It’s fair to say that I’ve had my ups and downs with dice over the years.
I’ll never forget the day we first connected. I was just a little lad and there was one small chunk of chocolate left up for grabs in the old ‘roll-a-six-and-put-on-winter-gear-before-using-a-knife-and-fork-to-carve-out-chocolate’ game, as it’s colloquially known.
“Come on Jiminy sixes” I whispered to the tiny red cube, just as my friend was lifting the chocolate-laden fork to his mouth. You can guess what happened next…
It was so exciting in those early days – discovering the joy of a ‘double’, the frustration of a 1 mitigated by the ever-present possibility of rolling a timely six. Snakes and ladders, the ladybird game, Monopoly and Cluedo as I aged. We even played an infamous “dice game” in my teens in which we decided where to go and what to do based on the roll of the dice… It was all so exciting, so unknown, so dangerous… It made sitting silently in a car in a quiet suburbian cul-de-sac feel like a Hillary-esque adventure.
But as we grew older, dice and I drifted apart. Somehow the thrill of pure luck that had brought us together became the very thing that stood between us, my eyes constantly wandering away from Pall Mall and Miss Scarlet towards something new, something better… I yearned for strategy, for meaning. I wanted to win by skill and declare my glory from the rooftops.
It started after a night with Catan and then all-too-soon came Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Dominion, before the all-consuming glory of Agricola. Suddenly I was a strategy addict, roaming the streets searching for the next hit of strategic decisionmaking to spend my cash on. What place is there for luck in such a meritocratic utopia?
The age of dice was dead.
Or so I thought.
Perhaps there was another way. What if you could change the dice – tame the dice – make them serve you? What if you could build an army of dice to carry out your heinous schemes? What if luck was not in fact an enemy, but an old friend. A friend to be persuaded…
And suddenly our relationship was born again! Now dice became a challenge – an Everest of randomness to be conquered by a map made up of ordered thinking and an understanding of probability.
Well, let’s see how we feel about our cubed companions after this week’s roll-fest – Floundering by Rocket Toys.
What is Floundering?
Floundering is a game for 2-6 players, recommended as for ages 4 and above. Players take it in turns to roll two dice with the aim of angling the most complete Flounders. Before you can get started on a particular pescine prize, you have to roll a 1, which gets you the head. Then you have to roll a 2, then a 3 and so on until the Flounder is complete.
But it gets a little more complex… You can start more than one fish at a time, so every time you roll a 1 you can start a new Flounder if you want to. If there are no more heads left in the middle, then you get to take one from the player with the largest number of complete fish, along with any ‘2’ or ‘3’ body pieces that player may already have attached to it. Cue evil laughter.
If there is a 4-fin or above on the Flounder, though, it’s unstealable. For now…
If you roll a 6 and a 1 together, you get to take a complete Flounder from the middle (if there’s any left) or, even better, you get to snatch it from the bulging net of the leading player. More evil laughter.
You can also add the 2 dice rolled to get the number you want. And if you roll a double, you get to roll again (as well as using the dice actions if you can).
And that’s basically it! You play until all the fish are captured and then you cast them all safely back in to the water with a pious sense of satisfaction.
What’s in the box?
Well, I made the foolish error of throwing away the templates from which the fish pieces are punched, so you can’t see them in these photos. But basically, there are 2 dice, a rules sheet and 12 fish of different colours made of thin punchboard.
What says the boy?
He’s in the early phase of his journey with dice and I’m not going to ruin it for him. He should enjoy it while he can before he comes to the realisation that winning games based on luck alone ultimately brings only emptiness.
He loves rolling a 1 and getting to choose the colour of his fish. He likes to try his hand at taking more than he should. He even seems to enjoy watching me roll, which is a little surprising, although it has been said that I have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ when it comes to rolling dice.
But most of all, he loves stealing things. Granted, not the best sign of what his future may hold, but it is undeniably the best part of the game. Rolling a 6 and a 1 and catching whole Flounders from right under my nose really gets him going and I can see why.
There are times when playing the game that his attention drifts off to something else in the room – maybe a younger brother in need of a gentle push, or a sofa cushion in need of a quick drum. But once he has dealt with whatever emergency comes up, he’s back in the game. It’s particularly hard to hold his attention at the beginning (when waiting for a 1) and at the end (when waiting for someone to finish their last Flounder by rolling a 6 or 2 numbers that sum to 6).
When we play with 2 of us, I’ve taken the liberty of decreasing the number of Flounders to 5 or 6 as it makes for a quicker game and the game is better for it.
There are quite a lot of individual rules to explain and I don’t think he yet understands them all completely. But the good thing about having slightly more complex rules is that you don’t necessarily have to use them all. If adding’s a bit much, then don’t add (and the game will take a little longer). Or if it’s too complicated to say “you have to take from the middle until they’ve run out” then just let him take from wherever he fancies. This doesn’t come naturally to me as I’m a bit of a stickler for rulebooks, but if he enjoys it more with different rules, why not try it?
I think mostly his enjoyment is fuelled by the giant dangling carrot of potential mischief – the chance to steal from his family. And what a wonderful mischief is on offer – a mischief that’s within the law and without consequence, a mischief that brings glory for him and shame for the rest, a mischief worthy of his truly mischievous nature.
All in all, he likes to play, especially when he catches a complete Flounder, but he’s not always totally engaged and he doesn’t get as excited as when the Raven’s bearing down on the orchard.
Ezra’s score – 16/25
What says the man?
I like it.
If it were just a case of rolling all the numbers in order, then it would be a big fat thumbs down from me. “You stay here playing in the rock pools Ezra – I’m going after meatier fish…” But there’s more meat on a Flounder than it may appear at first.
Is there really any strategy on offer here? Well, yes – there are occasional decisions to make.
Imagine you have a board as below and you roll a 3 and a 1 :
What do you do? Do you add them to make a 4 and put that blessed safety fin on top of your 3-piece?
Or do you start a new Flounder and also add a 3-piece to your 2-piece?
Well, I think it depends on the stage of the game. If there’s still a load of fish in the middle, you’re not really at risk of losing a head to the other players any time soon and it seems sensible to start a new fish and make the most of your 2 dice actions by adding a 3rd piece to your smaller Flounder.
But if all the heads are gone from the middle, it’s squeaky-bum-time and I’d stick that 4-fin on top before someone rolls a 1 and whisks it away.
If it’s somewhere in between those 2 scenarios, it becomes an interesting decision.
Now this obviously doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen. The vast majority of your goes are completely routine – you can’t do anything and you pass the dice on, or you can just put one piece on a single Flounder. But the dice move around fast enough and the decisions come along occasionally so that you stay vaguely interested.
There are a few other glimpses of strategy if you look closely or get creative. For example, I’ve changed one of the rules so that players can choose which player to take the complete Flounder from when you roll a 6 and a 1. This adds an element of assessing other players’ chances and allows for the scenario where the player with the most complete Flounders is not felt to be ‘in the lead’.
I’d recommend playing with at least one other adult or older child at the table (ideally more) and seeing it as a competition between the oldies. Who can manage the randomness of the dice and the smaller children’s moves to claim victory? Who can seduce Lady Luck to climb aboard their humble fishing vessel?
When you play like this, it’s genuinely vaguely enjoyable as an adult and given the amount of luck involved & the fact that the oldies all steal off each other, the little kids still have a good chance of winning which is great.
With 2 players, it’s not much fun for grown ups and you spend most of your time trying to stop the toddler cheating, willing them to roll that 6 that will finally end the game so you can go and do something else.
Daddy’s score – 16/25 (when playing with 2+ thinking players)*
*or 7/25 when played as grown up v a toddler
Overarching principles of gaming
OK, so what have we got here…
1) Turn-taking – standard.
2) Dice-rolling – standard.
3) Addition – ooh, that’s new!
I like this about the game as it serves 2 distinct functions. It works firstly as an educational tool for the little ones, as they come to terms with the idea of adding one and one together, or adding 1 and 5 to make 6. But it also works as a strategic option for the bigger kids among us as we can decide (as above) how to use our lower-roll combinations.
I don’t think we should be afraid of Maths in kids games – most adult games involve some element of Maths, whether it’s using your actions efficiently, calculating probabilities or more explicit Maths, it’s good to expose them early (and obviously it comes in useful in other areas of life too).
You could even add subtraction to the equation if you fancied, or multiplication (2 x 3 being the only useful candidate here).
If you’re unreasonably geeky like me, you could use addition, subtraction and multiplication alongside modular arithmetic! So if you rolled a 5 and a 2, you could add them to make a 1 (7 is 1 (mod 6)), a 3 (5 – 2 = 3) or a 4 (2 x 5 = 10, which is 4 (mod 6)). Maybe you could add a certain number of multiply, add and subtract tokens to limit your options and you get one token back whenever you roll a double?
“Or maybe you should stop being a loser and carry on with the review.”
Aah, yes. Sorry…
4) Decisions on your turn
Whilst the complexity of some of the decisions above will go over the heads of smaller children, it does nonetheless teach them about the idea of choosing what to do on your turn. Having said that, you only have one option most of the time and there are other games that will teach this theme better, for example, First Orchard.
5) Dynamics of player interaction
Board games are an interesting mini-ecosystem, where your interactions with other players are crucial in determining how you enjoy the game and often how the game turns out.
I remember one game of Monopoly (I am not a fan of Monopoly as you’ll learn if you keep reading this blog) where my wife deliberately kept one of each of the street colours as a response to a perceived injustice early in the game. Although she still denies this to this day. Sometimes this type of player interaction is what makes a game memorable and noteworthy.
The degree of interplay with other fisherman as you thieve their hard-earned produce is a nice introduction to the concept of the independent mini-community that is a social board game.
OPG – 18/25
The other stuff
Cost – 5/5
Only costs £9.99 from Amazon. Good deal.
Art and design – 4/5
The box is colourful and inriguing, with a helpful example of a flounder in the frame. The Flounders are different bright colours and look great when swimming together on the table.
Theme – 4/5
It is a nice idea and works better than most themes for games at this age. We’re all fisherman heading out to earn our living and the pickings are so slim that sometimes we need to steal them off each other to feed our starving family, like a water-borne Robin Hood.
If you look a bit closer, though, the theme doesn’t totally work, with the idea of angling anything less than a full fish becoming increasingly morbid the more you think about it. The image of a fishing line lifting a dismembered head from the lake is more Jaws than Free Willy…
Rulebook – 3/5
The rules sheet is small and lacking in any diagrams. Nowhere does it tell you to keep the outer punchboard frames, which is frustrating because in every other game ever, these frames are useless, apart from sometimes to prop up the plastic box insert.
Components – 3/5
The Flounders look great, but they are made of very thin punchboard and several bits of ours are already bent out of shape or in some other way damaged, probably because there is a little 18-month-old destroyer roaming around the house.
Speaking of which, the 2 dice are very small and not the sort of size where I’d be happy to leave the little one playing with them without supervision. This is a shame and I’d be willing to pay £11 for a copy with big baby-safe dice.
The other stuff – 19/25
Total score – 69/100 (with 2+ thinking players)
Or 60/100 with parent vs toddler
An unexpectedly clever game that teaches several useful concepts for budding gamers including early addition and can actually be mildly entertaining for grown ups!
Next time – not sure yet. Maybe Carcassonne?!
How do you feel about luck and dice in games? How many days stubble do you think I’ve got in the above photos? Leave your comments below. If you get the number of days right, I’ll send you a free sample.