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[Review] Shark Park

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  • Tom Vasel
    The cover of the box for Shark Park (Tenki Games, 2005 - Piero Cioni) will be immediately recognized by anyone who has kids, as it looks like it comes straight
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2005
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      The cover of the box for Shark Park (Tenki Games, 2005 - Piero Cioni)
      will be immediately recognized by anyone who has kids, as it looks
      like it comes straight from the set of the movie "Finding Nemo". I'm
      not sure if this is intentional or not - as the game is produced in
      Italy, but my kids were sure that the game was going to be one that
      they would enjoy. However, once I gave the rules a once over, I
      realized that it was no game for my young children, but rather a
      fairly abstract game with the theme of sharks eating fish.

      The game itself is very simple with players maneuvering their sharks
      to eat as many fish as they possibly can. The fish are hidden, face
      down; and players can have their sharks grow in appetite and
      abilities. Yet, despite the interesting theme and cute artwork, the
      game simply failed to grab me. The memory aspect of it was too
      simplistic, the tactical options were too obvious, and the game itself
      was frankly a bit boring. There may be some people who really enjoy
      this type of abstract tile moving game, but after several plays, I
      just don't enjoy it.

      The board shows a grid of squares with three rings of numbers on it.
      Each of these numbered squares has a fish counter with the matching
      point counter ("2", "3", or "4") placed face down on it, so that
      thirty-six fish are on the board. Each player then places three or
      four shark counters (depending on the number of players) on the
      outside edge of this teeming mass of fish, in turn order. Players also
      place a token of their color on the green space on the appetite level
      track. One player is chosen to go first, and play proceeds clockwise
      around the table.

      On a player's turn, they must choose one shark on the board, even one
      owned by another player if they want and place a "scare away" counter
      on it. This shark then pushes all fish away from it in the direction
      of the arrows on the tile. All fish in the three spaces directly in
      front of the shark move one space away from the shark. If there are
      any fish in the spaces they move to, then those fish move, etc. The
      chain reaction continues until either
      - there's an empty space,
      - the fish moves off the board, which means it is "safe" and is
      removed from the game; or
      - a fish moves into another shark token, in which case it is
      immediately eaten. The player who owns the shark receives the fish
      tile and scores the points shown on it.

      After scaring fish, the player may move their sharks, using two
      movement points. Each point may be used to move one shark token
      orthogonally. The player then "checks the appetite" of his sharks. If
      a player did not eat any fish that turn, they move their token up one
      space on the appetite track. (From "Feeling peckish" to "Hungry" to
      "Starving!") Players have special abilities depending on their
      appetite level:
      Hungry: the player can either have four movement points on their turn,
      or they can use "Frighten off", which will cause scared fish to move
      past empty squares. Either ability, if used, will cause the appetite
      level to move back to "Feeling peckish."
      Starving: the player can either have six movement points on their
      turn, or they can use "Terrify", which will cause even opponents'
      sharks to move when the fish are scared. Opponents' sharks can even be
      pushed of the board, which causes them to return on the following
      turn, or be "bitten" by another shark, which means they must surrender
      a fish token to the biting player. Either of these actions will cause
      the appetite level to move back to "Feeling peckish."

      The game continues until all four of the "4" fish have either been
      eaten or have escaped (made it off the board). At this point, players
      total up their fish tokens, and the player with the most points is the
      winner!

      Some comments on the gameā€¦

      1.) Components: Despite the obvious inspiration for the artwork from
      "Finding Nemo", the artwork is humorous, and quite well done. The
      shark tokens look suitably menacing, while the clownfish look fearful
      and in flight. The board is a nice smallish one, with a faint picture
      of the ocean floor in the background, and everything is done in a
      crisp, cartoonish manner. The tiles are of a suitable thickness, and
      each player receives a large tile to show what color they are. Wooden
      counters are included to track the appetite level, and they and
      everything else easily fits in the medium sized box - it's almost too
      big for the few components of the game. It's certainly a bright,
      attractive game.

      2.) Rules: The rules come in a full color booklet in four languages.
      Each set takes but a mere four pages, and has color pictures and
      examples. A couple of obvious things were left out, at least to me,
      which I got clarification from the author. First, a player MUST scare
      fish each turn, and secondly, a shark may not directly eat fish by
      moving onto them during the movement phase. While this may seem
      obvious, it was never mentioned in the rulebook. Other than that, the
      game was very simple to learn and teach, and I had no other hang-ups.

      3.) Appetite: Having sharks gain abilities as they get hungrier is a
      nice idea, until you see it in practice. The main problem is that
      players must forgo eating fish for two turns to get to the "Starving"
      mode, which puts them behind players who eat fish every turn. And even
      in "Hungry" and "Starving", a player can still only eat a couple of
      fish each turn, although they might prevent an opponent from eating a
      fish. It just doesn't work very well. I played one game where I
      constantly tried to eat fewer fish, so that I could use more special
      abilities, and I lost miserably. The only time I see that the appetite
      level matters is when you CAN'T eat fish on your turn, so you get a
      small consolation prize.

      4.) Memory: There really isn't much memory element to the game. Yes,
      the fish move around quite a bit; but since players really only need
      keep track of four tiles, the "4" pointers, it's really not that big
      of a deal. The rules say that to play a more "strategic" game the
      counters should be turned face up, and I can't see why one would ever
      want to play with them face down - it just seems pointless.

      5.) Scaring: The mechanic whereby players scare the fish into the
      mouths of the other sharks is unique and interesting. In practice,
      though, it just wasn't very interesting to me. At the beginning of the
      game, the fish are so tightly packed that almost any scaring at all
      will garner points for another player besides yourself. Each turn,
      it's almost always obvious which shark to "scare" with, to get
      yourself the most fish. In a three or four player game, there's really
      no point to try and set yourself up for future turns, as the game
      board and fish shift drastically from turn to turn. Strategy may be
      possible in the game, but it's more of a "what's the best move I have
      this turn?" type of game.

      6.) Fun Factor: I really, really wanted to like this game. The funny
      artwork and theme and the very idea of the scaring fish into another
      shark's mouth sounded fascinating and fun. But truth be told, the game
      bored me. I love Mr. Cioni's other game, Daimyo, and find it a
      fascinating game of strategy and tactics. Shark Park fell off the mark
      for me, and all I played it with agreed that while slightly
      interesting, the game simply wasn't fun enough.

      There may be a few people who like games in which you maneuver the
      pieces around each turn so that other players help you out on their
      turn, but I found it boring and unmotivating. The game's physical
      quality is quite good but just doesn't have that spark of "fun" that I
      long for in most games. As interesting as the idea is, I'm just going
      to have to pass on future games and move Shark Park to the dreaded
      pile of non-played games.

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games"
      www.tomvasel.com
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