Full disclosure: A review copy of Gone Fishing was provided by Happy Baobab. Note that this is the 2019 version of Gone Fishing, so some mild rules changes have occurred between that and the 2021 version. No more setup board, for instance.
This one’s one I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Happy Baobab sent a whole bunch of games over in the middle of last year, but due to worsening pandemic conditions it became extremely difficult / impossible for me to actually get them played, as they’re mostly family-weight dexterity games (very challenging to play virtually). Thankfully, vaccines have been had and I’ve been able to talk my housemates into graciously playing a bunch of these games with me, so here we are! The first of many, over the near future. Let’s get into it and see how it plays!
In Gone Fishing, you’re competing for the freshest catch in town! Over four rounds, you’ll get out on the open water and catch as many fish as you can in your net to see who can end up the most well-off fisher possible. As with every game, your opponents also want to catch the most valuable fish, so this naturally puts you at odds. There’s only one way to resolve it, and it’s just hitting the sea and making it happen. So cast a wide net and see how things end up! Will you end up being able to snag the big one? Or will this just end up a reel defeat?
First, you’re gonna wanna assemble and give each player a boat:
Set aside the fishing rod and the four nets, for now:
The Market Board can be placed off to the side, as well:
Now, you’re gonna want to take all of the fish:
Place them in a pile on the Setup Board:
Lift the Setup Board and gently shake it over the play area so that the fish are somewhat distributed. Once you’ve done so, you should be ready to start!
Gone Fishing isn’t too complicated. Your goal is to catch the most valuable fish! The game takes place over four rounds, with each player taking a turn.
To start a round, the start player chooses a net type for all players to use, and attaches it to the Fishing Rod. Then the first player takes their turn.
On a player’s turn, they first choose a fish in the sea and move it anywhere that they would like within the play area. Next, they hold the fishing rod and lower the net down until the net is touching the table and there are fish inside the net. Technically, you don’t have to have fish inside the net, but they’re worth points and you’d rather score points than not. Just keep in mind that you cannot have the net touch any fish, either on the inside or the outside, when you’re placing it down. If you do, you suffer a penalty.
Once you’ve successfully placed the net, you must drag the net back to your boat (again, without touching any fish). If you touch any fish during this phase, penalty.
If you manage to get the net back to your boat without any problems, you must place one of your collected fish on the fish market board, increasing the value of caught fish of that type. The rest of the fish go on your boat, and your turn ends.
If you touched a fish before getting the net back to your boat, you don’t place any fish on the Market Board. Instead, take one fish from inside your net and place it on your boat, and leave the remaining fish where they are. Your turn then ends.
At the end of the round, remove the net used for this round from the game. The player to the left of the previous start player becomes the new start player.
Play until four rounds have ended, and once that happens, any remaining fish in the play area (not on player boats or the Market Board) can be put back into the box. Then, tally your scores based on the value of each fish you’ve taken and what it’s worth in the Market. Once you’ve done that, proceed to the Fresh Fish Bonus phase!
During the Fresh Fish bonus phase, players attempt to see who has the freshest fish. Start with blue fish, and in score order (starting with the player with the most points), players lightly toss their fish onto the table. Any fish that land standing up earn you a bonus point each. Do this for each fish color, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not an unreasonable amount here, but definitely some changes in strategy as you increase in player count. For one thing, you should assume that, by and large, players will be getting fewer fish as you add more players. This is mostly because given the way that the Setup Board distributes fish, some fish are clustered and some are not. This means that for a given player’s turn, they will likely go after clusters until there are no more clusters left, and then gradually work on the sparser areas. At two players, there may be enough clusters to sustain every player, but I doubt that will be the case with four players. And that’s largely fine, provided you don’t get particularly unlucky with the clustering. It does get easier to get fish (give or take) with more players, as you have more people cleaning up the sea and removing fish for you to potentially bump into with your net. While I’m not here to comment on overfishing and the environmental impacts of that, from a gameplay standpoint it is more convenient. I think that by and large, though, I like the challenge and the tension of going after a big cluster of fish with only two players, so I slightly prefer this at two, but I wouldn’t have a problem playing Gone Fishing with more players. It’s cute, whimsical, and fun, and that’s a great place for a dexterity game to be.
- Cornering the market on one type of fish is great, but it also means nobody will help you make them more valuable. This is kind of the thing with these market speculation games: having a lot of one type of fish is good, but it means that other players would much rather increase the value of fish you don’t have so that they’re not boosting your score in addition to theirs. This is a way the game incentivizes you diversifying the types of fish you have (beyond the difficulty of only getting one type of fish). If you try to get exclusively purple fish, your opponents will just let you force your way through raising their value while they collaborate on raising the value of yellow, or whatever fish you have the least of. Since there are only four rounds, you can potentially get the purple to be worth 5 each, but you would have to sacrifice four of your own purple fish to do it, which may not make this a good value exchange.
- If you do end up working with another player to increase the value of a fish, try to ensure you have more of one type than they do. Generally, when you see multiple players collaborate on raising the value of a fish, they’re doing it because they think that they can either have the most of that fish or they can get enough points elsewhere that they can still win. Don’t just raise the fish you have a lot of; raise the value of the fish that you think you can get the most of.
- Moving a fish isn’t just about boosting the spot you want to take; it may also be about clearing an exit route for your net. Think about how you’re going to get your net of fish back to your boat before you place. This is one reason why you shouldn’t place directly in the center when you start; even if you can get a cluster of fish, there might not be anywhere to go. Always have an exit strategy!
- Take a moment to really focus on the spots you want and size out how you’re going to approach them. You may need to measure a bit with the net to make sure your ideal catch can fit inside of it before you attempt; the consequences for messing up are pretty dire. Sighting it from above can help, as well.
- Choosing the net you use for the round can matter a lot, especially depending on when in the game you use which net. The nets are likely similar in terms of overall area, but their shapes can really change up which groups of fish you can go after. Use that to your advantage, and always choose the net that lines up with your ability to get as many fish as possible. Bonus points if you also end up sticking the other players with a net that they can’t use as well during the round.
- Try to avoid swinging the net when you drop it down. It’s like a crane game; steady the net and slowly lower it, making adjustments as needed so you can land pretty precisely on top of the fish you want (without touching any of them!).
- You don’t want to be in a spot where you need to rely on the Fresh Fish Bonus. There’s not really a strategy I can give you for “chuck some fish and hope that they land vertically”, you know? So it may be best if you don’t make that a big part of your strategy. If you’re just … blessed, somehow, then I suppose you can try to rely on that for a big win, but generally I’ve only seen about 4 – 5 points earned during this, and that was in a two-player game.
- If you’re going last in a round in a two-player game, you may be able to set yourself up for a big haul (since you’ll take another turn immediately after your turn). Since first player passes clockwise, if you go last in a two-player game, you’ll go first in the next round, so you may be able to clear a section on one turn and then empty out a big group of fish on the next one. Just be careful, as your opponent can likely do the same thing!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really love the theme of this one. It’s a very cute one, and it reminds me a lot of those old fishing games you’d play with the mechanical fish whose mouths open and close? It has a lot of that carnival game energy, as well, but in a way that you can actually do what they’re asking you to do. It’s more satisfying and less frustrating, even if you bump some fish occasionally.
- I think I underestimated it, given the theme and the mechanics, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The market mechanic is a lot tighter than I expected, especially since you have to sacrifice one of your own fish to increase the market value of that fish. I think the new version eschews that, which makes it a bit easier for players to accrue value without making them feel forced to get a lot of fish of the same type. The Fresh Fish Bonus is hilarious, frankly, and was an unexpected delight for an already-delightful game.
- The component quality is great. The fish are that nice plastic where they feel like glass, and they look great on the table, as well. It’s a very good game from an aesthetics perspective, and each player even gets a 3D boat! That’s super cool. Honestly, given the toy factor, I’m surprised that we don’t see someone like Blue Orange trying to localize this one in the US.
- Allowing the start player to choose the net and having each net be single-use is a great way to make the rounds feel distinct. A lot of games that are composed of rounds in which players do different things can feel a bit repetitive, but Gone Fishing does a good job of making the rounds feel fresh by having the sea change (due to players’ fishing) and different nets. You can only do so much with a net you didn’t pick, so each round’s planning shifts accordingly, which feels fun.
- Also, forcing players to increase the value of all fish of one type is a really interesting form of positive player interaction that I really like. Positive player interaction is underrated, in my opinion. Not everything has to be tearing other players down, and instead forcing players to choose what in the shared market they want to make more valuable has really interesting gameplay impacts, as it can change the calculus of a player’s turn if a fish they considered beneath their notice suddenly becomes worth their time. I generally like these “players choose which system to boost” forms of player interaction. They almost feel cooperative, since they let players build each other up, albeit begrudgingly.
- The box insert is also very good. Everything fits so nicely! It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to experience that.
- I really love the Fresh Fish Bonus, but it’s not without its gameplay complications. The Fresh Fish Bonus is hilarious, but it is essentially a random number generator for each player that offers a small amount of points. In a tight game, that means that a player can lose due to the Fresh Fish Bonus, which may not feel amazing. I mean, it happened to me and it was pretty awesome, but your mileage may vary on that one. I think I just love the idea of chucking fish onto the table enough that it all kind of works, for me.
- The Setup Board does an okay job distributing fish, but it tends to cluster them, at times. This is sort of addressed in the newest version, which eschews the Setup Board in favor of having players do the distribution. I’m not sure that’s really better, it’s just less cardboard (which, I figure, partially keeps costs down). I prefer the Setup Board, but I wish it did a better job randomly distributing fish throughout the play area.
- You may want to define what counts as the net touching a fish before the game starts, otherwise you’ll likely have a bit of quibbling. You can play Strict Rules, which is just any sort of fish jostling, but that requires the players to effectively play referee, and frankly having players in a competitive game determine whether or not you broke the rules likely won’t end well, if your players are contentious. We tend to be relaxed and only enforce the penalty for hitting a fish in the event that a fish is significantly moved.
- You may also want to soften that requirement for newer / less experienced players, as the penalty for hitting a fish is decently high, and with more experienced players may put you decently close to an automatic loss. If everyone is missing a turn or two here or there, that’s not too much of a problem, but if there’s a significant gap in experience, it would behoove you to maybe give the newer player some benefit of the doubt so that they won’t just lose outright. That said, this is kind of wise across the board when it comes to these family-weight dexterity games. Being flexible about enforcement generally leads to better results.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Gone Fishing is a pretty great time! It’s gently silly in both premise and execution, which is perfect for its weight and target audience. For younger folks, they’ll likely enjoy getting to drag the net and grab the fish, and older gamers will appreciate the similarities this has to some classic fishing games. What works particularly well for this one is the components, in my opinion — Gone Fishing is fun, but it also looks great. The fish are particularly excellent, and giving players 3D boats as player boards is a needless but much appreciated touch. For a lot of these games, it’s easy to make a simple concept into a passable title, but Gone Fishing does a nice job elevating the game to something that’s pretty special. It’s no surprise that I’m pretty much a sucker across the board for dexterity games, but given that I’ve been blessed with abundance I need to be somewhat discerning about the titles that I keep in my collection. I’ve had a lot of fun with Gone Fishing! I think it can scale nicely, as well, if you need. You don’t need to do all of the various market mechanics with new players; you can start with something as easy as “who caught the most fish” or even “who caught the most fish of certain colors”, if you’re trying to teach the mechanical aspects of dexterity games to younger players. The full game, though, is still pretty compelling! The market manipulation mechanics are neat, it has a fun theme, and a surprising variety of nets? Just so many ways to catch fish. If that sort of thing appeals to you, or you’re looking for a fun yet challenging dexterity game for the whole family, you may want to try Gone Fishing! I’ve really enjoyed it.