Designers: Bruno Cathala & Mathieu Lanvin  |   Players: 2-5   |   Playtime: 20 minutes
When I first heard of this game I got really excited. Bruno Cathala is one of my favorite designers, set collection is my favorite game mechanic and, well, Penguins!! I love penguins. They are my absolute favorite animal on this planet. Didn’t take long for me to grab a copy from our FLGS (friendly local game store) and get it to the table.

THEME

Penguins are taking over the world! The ice is melting and so naturally the penguins living there must take over the other regions of the Earth. There are a few assumptions here that I disagree with: 1) That global warming is a real thing and 2) Out of all 17 species of penguins on this planet only four, I repeat FOUR, of them live on Antarctica. This is a misconception that drives me nuts. Strike 1, Cathala.

Honestly, there’s not really much a theme as far as the mechanisms are concerned. Pretty much any explanation could’ve been used. Basically, each region being taken over is really just a set of colors you are collecting in your tableau. That’s about all there is to it. Color = Land Type…are we playing Magic the Gathering now??

PRESENTATION

Art
The art is great. I love all of the cutesy penguins. From cave penguins, to super penguins, to braaaaaaaains. Each numbered card has its own brand of penguin and I love it. They’re very playful and vibrant which is great for kids. It’s always nice when a game knows its target audience.

Graphic Design
There’s not a lot to this game in regards to graphic design. Each land type is represented by a different color but they also have different backgrounds reflective of the region the penguins are trying control. Each numbered card within that region has a specific penguin for each number. Having two separate ways of identifying these is always a plus.

There are also three special cards: the Ninja Twins, the Kamikaze and the Spotter. All three are well represented graphically as to what they do I’m the game and are not at all hard to remember.

Components
This game is all cards. The cardstock is decent, nothing to really write home about. The have a bit of a strange texture to them but nothing too uncommon. Also worth noting is that the game comes in a tin. Why? They are so hard to store on my game shelf. Strike 2.

“Bruno Cathala is one of my favorite designers, set collection is my favorite game mechanic and, well, Penguins!!”

MECHANISMS

Set Collection
The driving force in this game is collecting sets. You score points based on controlling the majority of a specific region on the table but instead of scoring the points in your tableau, you score based on the cards of that region in your hand. If you have the majority you get to add up all of the points of the matching color in your hand. If you don’t have the majority you can only score the lowest of that color.

I love, love, love this scoring mechanic. Even more so than the penguins themselves, this scoring mechanism is what drew me to the game. It’s a fascinating one, for sure, that constantly keeps your hand in check. There’s a fine line between playing a card for majority or keeping it for points. Great concept.

Take-That!
The Kamikaze penguin offers a little in-your-face interaction with other players by blowing up high valued cards played the same turn he comes down. It’s a very minor effect and pretty easy to work around. I’m not really sure that it needs to be there but I’m fine with it.

Hand Management
At the beginning of the game, each player will receive a deck of 18 cards. Everyone will draw two cards and then at the start of each turn you’ll draw an additional two cards…but WAIT…now you have to pick one card to pass to the right and one to the left.

Reading this rule didn’t really bother me at first but after playing with it I don’t like it at all. I understand why it needs to be there. Since you can only score the lowest card of an owned region that’s not a majority you need some kind of outlet to dump cards. I also understand the tension of deciding which cards to give players. Normally, I like a game with hard decisions like this but too often I felt like I was giving away pieces I needed. It was not a feeling I liked having especially for such a light, family weight game. Give me that feeling in Agricola, I don’t want it here.

The other problem we ran into with passing the cards was keeping up with them. So many times someone forgot to pass one, or picked up the wrong one. Too many cards on the table just made this very confusing Strike 3…

RATING:

Try this game if you like:

  • Archeology: the Card Game
  • Fairy Tale
  • Parade
  • Phase 10
  • Sushi Go!

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the end, I was really disappointed with Zany Penguins. Maybe I had too high of expectations for it. I’m caught in a weird place because I really want to like it but I know it’s not going to hit the table when I’d rather play something like Parade which gives me a similar feel with much more streamlined gameplay. I think at this point it’s only the novelty of the Penguins that has kept this in my collection.

I’m not really sure how to fix the hand management aspect of this game. Maybe something along the lines of drafting could’ve been implemented? Or a larger starting hand so you have just a few more choices. In Parade you discard two cards at the end…maybe that with a larger hand size would’ve been better? Regardless, this not a game I would recommend playing. I’d suggest trying out Archeology: the Card Game or Parade instead.