Little Big Fish: A four-sided game review

Little Big Fish is a two-player abstract board game, suitable for ages eight and up, that plays out in about 20 minutes.

As you may have guessed, you’ll be trying to eat your opponent’s fish. That’s about as far as it goes for theme! That said, the production quality more than makes up for it.

In the box you get four modular board pieces (making a 6×6 grid of squares), 16 thick cardboard tokens and 24 fantastic plastic fish in three different sizes. The art has a really professional cartoon style (it could be straight out of a Disney movie) and the gorgeous fish are real head-turners – especially as they’ve made them orange and pink.

The game is currently a little hard to find in the UK, but you should be able to track it down for around £20 – reasonable value for the high production quality.

Teaching

Little Big Fish follows many traditional traits of classic two-player abstracts such as chess and draughts.

On you turn you move your pieces (in this case you can move one fish one space twice (each counting as a separate move), or two of your fish once each), with the aim of capturing your opponent’s pieces (here, capture five and you win the game – while you also win if you reduce your opponent to having just one piece on the board).

You each start with three small pieces (fish) on the board. Fish can be upgraded to medium and then large fish, with each size being able to eat the same size fish (or smaller) of your opponent. While small fish are the most vulnerable, they are also more manoeuvrable: there are eight spaces on the board containing ship wrecks, which medium and large fish can’t enter – but small fish can go straight through them (and they don’t even count as a space of movement).

There are also four each of ‘birth’, ‘plankton’ and ‘surprise’ squares on the board. Landing on a birth square spawns another small fish for you; plankton grows the fish landing on it (but you can only use each space once), while the surprise square sees you flip over a random token and take its action.

There are four types of token: ‘plankton’ and ‘birth’ act as the spaces described above, ‘whirlwind’ allows you to rotate one of the modular board pieces 90 degrees, while the ‘fisherman’ eats the fish that landed on the ‘surprise’ space – but also eats one of your opponent’s fish if they have one on the same modular board section. There are only eight tokens (two of each), but you reshuffle and use them again if required.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: Good aesthetics can go a long way in helping a game gain traction, and Little Big Fish has it in spades. Better still this one has simplicity on its side, making a game you could pretty much teach anyone.
  • The thinker: I’m always wary when a design adds randomness to a game akin to traditional abstracts, but here it adds an interesting dimension. As there are only eight surprise tiles you can weigh your odds on the chances of getting a favourable outcome on any given round, with these odds becoming clearer as more tiles are used. I think two serious tacticians would soon tire of the game, but as an abstract game clearly aimed at the family market it does a good job of introducing some more gamery elements.
  • The trasher: While the theme of Little Big Fish is paper thin it does work well, and the funny fish models add charm – but underneath it’s a pretty vicious game. The fisherman, for example, are a nice twist. If you have a good chance of getting one, and opponent has a lone big fish on a board, a small fish can dash across to a surprise token and have the chance of taking the opponent’s big fish out with a single move. Who doesn’t love a great David and Goliath moment in a game? This is a fun game for its time span – especially thanks to its fast setup time.
  • The dabbler: While the game is indeed super cute and easy to learn, it can actually be very hard for newer games (and tired gamers lol) to see some of the better moves. The simplicity of moving through wrecks, for example, shouldn’t be hard to parse – but I’ve seen lots of players simply miss this play and get eaten up over and again. Sure, this means the game doesn’t stall into an AP nightmare but it can also be pretty frustrating. I’m just not sure that once the cuteness factor has worn off and people are really clear on the rules, that this won’t degrade into a slow hardcore abstract puzzle with little fun left for more casual gamers.

Key observations

While Little Big Fish has gorgeous pieces, I’m flummoxed by the publisher’s choice of colours for the fish. Why would you pick pink and orange for the fish, and make them identically shaped?

I have no idea if this is a colour blindness issue (please let me know), as I don’t personally have that condition – but still struggled to tell them apart in poor light.

Beyond this, my only complaint is that you can quite easily get into a death spiral if you fall behind early on and end up with pretty much no good moves. This isn’t too much of a problem in such a short game – and you often have a Hail Mary available with the fishermen – but it can be pretty frustrating.

Conclusion

Little Big Fish is a really solid two-player abstract with enough little twists to stand out from the crowd – both aesthetically and mechanically. While it probably won’t win over those who don’t like abstracts, it works very well as a thinky filler that packs down nicely into a small box perfect for travelling.

When you add the advantage it is simple to teach – so will appeal to children and parents too, as the great pieces and light theme should easily win them over – then this is a great little package. Personally, of the two-player games I’ve played from Essen so far, I still prefer Adios Calavera; but I’ll also be keeping this one in my collection.

* I would like to thank The Flying Games (via Blackrock Games) for providing a copy of the game for review.

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