The Penguin Ultimatum
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"We hereby declare this land a dreadfully dull place, void of all amusement opportunities, and demand from our Emperor a party. A really, really good party."
Strong words from birds that can't even fly. But since you're employed as the Emperor's court jester, this demand from the penguin populace represents a problem -- and it's your problem.
His Excellency has gone to the ends of the Earth to provide you with all the tools you'll need -- sheep, kangaroos, bears and seals... not to mention unicycles, tubas, top hats and juggling equipment.
Can you outshine the other jesters and entertain the flightless masses?
This game has the right mix of strategy & luck. There is more luck involved as you increase the number of players. But, you can limit the luck by good placement of your Invintation Markers for your Special Guests (they should have call them VIPs----Very Important Penguins). The game plays quickly. For me, I would rather play 3-4 games of Penguin Ultimatum in the same time as 1 game of Goa or Power Grid (or other such lengthy game).
The Penguin Ultimatum (Eight Foot Llama, 2003 Jim Doherty) has the subtitle The penguins have had enough. That should tell you just a little about the theme in this game, another amazingly stupidly hilarious theme from Eight Foot Llama games. Of course, we all know that a funny theme does not necessarily mean a good game, so is that the case here?
The answer is that while not as good as the other two games in this series, The Penguin Ultimatum is a very good tile placing game. It has some subtle, unique ideas, but is fairly easy to pick up and play, and therefore may not appeal to people seeking something deeper. I enjoyed it however, and will explain why by first telling you how the game is played
A playing surface is determined (a table top), and becomes the iceberg of the game that will host the party for the penguins (long story). Each player chooses a color, and given 3 invitation markers (round wooden tokens), and 2 glass stones of that color. The player takes two scorecards, one with 10s, and one with 1s, and marks them with his glass stones to show his score, which starts at 10 points. Two decks, one of Penguin cards, and one of Entertainer cards are shuffled, and placed face down by the table. The top Entertainer card is flipped over. A stack of Curtain cards is set aside, to be used later. One curtain card, and several entertainers are laid down on the table, per a diagram in the rulebook and this depends on how many players are playing the game. Each player is dealt four penguin cards, which are kept in the players hand. Finally, each player receives a random activity card, showing an entertainment type in which they can receive a bonus. The shortest player takes the first turn, with each player following in a clockwise order.
On a turn, a player follows four steps. The first step is adding penguins to the party. All cards on the table must be facing the same way, and may not go off the table (i.e. if a card row reaches the edge of the table, no more rows may be added on that side.) A player must add one of the penguins from their hand to the table adjacent (even diagonal) to one of the entertainers on the table. Each penguin has three characteristics: a color (one of four, indicating what family the bird is from), a preferred entertainment type (juggling, magic, unicycle, or music), and a number (from 2 to 5). If a penguin is placed next to a penguin of the same color, they must pay a mingling fee (equal to the total sum of all adjacent same-colored penguins numbers). Apparently penguins dont like to hang out with their own families. This mingling fee is subtracted from a players score. (The player may discard an entertainer card they have to avoid paying a mingling fee.) In the next step, a player may move one of their invitation markers onto any penguin that currently has no marker.
The next phase is the Entertainment phase. Each entertainer is one of four animals (bears blue, kangaroos brown, seals red, and sheep green), and is performing one of the four types of entertainment. There are also four to six dots on the card, on either the sides and/or the corners. These are the trigger dots. When there is a penguin adjacent to each trigger dot, the entertainer performs and scoring occurs. Each player who has a marker on an adjacent penguin checks to see if that penguin scores. The penguin scores points if it is the same color as the entertainer and/or if it has the same entertainment icon as the performer. If so, the player whose marker is on that penguin scores points immediately equal to the penguins value. (That penguin is amused.) Then, whichever player scored the lowest points from that entertainer (not counting 0) takes the entertainer and keeps it for the end of the game, where it may score them bonus points. If there is a tie for the lowest score, then the entertainer is discarded, and no one gets the points. A curtain card is placed on the spot where the entertainer, and the current player takes the face-up entertainer card, and places it anywhere on the table, as long as it doesnt immediately cause another performance. The top entertainer is than flipped face-up. The current player then draws another penguin card into their hand, and the next player then goes.
The game is over when either the penguin deck or entertainment deck is depleted, or if there is no space left on the table to place a card. At this point, players receive bonuses for their entertainer cards they possess. Each entertainer that a player has that matches the activity on their activity card scores that player a bonus two points. Also, whoever has the most entertainers of each animal type scores a bonus five points (three points if a tie). After these points are added, the player who has the highest score is the winner!
Some comments on the game
1). Components: The tokens (which look like craft beads) are very nice and easy to handle. The cards are of good quality, and the artwork has a cartoonish, funny feel. Everything fits well in the box, which is nicely decorated and easy to carry around.
2). Rules: The rules are printed in a four-page color leaflet. They are very exact rules, and easy to understand and teach/play. Examples are included, as well as pictures of setup and play. I found that the game was extremely easy to teach and learn.
3). Website: www.eightfootllama.com is supposed to have variants for the game, as it does for the game Monkeys on the Moon. Currently there are none, but its still nice to have a place where such variants can be kept.
4). Tile placement: I almost always prefer actual tiles for a tile placement game, rather than cards, as cards take up more room and are a little harder to handle. But then again, this game has the actual table space as one of the games features, so its really not a big deal. And the cards have room for more information and artwork then tiles do, so its a good tradeoff. The table does look rather interesting when all the cards are laid down, but its very easy to tell, and since each player only has three control tokens, its not hard to keep track of your own stuff.
5). Strategy: There is some strategy to the game, such as where should one place their cards for maximum benefit? Are mingling fees worth it? Should one concentrate on getting the most points now, or concentrate on getting entertainers? (clue: you really should get some entertainers) When getting entertainers, what kind should you concentrate on, and how many? The choices arent very hard and I compare its complexity to the original Carcassonne, but it works, and players will have fun.
6). Fun Factor: The game is fun, because of the theme and the artwork. The theme is downright silly, but it makes it a little more fun. When stripped of the theme, the game is just a basic tile-laying game, but the theme adds a bit to it. The trigger spots is also a unique idea, and generally makes the game more interesting.
7). Time and Players: The game scales well from two to four players, and I cant really tell you what the optimal number is. But I do know that the game is rather quick, and can easily fit into forty-five minutes or less. So this game qualifies as a good filler, and possibly lunchtime game (although youll be hard pressed to find a spot to put food.)
I really enjoyed playing this game. Im a big fan of tile laying games as it is, and the silly theme made this one even more enjoyable. If you like tile laying games, silly themes, penguins in general, or games that can be played in a short time yet still retain replayability, then this game is for you. Its inexpensive, fun to teach and play and will catch others attention. And if it does that, shouldnt we play it?
Tom gives a good explanation of the game mechanics so let's cut to the chase. This is a better as a 2-player game than with more. With more players there is too much downtime for the limited choices you have and the domination of luck, which cards are in your hand. With two players, the downtime isn't an issue, but a single oversight letting the opponent be the only one to score an entertainer is a game-breaker, plus 2 cards can be quite powerful for ensuring that an opponent won't get to keep an Entertainer. With four it just isn't that much fun, with two it is better. Still I think there are better uses of one's time and money.
Break the ice with the penguins! The party layout starts with a place-holding Curtain card and several adjacent colored, numbered Entertainer cards. Each turn, play one Penguin card (each with a color, value, and type of performance) from your hand to an empty space next to an Entertainer. Lose points if you place a Penguin next to another of its color. Optionally, you may also move one of your Markers to any Penguin.
An Entertainer performs when as many Penguins surround it as its number dictates. Score the sum of the numbers on your Penguins that surround an Entertainer that sports your marker and that matches the Penguins in color or performance. Lowest scorer gets the Entertainer (end-of-game bonuses go to those who predominate in a color) and draws a replacement Entertainer for the layout. Highest scorer wins when the last Entertainer performs. Smarties will love these parties!