Penguin Party

Reiner Knizia

Artist: GooIllustrator (Japanese version)

Publisher: Tansanfabrik / Amigo

Funny how penguins love to drink and form crazy structures

Knizia is a master of simple card games that feel trivial and seemingly brainless at first blush. But like all his designs, regardless of complexity, there is always more under the hood that will only be revealed after repeated plays. Penguin Party is one fine example.

The game is simple beyond words. There are 36 penguin cards in 5 colors divided among all players. Each turn, players will play a single card to a common play area. Cards are played in a pyramid array with the base of the pyramid being 8 cards, building upwards with 1 fewer card per level from bottom to the top. The key requirement for playing cards to the pyramid is that the card placed on upper levels must share at least one color with the two cards that forms its base. In other words, if there are two cards side by side with the colors yellow and green, the card placed on top of that base can only be yellow or green.

Players will take turns playing until they either cannot legally place any more cards and pass or they finish their entire hand of cards. Passing with cards at hand results in penalty chips. One card is one point. Finishing your entire hand of cards will earn you bonuses by returning two chips. The winner after several rounds of play is the one with the fewest chips.

The game has a similar structure to L.L.A.M.A in that players play cards to go out first and win by accumulating the fewest points after several rounds of play. Each round is fast: 5-10 minutes at most and so the overall play is fast paced and can be considered a filler for adults. Like all things Knizia, what may seem initially random actually requires some thought. In Penguin Party, setting yourself up to not get trapped by the loss of specific colors is critical especially if your hand contains many cards of that color. If the color is eliminated for placement, then you will rack up plenty of negative points. Similarly, you can also trap someone by closing up all the routes for card placement. The strategy may be subtle and depends on the opening hand, but a novice should lose to an experienced player on average. While luck in any card game will always be present, the short play time really diffuses any of the unevenness in card distribution. If you lose, just deal and play again.

Obviously, the game is light and is a filler and one should have expectations to match this sort of activity. I should say though, the Knizia light cards games at this difficulty level is an excellent gateway to bridge kids from the HABAs and Gamewrights to the adult fillers. It is excellent. The rules are short, the play is quick and there is a fair bit of thinking involved, especially for the young ones. The great thing is, there are so many other card games of this ilk: L.L.A.M.A., Katzenjammer Blues, Poison/Friday 13th., Figaro, etc. The list goes on. It isn’t just Knizia doing this, there are other designers as well, but these card games are just the right blend for the family because adult also enjoy them. These games are simpler than No Thanks!, Abluxxen, For Sale, High Society 7 Nimnt!. I will have to do a short blog post down the road for these games. In any case, my kid is enjoying the game and I give it a thumbs up even for adults for an occasional filler.

Initial impression: Good

Kid’s Corner

6 years 5 months: Just the first few plays and my kids enjoy it. At this stage, she is knee deep in Carcassonne and other co-ops like Geister Geister. This is a refreshing change of pace and we all enjoy it. The decisions are simple, but it does require some thought. Still, I am slightly concerned that the strategies are subtle and harder for kids to master. In the first few games, she has lost quite consistently. Not knowing which cards to set up to prevent being locked out is key but not something I can teach easily. I will try though. Perhaps the light bulb will turn on and things will click for her. Contrast this to L.L.A.M.A. where she can still win on a regular basis. These games will lay the foundation for harder games to come and I am convinced that the old school card games, particularly from Knizia and maybe from Kramer, will be a stepping stone to the Hans im Glucks light Euros. Penguin Party is printed by Amigo and has since been reprinted in so many other languages. It’s quite amazing to see such a small card game being reprinted in so many countries and I am not quite sure why. I guess there must be a market for it. Any version will do and ours is the Japanese edition where the card is really solid, glossy and the drawings are cute and vibrant.

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