Tuesday September 02, 2014

Too cold top fish, then play cards

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Welcome to Week LXXXVI of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access to a boat, a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.

It's always fun when one hobby flows over into another.
That was the case recently as I perused the Board Game Geek (BGG) website (www.boardgamegeek.com), a sort of online mecca for all things about board games.
For someone who enjoys board games, the face-to-face interaction with other players being a huge factor, my competitive nature the other, I have quite a number of games, most which I don't get to play as often as I would like. Maybe that's a case of fishing too much. Still I do wish there was a crokinole club in Yorkton or a place to gather regularly to play Santorini, Hive and Arimaa (if you are not familiar with the games I encourage you to check them out at BGG).

In my own case I was on BGG one day and on a lark typed the word fishing onto the game database search.

I was of course aware that fishing-themed games existed. I have previously written about the fine game 'Salmon Run' in this space as well as the light, push-your-luck fishing-themed dice game 'Fish Fry'. That said, I was surprised by the number of games, some 25-plus, which popped up on the search.

As a fisherman and a gamer I was hooked, bad pun fully intended.

Most of the games were published years ago and none have received any sort of broad popularity, although 'Salmon Run' being recent and well-supported with expansions is bucking that trend.

But I did find a game called 'Fishing Tournament' released in 2009. The game had a limited production run, but I was able to secure a copy from designer Stuart Sisk.

The game, for two to five people, revolves around getting fishing location cards into play. After which time a player can play bait/lure cards, and then fish cards. Once a fish is played, the player still has to 'reel it in' a process complicated by opponent's playing cards which 'snag' hooks or allows the fish to escape.

Once landed, dice are rolled to determine the fish's size and that is recorded. Once a player catches five fish, they have limited out. Opponents get one final attempt to match the five and if they do, then it goes to the total length of fish caught.

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'Fishing Tournament' also offers lots of player interaction, since you can try to foul your opponent's catches, which was obvious from the first test drive of the game, New Year's Eve with sometime fishing companions and long time friends Rob and Audrey Ashcroft.

The four of us picked up the rules easily and played a couple of games with no real glitches, a testament to the simplicity and rule set.

And at least on the card table Rob actually managed to catch a couple of more fish, which is always good. For the record I didn't win a game.

So how did Stuart Sisk come up with such a tidy little game? Well thanks to email I was able to find out.

"I was talking with my brother Steve (also a game designer) on the subject of under-represented sports simulation games and we both decided that fishing, despite a near universal popularity and a huge industry had no good representation in this genre," he said. "So to that end, I set about making a game that would be fun, easy to follow, but still gives you the feel of fishing."

In fact the idea of creating a fishing-themed game came before even starting to work on a set of mechanics and rules.

"The theme definitely came first," said Stuart. "I had fished quite a lot as a kid in upstate New York and watched my share of tournaments on TV and that was the excitement I wanted to bring to the game. The mechanics came later after breaking down the processes involved deciding which elements could be represented in a game, and what format would best work for those elements."

Stuart said once he was into the full design process things came together relatively quickly, with lots of help along the way.

"Initial development was fairly quick, maybe couple of months, but play-testing and polishing were easily another year before I decided it was ready for public consumption," he said. "A huge 'thank you' goes out to my family and friends that helped with the testing."

Still there were challenges, in particular determining how detailed to make a 'real-world' simulation game.

"Keeping the game light and not getting bogged down in the minutia that is possible with any real world simulation. The initial game concept had more details, things to be dealt with in the real world, but too much and too slow for the family style game I wanted to make," offered Stuart.

The theme is actually pretty well done. The idea of certain fish being found only in certain locations. The need to have bait in play. The ability for fish to get away and even the random roll of dice to determine fish size, since as fishermen we never know how big a fish is when we hook them.

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So from a design perspective, I was curious what Stuart thought was the best aspect of the game.

"Two aspects of Fishing Tournament have particularly stood out; the first is the random nature of the fish when caught," he said, which as I mentioned is really life-like. "Just like real fishing, you can do everything right and still end up with pan fish at the end of the day.

"The second element comes after a winner is declared; the people playing invariably talk about how they caught this fish, and how lucky someone was at this location, etc. The game creates a narrative for the tournament and the stories from different plays and catches. The players end up with their own fishing stories."

Now as a small-run production, the cards are not 'Las Vegas poker table' quality, but we really shouldn't expect that.

And in a world where plastic card sleeves are relatively cheap, and really are an addition which can extend the life of a card deck to years with even moderate care, a lower quality card is not a deal breaker when looking at a game.

Stuart said he is hoping the game finds a larger audience.

"What feedback I have gotten about the game has been very positive, though I have not yet been able to interest a larger publisher in the game," he said. "Due to the print-on-demand' nature of the release and limited exposure, I have not had much in the way of feedback from fisherman, so I am very interested to see what happens from this review.

Interestingly, Stuart is not an avid fisherman himself.

"Growing up just off Lake Ontario, I fished quite a lot, mostly shore fishing for small-mouth bass and perch," he said. "Occasionally someone would take me out to try deeper waters, though never with much success.

"Since moving to land-locked central Ohio, I have not fished much."

When he does get out these days Stuart said, "in Ohio, I have always enjoyed the Cesar's Creek area. For boating, it has great inlets and off shoots so there is always someplace new to find."

But like all fisherman, avid, or casual, Stuart has a favourite story.

"One of the places I would fish was Long Pond, a good size lake just off Lake Ontario," he related. "I had two lines in from the shore and was alternating between the two. There had been occasional nibbles, but nothing really hitting. At one point I noticed one bobber would dunk, but not go, then the other bobber would go, and they kept alternating. Weird, I assumed one fish was going between the two baits. I kept watching to see which, if either would finally go. Apparently, the fish made up its mind because one bobber went under. I grabbed the pole and started reeling in. Just as a nice sized small mouth bass came up, I looked over in time to see my other set up disappear into the water. I got so distracted; I lost the bass as well. That was the last time I tried working from two lines and I have always wondered about the fish that was big enough to take the entire pole with it."

It's a story which makes me glad we can't fish two poles in Saskatchewan. I'd hate to have a pike or carp abscond with one of my rods.

But back to Stuart's game, and my overall impression of it.

Ultimately 'Fish Tournament' is a solid card game, rich in its intended theme. It plays relatively quickly, without overly burdensome rules and affords good player interaction in the process.

For a cold winter night when you can only dream of fishing, or on a rainy day at the cabin, 'Fishing Tournament' would be a fine way to pass the time.



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