaroos in the third round.
  • Lions are worth $7 each, but if you choose to score lions means only lions and penguins count (and all other animals are worthless).
  • Camels are worth $5 each, but $0 if any lions are showing (even if you don’t score them).

The game ends after 3 rounds and the player with the most money wins (penguins are worth $1 each too).  There is an advanced rule where players who are not the active player, each roll a dice at the start fo the active players turn and give it a price.  The active player can buy that dice (starting with whichever face it currently shows) from that player.

Overall, A Fistful of Penguins is a simple dice-rolling, push-your-luck game.  I like these sort of games and was keen to pick up my copy at Essen 2011 where it had sold out almost before it arrived.  The crystal clear plastic penguins are quite adorable and the rules make each animal result quite different.  The game can be played solo with the aim of getting a high score, and I like that the rules give you some guidelines as to what is a good, great and excellent score.  Also, I think the name of the game is excellent (beaten only by Texas Nuke’em which won my favourite-game-name-at-Essen-2011 award).

However, after a few plays, I was left feeling a bit lukewarm about it as something seemed to be missing.  I liked thought I would like that the income from the dice results are cauculated very differently but it actually makes it quite hard to change tactic once you start down a path, i.e. if you roll a couple of lions on your first turn, you’ll probably just try for more lions; whereas, if you roll a few kangaroos at the start, you’ll probably aim to collect more kangaroos. I think this is because almost all of the bigger benefits are for having multiple results of a single animal type (the only mix of animals to aim for is the moose/squirrel pairings) and this makes the decisions quite simple/obvious.  I think I would have liked mixtures such as a payout for having one animal of each, or maybe have some risk involved in the balance of animals like 2 lions is good but more than 2 is bad (so do you keep 2 lions you roll early in your turn to get the points but at the risk another turning up).

Of course, you can re-roll your dice and change tactics at any time (by sending penguins to re-roll or add dice) but changing tactic usually means I’ll collect animal x instead of animal y from now on.  As a result, I didn’t feel I was very involved or feel the tension that I like from a push-your-luck game.  The maths can be a bit fiddly until you’re used to the ways each animal is scored too making it a bit slower to work out if your roll is good or worth spending penguins on to improve it.

In the end, A Fistful of Penguins is cute and simple, and I think a family audience will like it.  I felt it was okay – not a bad game, but there are other push-your-luck, dice-rolling games I would prefer to play such as Roll Through the Ages, Martian Dice or Pickomino..  I’m tempted to try the iPhone version to see if having the potential income from rolls automatically calculated for me makes it better as it’ll be faster.


[Played with 1, 3, and 4 players]

2 Responses to “Review: A Fistful of Penguins”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    Nice review! Try adding the rule that in addition to other scoring, you get 30 if you have all six animals in you zoo when you score it. It was a rule in some of the playtesting phase. In addition, if you feel there is to much rerolling/going for 9 kangaroos, try the first penguin die gets you 1 penguin token and each one after that gets you two penguin tokens.

  2. James (admin) Says:

    Thanks. Those both sound like good extra rules, especially scoring for having all the different animals.

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