Ice Cool: A four-sided game review

ice coolIce Cool* is a flicking dexterity game for two to four players, although the more people that play the better it is.

The game plays out in about 30 minutes, but it’s the kind of game you can dip in and out of and play for as long as you like – it’s a party game.

Age-wise it’s listed as six and up but I can guarantee you’ll find people of all ages that will never be able to play this game (hi Candice! Hi Nat!) – but otherwise the age range seems about right. The game sold out at the UK Games Expo but is being reprinted in time for visitors of GenCon to grab a copy in the US in August. It cost £25 in the UK, which is a great price for the amount of stupid fun you get in the box.

I remember once laughing at a job ad in a newspaper looking for a ‘cardboard technologist’, but if this is what they do for a living then they’re awesome. As you’ll see in the pics below the game box has four more boxes inside that together make up a two-foot square play area. You’ll also find a bunch of wooden fish tokens, a deck of small cards and four weighted Subbuteo-style plastic penguins…


Ice Cool boxesThe theme goes a long way in helping to describe the rules of Ice Cool. Each player is a penguin, at school, just before lunch break.

Each round you’ll either be playing a naughty penguin trying to sneakily grab some fish before the others – or the hall monitor trying to catch them first.

The ‘school’ has five rooms connected by seven doors – three of which doors have fish tokens above them (one per player on each doorway). The naughty kids (or ‘runners’) are trying to slide their way through each of these doors to collect their three fish and end the round – while the monitor (or ‘catcher’) is trying to catch them all before they do (to also end the round). Each player will get to be the catcher once (or twice in a two-player game), after which the game ends.

Ice Cool red penguinThe game begins with the catcher placing his penguin in the room opposite where the runners start. The runners then take turns first, each getting one flick before the catcher starts to come after them; after which you continue in turn order until the round ends.

Scoring is a simple affair and very easy to explain, although as with most party games it’s much more about the laughter of playing than caring about who wins in the end.

But what really makes this game stand out is the penguins themselves. The weight in their base and the shape of their heads makes two types of trick shot possible: swerves (flick the base on one side and at the right pace to make it veer that way) and jumps (by flicking the penguin’s head). This makes some amazing plays possible – if highly unlikely – and gives big dexterity game fans something to master.

The four sides

Ice Cool cardsThese are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: what I like most is how Ice Cool mixes dexterity with some real tactical decision making. Much like in a real kids game of tag you need to think about who to target as the catcher, or who to avoid (for the same reason) as a runner – and what the safest route is to hit your goals. But one great, or totally lucky, shot can change everything.
  • The thinker: One nice touch is the scoring cards. They range from one point to three, nut the one-point cards have a secondary function: if you collect two you can use them to take an extra go – but you’ll still score the points at the end. This is a nice way to mitigate the luck of the points draw and is another example of the intelligent thinking put behind what, on the surface, looks like a simple party game. Is it a thinker’s game? No. Is it fun? Absolutely.
  • The trasher: Nothing quite beats a dexterity game that is pure take-that in nature, and Ice Cool is just that. But while it’s fun swatting noobs, I really want to get good at this with a group that does the same. It’s interesting that the penguins are actually a little too tall to go through the doorways upright, meaning they only go all the way under doorways is at a slight angle. But especially as the catcher, getting caught in doors is usually a strong tactical position. Each room has a red line drawn about an inch in, so if you’re close to a wall you can move to this line to get a better flick. If you’re in a doorway, you can choose which line to move to – letting you cover two rooms from the one position. Just another tactical thing to think about.
  • The dabbler: The artwork throughout the game is absolutely gorgeous. The classrooms are beautifully realised and really ad to the experience, while the penguins themselves are delightfully dumpy and cute. The action is fun and frenetic, and the sliding penguin theme makes sense as well as being cute: the floors of the rooms are even made to look like ice rinks. But strangely he theme just didn’t work for me; it’s a really kiddy theme for a game which is much more aimed at a wide range of age groups. But it takes nothing away from the game – it just adds a lot less than I’d expected it too.

Key observations

Ice Cool blue penguinSome people simply aren’t any good at dexterity games, or flicking games in particular, and Ice Cool gives nowhere for those people to hide.

In most dexterity games you can set your own goal: beat your previous score, try to get to a particular point, grab a particular scoring marker etc. But here it is all versus all and the only way for the game to move forward is in ‘every man for himself’ fashion. This means that a bad flicker is going to get miserable fast as they fail and fail to get any score cards.

I also fear that, with the rules as they are, the game will have limited replayability for even its biggest fans. A difference in ability shows itself fast so whoever owns the game will soon find it tough to find opponents who are a challenge.

It would’ve been nice if designer Brian Gomez had come up with an alternative, non-confrontational way of playing the game – maybe a race scenario or similar. Sure, you could make one up yourself; but when so much thought has gone into the rest of the game it’s a shame a little more didn’t go into some alternative ways of using the fantastic components on offer here.


Ice Cool green penguinIce Cool is way more fun than it has any right to be. It doesn’t take long for those good at dexterity games to start to get a hang of the various flicking techniques, but you’ll find even the best players having terrible turns.

The attention to detail – from the artwork to component design – is top notch, while the rulebook is beautifully done and covers all eventualities. So as long as you accept that some players are going to really take against it, I highly recommend the game to any groups that love a clever little dexterity game – especially if they also like a take-that element to their games.

* I would like to thank Brain Games for providing a copy of the game for review.

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