Full disclosure: A review copy of ICECOOL2 was provided by Brain Games.
I’m going to be real with you; if you’re a fan of the site, I’m not totally sure why you’re even reading this review. It’s the sequel to one of my all-time favorite games, and I’ll happily tell you right now it’s not going to be a negative review. Either way, I suppose you might as well read it to hear about the rad updates they’re making? So let’s do that.
ICECOOL2! It’s back to school for another adventure with your favorite overarching type of bird, and there’s more fish to catch (and some new rules to enhance your fish-catching experience). Word on the street is that things can get really fun if you invite the other penguin school to join you on your quest to sneak out of class, but who knows how that’ll shape up. Are you ready to head back to school?
Setup is identical to ICECOOL, though the orientation of the original school layout has been mirrored (otherwise, why not just buy another copy of ICECOOL?). You’ve got boxes, and you have fish that you’ll use to attach those boxes to each other. There are new penguins to be best friends with, so have each player choose one in their preferred color. There are also Penguin Cards and IDs for male and female penguins; take whichever you like best:
Shuffle up the Fish Cards and set them somewhere. You’ll notice the new cards (top row) are slightly different than ICECOOL:
Now actually build the layout:
If you combine this with ICECOOL, you can get a variety of other interesting layouts:
These are only three — I didn’t even get photos of the sliding ones! They were too big for my table. Either way, consult the guide and place sets of fish on each of the spots indicated on the guide. If you’re playing Race Mode, you’ll still do this, but you won’t use the Fish Cards.
Once you’ve done that, you should be all ready to start!
So there are two types of games you can play with ICECOOL2: Race Mode and the standard game. I’ll talk about the standard game, first, and then cover Race Mode.
What’s New in ICECOOL2
So, with ICECOOL2, the standard game is going to play essentially identically to ICECOOL. You’re not going to see many mechanical differences between the two whatsoever. There are two major things that have been added, though, so let me cover those real fast:
New Fish Cards: There’s a new type of 1 in town, and you can use it a little differently. Just like regular ICECOOL, you can reveal two of them to take an extra turn, but you can also use these new 1s to do Tricks:
There are three kinds of Tricks that these cards can potentially demand:
- Multidoor: Your penguin goes through more than one door in a single shot.
- Bounce: Your penguin bounces off a wall and goes through a doorway in one turn.
- Jump a wall: Your penguin jumps over a wall into another room.
If you’re feeling bold, you can call your shot (“I’m going to attempt to jump a wall”) on your turn and then try it. If you fail, well, you’re mildly embarrassed, but that’s about it. If you succeed, reveal the 1 and then draw a new Fish Card. That could be another 1, or it could be a 3; either way you still keep the points from your old Fish Card, so, that’s pretty rad.
New Technique: 2 Fish Move Fish
You know, ICECOOL wasn’t totally fair to the poor 2 cards. They weren’t as high-value as the 3s, and they weren’t as interesting as the 1s. They just didn’t have much to do. I’m glad to say that that has changed in ICECOOL2. Now, just like a pair of 1s, you can reveal a pair of 2s to perform an action. This action is very different, however; instead of taking another turn, this action allows you to move a fish of any color to an open doorway. The only condition is that the penguin of that color cannot be in either room adjacent to that doorway. You can even use this if you’re the Catcher to try and prevent a penguin from ending a round too early! That’s always fun.
Expanded Player Count
I’ve buried the lede a bit aggressively, I’ll admit; ICECOOL2, when combined with ICECOOL 1, can support up to 8 players in what can only be called a hot mess (an ice cool mess? unclear). However, there are some new rules to be followed, if you’re playing with that expanded player count (ignore these if you’re playing with 4 or fewer players):
- You now have two Catchers (if playing with 5+ players). Choose them randomly at the beginning of each round.
- The turn order changes when the Catchers change. Every round, after choosing the Catchers, randomize the turn order. The new Catchers will be the last two to go. This may change up some of your planning.
The round ends when one penguin gets all of their fish or when the two Catchers have collectively taken all other players’ IDs. The Catchers cannot steal IDs from each other, though it might be an interesting variant to allow them to do so, if you’re feeling extremely aggressive.
Beyond that, the game is the same as ICECOOL but with different board layouts.
If you’re looking for something a bit less aggressive, Race Mode has now been added! This is a rules-light mode that’s excellent for teaching the mechanics of ICECOOL to players, and it’s played in teams! Here are the basics:
A game will consist of teams of two players (if there’s an odd number of players, assign two penguins to one player) taking turns trying to collect their fish from around the board and then get their penguins to the designated finish line room. The catch is that while both penguins must make it to the finish line, either penguin can catch the four fish necessary to get there! Players will alternate turns hitting either of their team’s penguins to get them where they need to go. This mode also supports up to 8 players, and I find the high chaos suits itself well to that high player count.
Note that in this mode, you won’t use the Fish Cards or any special abilities; all players are on the same playing field.
Player Count Differences
Uh, well, the new game modes are pretty different in that they increase the allowed player count up to 8 (when combined with ICECOOL). The major thing to note is that both modes will see an aggressive increase in downtime with that many players, especially if some of them are new. I think newer players (at least in my experience) may be slightly vulnerable to analyzing their shots (or maybe that’s just the people I’ve played with; who knows). The key thing there is trying to keep the game moving quickly, as the downtime can be kind of a turnoff to players.
At lower player counts, my one lament is that there’s not really any new maps that are specifically designed for two-players; an Ice Duel, if you will. I’d love to have something like that as most of my gaming is done at a lower player count than it used to be; alas, no dice.
I don’t really have a strong player count preference for this, though I might recommend against teaching 7 new players at once; that will take a while (upwards of an hour, if I recall my last play correctly).
- Keep ’em guessing. The worst thing you can do in this game is be predictable. Jump walls, bounce off ’em, or do weird moves to try and throw off your opponents. They should not be able to guess where you’re headed (beyond “that player wants to get a fish in their color”).
- Learn to jump. In the larger layouts, jumps go from “your friend” to “essentially mandatory”. Flick the head of the penguin forward and follow through to force it downwards and let the token’s weight carry it into the flip. It’s tough, but, you’ll get there. Practice!
- Don’t get in the other catcher’s way. You two may not agree on everything, but if you’re playing with 5+ players, you likely won’t be able to catch every penguin before they get their fish. Do things like split the board, guard certain doorways, and just generally try to divide and conquer. With that many truants, you’ll need all the help you can get.
- Call your shots. If you have a Trick 1, you should basically attempt it every turn, just in case you’re right. There’s no penalty for flubbing it, so, why not just keep going for it?
- Use those twos with extreme prejudice. If you have a pair of twos, use them! Set yourself up or move your last fish far away from the Catcher. I’ve used it before to move my fish to a spot where I could get two of them in one move (because it was on the door out of the room adjacent to the room I was in, so that’s legal). I’ve also used a pair of 1s to take another turn and then used the 2s to move a fish into my range. All are good techniques to help you get more fish. However, if you remember from earlier, I mentioned that you can move a fish of any color. If you’re the Catcher (or just cruel), feel free to move that last Fish somewhere where the Penguin in question won’t want to chase it. Maybe it’s in the same room as the Catcher now! Maybe it’s all the way on the other side of the board, now! You’re not going to make a lot of friends with that behavior, but you’re not here to make friends.
- Don’t finish your turn in a sliding box as a Runner. Any player (including the Catcher) can move your box to a room if they’d like, and you bet that the Catcher will move you as close to them as they can before they strike and take away your ID.
- (Race) Don’t be afraid to get aggressive. If you see that a player has collected all of their fish, you need to block them from getting to the goal. It’s going to take a coordinated effort, but, yeah, you have to keep knocking them into other rooms or across the board, if you can. Just move them as far away from the goal as possible, or they’ll beat you.
- (Race) Divide and conquer. You really don’t want to just try to have one penguin bouncing around (unless you’re exceptionally good at jumping). Split the party, get two fish each, and then meet at the finish line. This requires both players to be carrying their own weight, so hopefully your teammate doesn’t let you down, either.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I just love this game. More content is always good; the new penguins are good, too. The whole thing is just very good. I’m hoping they come out with another Costume Party pack promo like they had for the original ICECOOL; the costumes are just phenomenal.
- This really fixed a few things that I found frustrating about the first game. The new Trick 1s are a nice additional strategic bit that’s wholly optional, and the 2s getting augmented lets you set up combos and be a bit more interactive among the Runners than I’d seen in ICECOOL. I actually really like both of these improvements; they feel smartly designed.
- The new rooms are delightful. One of them is an art room with Ice Cool-ified versions of many famous paintings. Every single one of them is a perfect treasure. Highly recommended.
- The reversing of the original layout does make it worth purchasing. The obvious question when someone looks at ICECOOL2 is, well, if it’s so similar to ICECOOL, why bother getting it at all? Why not just get two ICECOOLs? Well, the layouts are designed for pieces from ICECOOL and ICECOOL2, so, that alone is a pretty good reason, but also the base game changes somewhat when you’re playing on a mirrored version of the original map; just ask anybody who’s a fan of Mario Kart games.
- Big Tuna University is my favorite. It’s a gigantic layout. It uses all the pieces from ICECOOL and ICECOOL2 and it’s beautiful. It’s one of my favorite maps to play on, regardless of player count.
- I’m really excited to see what people come up with. The nice thing about the modular layouts is that I’m pretty sure other players are going to come up with really exciting layouts and I’m super interested in checking them out! I want to try more than I’ve already tried.
- Sliding boxes are awesome. They’re super dangerous if you’re a runner, since the Catcher can move right to you, but they also add a really interesting pseudo-luck mechanic where you have to decide where you want to move the box if you’re going to try and jump to lower the risk of you bouncing out of bounds. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.
- Race Mode is an excellent way to learn the basic mechanics. My preferred way to play it is new players team up with experienced players, since that seems to kind of balance it. It’s not, say, the most exciting mode, but I enjoy it well enough for a teaching game. I’d love to see upgrades that add in power-ups or character abilities or something to shake it up a bit.
- I would have liked to see some small, two-player-specific layouts. Duel games are all the rage, and having a small, tight map where decisions matter a ton and you have to dodge your opponent pretty aggressively would have made for a really cool two-player game, no pun intended.
- Setup can take a while with the layouts. You end up consulting the book a lot to figure out how to lay out the boxes, and there’s not much to do until you’re done with that.
- Be careful with the playtime. With larger layouts and new players, it can run a bit long.
- The rooms don’t match up perfectly in the new layouts. I’m hoping that’s because I have an old version and I’ll be trying it with a new version soon, but that decreases the size of the doorways and makes some shots more difficult / impossible, which is a bit frustrating. It would be nice if the layouts noted that that was the case, especially because some of the boxes don’t slide correctly within the layouts. I’ll report back once I try it.
Overall: 9.5 / 10
Yeah I love this game. ICECOOL, by itself, was already one of my favorite games that’s come out, but ICECOOL2 manages to even improve on that. The new penguins are great, the new rooms are excellent, and the new modes show that they’re thinking outside of the box with how the game can be approached. Sure, some of the layout things aren’t perfectly lining up for me, but they’re ambitious and it delivers on that ambition with an expanded player count and some new rules to make the game a bit easier for new players. The thing I’d like to see next is for them to go all-in on their ambitions: ramps, weird turns, non-rectangular rooms. I think those things are going to be what takes ICECOOL even further beyond and I’m super excited to see it get there. If you’re looking for a great experience and a dexterity game that’s fun for the whole family (and can frankly support a fairly large family), the ICECOOL series of games is definitely one I’d highly recommend!